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Is It Time For a Salem City-Wide Master Plan?

Tom Daniel Returns As New City Planner

By William Legault

The Mayor’s announcement of Tom Daniel as the Director of Planning and Community Development has just become public as I sit here and type these words on my laptop. It comes as307616_410157745726836_578100825_n no surprise that here that the announcement comes so quickly on the heels of the retirement of Lynn Duncan.  Kim Driscoll seldom sits on a decision and that is a strength.  The selection of Daniel also came as no real surprise. Most probably expected that the Mayor would appoint someone that she is familiar with to the post.

I find the appointment a bit, unexciting and a clear sign that a fresh and new perspective on what this community should be, what it should look like in the near and distant future may not be the result. The perspective may continue to be what it has been for the last twenty or more years.  It will be inspired by the moment and by the opportunity but without a clearly defined vision that all can see and understand.

CmsaBZCWcAA_d9KWe are a city that is very attractive for developers for many many reasons.  Chief among those reasons is our small but steady residential growth that is forecast to continue over the next ten years and solid retail base created by that residential growth.  Very few areas of Salem have been untouched by the billions of dollars being spent to build within the city limits.  The boom is here and no one can be certain when it will end.

It is time for Salem to begin a conversation about a City-Wide Master Plan, a real City-Wide Master Plan.  We have a Public Art Master Plan, a Winter Island Park Master Plan, the North River Canal Corridor Master Plan, a Bike Circulation Master Plan, and a menagerie of other plans designed to deal with specific situations and eventualities.  We also have a 60-page 2005 City of Salem Commercial Design Guidelines document which means nothing as far as application goes since it only provides suggestions and I am quite sure that most people are unaware of its existence.

Now we have the proposed Point Corridor Overlay District proposal which seeks to provide structure for developers and planners in our densest and most diverse neighborhood.  This is a potentially good idea, and is a work in progress.

What we don’t have is a solid, real-world plan to tie all of the above together. The late Jim Treadwell used to decry this situation on a regular basis.  He would stand up in public meeting after public meeting, clearly state his credentials and then pick pick apart public plans and zoning rulings all the while grasping and waving maps and documents supporting his claims.

Last year the voters of Salem made an informed decision and showed me the door. If that had not happened the discussion on a City-Wide Master Plan would already be in progress. There are those in city government who feel that such a document would restrict the pace of progress, interfere with design creativity, and obstruct the economic gains we have gained and are gaining.

They are correct, but that those things happening would not be bad for Salem.

It is time to have a public discussion regarding both the advantages and disadvantages of taking the time and spending the money tSalemHarbor_001o create such a plan.  If it slows things down, so be it.  Design creativity is fine, but why not have clearly defined criteria on what and how to build city-wide and tie it all in together with the other “Master-Plans” that exist. Those that truly want to build here will still come, and those developers who just want to take advantage of our lack of solid and definitive long range planning can go elsewhere.

We have a new city planner, let’s have the discussion about a new City-Wide Master Plan. Let’s channel Jim Treadwell and insist on it.

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