Here is the letter which the board of FSNA has sent to the City Council regarding the MRAROD. Feel free to ask us questions by email, on our Facebook page or web page!
We urge you to consider three simple amendments to the MRAROD. With the inclusion of these, we, the Board of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association, believe the ordinance can serve Salem well, providing housing and enabling the preservation of historic buildings while avoiding unintended consequences:
- Eliminate the reference to 3.3.3 or clarify it in precise terms to avoid a loophole for additions
- Require Historical Commission approval or POSITIVE recommendation
- Add an exclusion for buildings constructed before 1850
- As presently written, the reference to 3.3.3 provides a loophole for the construction of new residential additions to existing buildings — something which the Council has expressly sought to prevent.
(See 8.7.4, last paragraph) The reference to 3.3.3 is NOT in regard to accessibility features, utilities, etc. (These are addressed in the previous paragraph.) 3.3.3 is referenced with regard to “Any other structural extensions or alterations and any structural reconstruction or changes . . .”
In 3.3.3 itself, #2, you will find that the ZBA can allow structural alterations to a building “to provide for . . . the same purpose in a substantially different manner or to a substantially greater extent.” Clearly, this opens an avenue for a developer to seek additions to provide for a “substantially greater” residential purpose.
- Historical Commission approval or positive recommendation would provide an essential safeguard both with regard to which properties may be redeveloped and to the integrity of the historic buildings themselves.
The overlay district will cover ALL OF SALEM, and the City Council will have no voice, unlike the normal zoning-amendment process. It should NOT be left to the un-elected Planning Board to have sole discretion. Historical Commission approval is the very least the Council can provide to protect Salem’s neighborhoods and historic buildings.
- Exclusion of any building erected before 1850 would mean that buildings of national historic value, like Old Town Hall and City Hall, which are in NO NEED of reuse and which NO ONE wishes to see lose their public status and be converted to residential use, would be taken off the table.
The inclusion of such buildings has dogged the process from the start. This inclusion was the result of eligibility criteria meant to avoid Spot Zoning. However, the exclusion should pose no such difficulty, since the benefit would accrue not to any single entity but to the public at large.
No piece of legislation is perfect, and this ordinance is imperfect, indeed. But the public process has vastly improved it. We believe that with the above amendments, it should be passed.
Bear in mind that whether or not there are present plans for redevelopment of any buildings or whether you have faith in our present Planning Board members — such matters are ENTIRELY IMMATERIAL. The only material considerations are whether the ordinance benefits the public and prevents the worst outcomes.