Company has no plans to build on Salem site

By Dustin Luca Staff Writer

SALEM — A court decision more than three years in the making has gone in the city’s favor, but the company benefiting from the outcome has no plans to capitalize on the victory.

A Superior Court judge has upheld a 2016 Salem City Council decision to rezone two parcels on Bridge Street from residential two-family zoning to a more businessfriendly automotive and wholesale district. The change was precipitated by expansion plans for F.W. Webb, which owns a fivestory building at 293 Bridge St. and planned to buy the neighboring “Universal Steel” lot owned by the city at 297-305 Bridge St.

The 25-page decision, written by Associate Judge Jeffrey Karp, dismissed all claims in the case by local attorney John Carr, who sued the city on behalf of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association. The association covers a small handful of McIntire District streets, particularly Federal and River streets, which are adjacent to the properties in question.

See FW WEBB, Page 2

F.W. Webb’s exterior was recently repainted in Salem.

RYAN MCBRIDE/Staff photo


FW WEBB 

„ „ Continued from Page 1 Carr wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday.

The suit challenged the city’s handling of the sites’ rezoning, saying city officials illegally changed the zoning “and had engaged in various due process and procurement law violations during the zoning change process,” explained city attorney Vickie Caldwell in a statement.

“The judge’s 25-page decision recounts the lengthy and tortured procedural history of the case before concluding that the city’s decision to rezone both lots did not constitute spot zoning,” Caldwell continued, “and benefitted the general public as well as F.W. Webb.”

While the property had been zoned “R2” for residential uses, there was still a use limitation in place following cleanup of the former Universal Steel site such that it prohibited new housing from being built there. Neighbors also sharply opposed any activity that would’ve put a shovel in the ground at Universal Steel, citing fears of contaminated soil and dust spreading to neighboring properties.

The court decision unpacked the neighborhood group’s “failure to comply with applicable rules and ramifications…on the summary judgment record before the court,” which began Nov. 28, 2016, and included two counts where the neighborhood group claimed its right to due process had been violated.

“In early 2016, the mayor first proposed rezoning the Webb and Universal lots,” the decision reads. “This matter was discussed at nine City Council meetings during 2016, two joint meetings of the City Council and the Planning Board in 2016, and a Planning Board meeting on Sept. 27, 2016. Numerous individuals, both proponents and opponents, including several of the plaintiffs and their present counsel (Carr), spoke or submitted written materials expressing their opinion regarding the proposed rezoning.

“The mere fact that Federal Street are unhappy with the outcome of the public process does not equate to a due process violation,” the decision continues. “The public process that resulted in the rezoning of the lots was undertaken properly, with the full participation of all interested parties, including the plaintiffs themselves.”

Asked to respond to the decision, F.W. Webb chief operating officer Robert Mucciarone said the company is happy with the outcome, particularly that “we got the zoning change. It was important to establish that, and the fact that my friend Carr was wrong.”

But ultimately, this decision won’t lead to Webb building its long-sought expansion.

“If we wanted to buy that property now, we probably would be able to go forward with the project — but we’re not going to do that,” Mucciarone said. “This was to prove a point: That he (Carr) was wrong.” He added that he believes Carr initially filed the lawsuit “because that’s what he does.”

F.W. Webb announced in August 2018 that it was abandoning its plans to buy the Universal Steel site. Similarly, the company said it was unsure what its future in Salem looked like amid mounting rumors it planned to relocate to a neighboring city. Webb has since renovated the building and repainted its logos, all without ever touching the parking lot.

“The people are too upset about the contamination, and the only way we would’ve been able to do anything with the site would’ve been to do what we were going to do with our building,” Mucciarone said. “We made do. Though it wasn’t ideal, we’re OK.”

The company also owns the Alpha Auto property on the other side of Universal Steel, which was also rezoned in 2016. “I have no idea what we’re going to do with it yet,” Mucciarone said. “This helps Alpha Auto, because now it’s … zoned properly.”

F.W. Webb does plan to “acquire another property in Salem for a showroom,” Mucciarone said, although he declined to shed any light on those plans for the time being.

“I’m happy we prevailed and proved we were right,” he said. “It wasn’t spot zoning.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews. com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/ dustinluca or on Twitter @

DustinLucaSN.