Letters to the editor;  Webb plan was more than a showroom

To the editor:

I’m writing to respond to the Aug. 15th article about Webb withdrawing its expansion plans from Salem and offer a couple of observations.

First, the proposed Webb business was not just a nice, pretty showroom. We all would have loved that. It was an industrial use – yes, with a showroom, but also with a warehousing aspect, meaning tractor-trailer trucks and a huge outside dumping yard in the current city-owned parking lot. If you want to see what that would have looked like in this important entrance corridor to Salem’s downtown, go see what they’ve done to the old Alpha lot on Bridge Street. It’s packed with gigantic storage units and abandoned trailer trucks abutting residential properties. It’s totally irresponsible and showcases the industrial model Webb felt entitled to run down this entire stretch of Bridge Street.

Second, the neighborhood’s legal appeals of the City Council, Planning Board and ZBA decisions don’t represent appeals ofdecisions from a bunch of independent decision-making groups. Webb’s expansionwas one monolithic, politically supported proposal. First, the mayor fiercely promotedthe Webb idea to the council, who always risk political damage if they don’t tow the line. Then the ZBA and Planning Board, whose members are all appointed by the mayor, added their approvals.

These are all good people who give their time to the city. But, you don’t get appointed to these boards if you have divergent views. (Believe me, a lot of us have tried and failed.) Ultimately, a disputable municipal decision was made because of reliance on a group-think review process. Not a surprise.

So, this is a wake-up call to the city to broaden its stakeholder group. It’s also time for city officials to realize that this section of Bridge Street is one of the most important entrance corridors to the downtown. It’s wedged between a national historic district and a beautiful park with river access. And, it’s part of a neighborhood — not an industrial waste land.

JENNIFER FIRTH Salem