We, the board of the Federal Street Neighborhood Association (FSNA), wish to voice our objection to the proposed redevelopment of 30 Federal Street and our support for the over 60 abutting residents and others who are opposed to it.

We object to the project as deleterious to the quality of life for abutting neighbors, incompatible in design with the historic character of adjacent buildings and Washington Street as a whole, incompatible with the Bridge Street Entrance Corridor and unworthy to be the visual gateway (in conjunction with the County Commissioner’s Building) to the Urban Renewal Area.

We are not alone in this, as the Salem Redevelopment Authority itself has said (in a memo to the Design Review Board) “[T]he board expresses strong concerns regarding the design of the project in terms of materials, massing, scale, and overall neighborhood compatibility.”

The SRA is required to implement the Salem Downtown Renewal Plan, which calls for development “respecting the integrity of both historic and contemporary styles,” which utilizes “urban forms that respect the patterns of blocks, sidewalks, streets and open spaces that distinguish the compact, historic character of the area including the orientation of building frontages toward streets and public open spaces” and which enhances “a complete network of active and vital sidewalks and pedestrian-oriented spaces . . .” (3.1.3)

In our view, this proposal fails in each respect.

  1. Its design shows no respect for the “historic integrity” of the area, and as for the “contemporary style,” it has been suggested that the project reflect the style of the Brix Building under construction. We remember that this design is the poor relation of the original design, which had to be significantly altered and cheapened due to the discovery of on-site contamination. We view this design as a disappointment and in no way an ideal to be followed.
  2. It does not “respect the historic character” or “open spaces” since, after all, it diminishes the open space and removes existing trees and landscaping.
  3. It does not “enhance the network of active and vital sidewalks and pedestrian-oriented spaces” but, in fact, REMOVES the present access to the public way and will discourage its future use.

We likewise object to the process both before the Salem Redevelopment Authority and the Design Review Board which has led us this far down the road to approving such a project. For seven months, the developer has repeatedly failed to address concerns both from the public and the SRA. Likewise the DRB has failed to address these concerns — both from the public and the SRA.

Rarely does a project receive such unanimous opposition from abutters. Yet we find that their detailed objections and questions receive scant attention.

This project — like so many others — seems to have an air of inevitability, and only limited gestures are made towards evaluating it by Salem’s own ordinances and planning, and no sense of vision prevails.

It is also remarkable that this project is being allowed to go forward under the requirements for “existing” buildings. There is apparently a rule of thumb by which any addition to an existing building in this area (B5) is treated as likewise existing so long as it is smaller than the existing structure. This allows the addition to avoid the more strict zoning requirements. One can see this being reasonably enforced in our crowded downtown. However, in this case? A submission from the developer stated that the proposed addition would be 5,938 sq.ft. The existing building is 5,985. That means the addition would be only 47 square feet smaller. LESS THAN 1% SMALLER than the existing building. Yet that’s not to be regarded as new construction?

Beyond that, the existing building’s square footage counts its BASEMENT (which is said to be finished, meaning liveable area). What this means in practical terms is that the addition would occupy more SPACE on the street-scape than the existing building. Quite a bit more.

In light of this, it is hard for a reasonable person to see the logic in treating this new construction as “existing.” We believe the addition should be treated as what it is: new construction; and it should be held to the rules for such.

While this project does not lie within our designated neighborhood boundaries, FSNA has important interests in all development within the SRA’s downtown purview because we abut it; what happens there affects our neighborhood. Development with inadequate parking, for instance, has already forced cars from the downtown to park on our overcrowded section of Federal Street.

Moreover, our founding purpose is to advocate for the “protection and enhancement of the quality of life and civic interests, . . . advance the objectives of lessening congestion in the streets; the conservation of health; the provision of adequate light and air; to prevent overcrowding of land and buildings and to encourage the most appropriate use of land within and adjacent to the Federal Street neighborhood. [Bold added]”

We believe this project fails each of the above criteria.