F. W. Webb Project Requires True Dialogue
By William Legault
Developmental issues seem to have become the primary topic of Salem discussion over the last six months. The Burr project at Lafayette Street and West Avenue seems to have come to a generally satisfactory conclusion for most parties. Bridge Street Neck has been engaged in an ongoing fight with developer Mike Myer over the fate of the defunct Ward II Social Club property.
It is the F. W. Webb proposal that is drawing the heaviest sustained fire. An empty lot located just off of the North Street overpass, once the home of The Universal Steel Company, currently owned by the City is the location of a new showroom and warehouse for one of Salem’s longest standing businesses.
We will spare you the details here. They have been presented in great and vivid detail in various news publications, on the City of salem website, and also in flyers and articles written by those who oppose the project. Conceptual drawings, cost projections, and the how and why of tax revenue have all been shared as have the counter arguments.
The site is currently used a parking lot by the city. When it first opened as a lot there was an associated charge. Since the new and not quite waterproofed MBTA opened it has been a free place to park. I stopped by one late weekday morning last week to have a look and snap a few photos. There were just about forty vehicles in the lot. My unofficial guess, based on window decals is that quite a few of the state and district court employees are using it.
I like the current use as a parking lot. If it were to remain as one, the city could make good use of it for those that work in the downtown and who don’t mind a short walk to work. It is located just off of the only true transportation nexus in Salem. Bridge Street and North Street, two primary routes into the city meet there, and Boston Street and Highland Avenue are a short distance down the road. Charging a monthly or annual fee to local businesses or their employees for weekday parking would not be a horrible idea.
Allowing the Webb project to go forward with the permitting review process would also not be a horrible idea. They deserve a chance to expand their business here in Salem. Webb has stayed here when others have fled for greener, more accessible pastures. How many larger commercial and manufacturing entities have left Salem over the last forty years? We cannot allow Webb to be the next one. They have been a good neighbor, and a good corporate citizen. It is imperative that we find a way to keep them here.
The dialogue on each side needs to be thoughtful and sincere. Inflammatory statements and fear mongering have no place in properly civil discourse. The declaration that this project belongs up on Highland Avenue was ill-conceived and disrespectful of residents of upper Highland Avenue that are fighting a battle of their own over two large developments.
The concerns over the contamination are palpable. I understand the reluctance to have the soil broken again, especially since it was not that long since the last remediation. It is disappointing to hear that there are still significant enough contaminants remaining that more work is required. It is my view however, that no matter whether this development goes forward, further remediation should be performed as soon as possible.
There is a park across the street that abuts the North River Canal. How much of the contaminants are currently seeping across Bridge Street and into Leslie’s Retreat Park where parents bring their children and dogs to play? How much is leaching into the canal?
If the site is dirty we need to clean it.
City officials, F. W. Webb, and those neighbors need to take a look at the Burr playbook as used in the negotiations for his upper Lafayette Street development. It is time to make an honest and sincere effort to work together.
What will Webb do with their old building? It is sure to be re-developed. Are they will willing to provide some space for a m non-profit for programming?I can envision an arts and theater space somewhere in that behemoth, or perhaps some use by the Greater Salem Boy’s & Girls Club. Something along those lines make it easier for this pill to be swallowed.
It is time for people to stop talking at each other and begin talking with each other. What happened yesterday, is yesterday. Let’s re-set the process and begin a dialogue about would work.
On Wednesday we will run a Salem Muckraker column presenting another view on F. W. Webb