SALEM — The City Council has voted to permit Christmas tree sales on a Bridge Street parking lot, but only after adding some fine print to address concerns raised by members of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association.
The city’s purchasing office will soon take bids for businesses wanting to sell trees on no more than a third of the Universal Steel lot, which is now a city-owned parking lot at 297 Bridge St., next to F.W. Webb. Sales will be allowed from Nov. 23 to Dec. 24. Salem-based Ludwig’s Trees, which has sold Christmas trees in the city since 1971, prompted the proposal’s submission and is expected to compete in the bidding.
Before that can happen, the city’s legal department must review the proposal to guarantee it doesn’t create any liability issues for the city or violate any use limitations placed on the site due to past contamination.
An order allowing this all to play out was filed by Ward 5 City Councilor Josh Turiel after Ludwig’s Trees, which spent most of its years in Salem on Canal Street, needed to find a new home for 2018 due to construction at its normal site.
Invited to weigh in by city officials, Fred Biebesheimer, president of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association, said his group opposes the plan. In an email to city officials and further correspondence with The Salem News, he cited ongoing court appeals from the neighborhood challenging the city’s rezoning of the site from residential to business use.
That change was made to accommodate an expansion of F.W. Webb, a plumbing supply company, which eventually abandoned its plans after extensive appeals from the neighbors.
The Federal Street group is opposed to any business use at the site at all, Biebesheimer said — even if that use is only selling Christmas trees.
Biebesheimer also noted that the site’s history as a steel-sorting facility, which resulted in contamination. State and federal environmental agencies spent $3 million on a cleanup before the former factory site was turned into a parking lot, but residential and agricultural uses are still prohibited.
John Carr, a neighborhood lawyer who has led opposition to any reuse of the parking lot, said in an email that the tree seller tended to live in a trailer on the Canal Street site when selling trees, and that would not be possible on Bridge Street because of the residential restriction.
Ultimately, the City Council voted 8-1 Thursday night to open up bidding for Christmas tree sales. Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent was the lone opponent.
“I’ve been buying my trees here for many, many years. It’s a very nice family,” Sargent said. “But this space here … I have to keep it to the current zoning.”
Sargent argued that Ludwig’s Trees would need to get a special permit to sell, and that approving that would open the site to other business uses.
“Now, (if) someone wants to put a corner store there — more traffic, different use,” Sargent said. “That’s what (the neighborhood association is) worried about opening themselves up to.”
Councilor-at-large Tom Furey, meanwhile, said the site is underutilized for parking and that it “doesn’t belong to one neighborhood.”
“I’m very disappointed to see newspaper headlines that one neighborhood disagrees with something for all neighborhoods,” Furey said.
Ward 7 Councilor Steve Dibble supported allowing Christmas tree sales, but suggested the city’s legal department be consulted to ensure the council’s order won’t put the city in any legal trouble.
“It’s Christmas trees. I think that’s a good thing, and it’s a very festive neighborhood there,” Dibble said. “My concern is the liability on the property.”