4 Franklin Street (the former HMA car wash) sits on a major entrance corridor to our historic downtown and inside the North River Canal Corridor (NRCC). The Planning Board is reviewing a proposal to build an ambulance depot on this site and as part of the review, the Design Review Board (DRB) provided a recommendation that didn’t meet the City’s standards as outlined in the Commercial Design Guidelines (2005) or the NRCC zoning ordinance.
What can you do?
If you believe Salem is an important historic coastal city with a need to respect and enhance our preserved fabric, and that developers should, at a minimum, be expected to meet the existing standards, then before the next Planning Board meeting tomorrow, Thursday, July 8th, let the Planning Board know (via email@example.com) that the DRB got this one wrong, and that we look to the Planning Board as the empowered municipal authority to ensure that the NRCC and other commercial design guidelines are met at 4 Franklin Street.
Both the North River Canal Corridor District and the Entrance Corridor Overlay District were implemented to preserve and enhance neighborhood character and to ensure that these areas are improved for the best interests of the city. City approval boards exist to administer community vision as established by documents voted on by the City Council. It is hugely disappointing for a member of the DRB to state that “we’ve put a lot of responsibility on the owner of this property to become the gateway to Salem” when, . from our perspective, Cataldo bought that responsibility when they purchased this entrance corridor plot that has been regulated by the NRCC and Entrance Corridor overlay for years. They should absolutely be held to the standards set for them by the guidelines without any question or allowances made.
The Cataldo garage proposal does not meet the spirit and intent of the NRCC in many ways (including incompatible use and lack of sidewalk activation) but in addition the DRB has now recommended the massing and materiality of a building that does not reference its surrounding historic Northfields neighborhood and rejects specifically encouraged materials for the building facade. In fact, unlike other recent North St. arrivals like Valvoline and the Salvation Army Chapel, which did build with complementary materials, Cataldo seems determined to disregard the NRCC design guidelines to build a structure more like an industrial storage shed. The DRB made their decision while discounting significant and very specific public comment opposing the design and materials that were proposed and requesting more attention be paid to color, architectural detailing, and shape of the roof.
What is wrong with the DRB decision?
irst and foremost, the Cataldo garage is Phase 1 of a proposed two-part development, where the second phase is a residential development along the North River. Phase 1 will set the visual and materials precedents for Phase 2 and this low standard sets a precedent for other new construction projects in close proximity including other projects on Franklin and Commercial Streets as well as the large project in early design on Bridge Street’s “Cresent Lot.” To start wrong is to end wrong. Secondly, it is giving a pass to a multi-million-dollar Massachusetts corporation with 800 employees by not requiring them to invest in the best and most compatible building design on a prominent gateway site. Part of a gateway where hundreds of thousands of visitors to our city begin to get their sense of Salem as an historic place. History means millions of tourist dollars to our city.
Cataldo’s design needs to be much better, and it can be with some specific and careful design adjustments. The development team did not begin this process without guidance. There are requirement in the NRCC Zoning as well as the City of Salem’s Commercial Design Guidelines which includes the following language:
Page 18: “In Salem’s Entrance Corridors…the unique architectural character of the district must come before corporate branding.”
Page 24: “New Buildings need not, nor should they, imitate the…past. It is… more interesting to match materials, proportions and scale while using modern simple materials…the use of similar compatible materials and matching cornice lines…can ensure that new structures contribute to the character of the district.”
Page 26: “Using materials not commonly found in the immediate surroundings will make the development stand out and appear jarring. Salem has a long tradition of wood and masonry buildings. At the same time, new materials can be incorporated into projects as secondary elements…”
This site is prominent and will be clearly seen and it needs to meet the longstanding guidelines of the NRCC and the basic recommendations of the City’s own Commercial Design Guidelines. Further, the community at large has clearly expressed a desire for higher quality design and materials at this important site; many individuals have expended time and effort to articulate these community values.
We invite you to share your thoughts with the Planning Board at or before the June 8 meeting by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org or by being prepared to speak at the meeting, which begins at 6:30pm. If you have previously provided comment to the DRB, you may want to reference that as well. We find that a wide array of respectful citizen voices is an effective way to ask boards to reconsider and hope you will add your voice to this conversation.
This is the text of a letter submitted to the Planning Board in advance of their May 20, 2021 meeting and to the Design Review Board in advance of their May 26, 2021 meeting.
Dear Mr. Griset and Mr. Durand,
As we have been participating in this community review of the proposed project at 4 Franklin Street, we have been pleased to see the unified opinion the Planning Board expressed regarding building placement and the receptiveness with which the applicant responded to this request.
We have one other major concern and that is regarding the materials in this proposal. The North River Canal Corridor Zoning Ordinance in Section 126.96.36.199 highly discourages the following materials: precast concrete, pre-fabrication aluminum or metal panels. We ask the Boards to work with incoming neighborhood member Cataldo Ambulance to merge the desired look of their brand with the neighborhood’s established “brand” or, as it is described in the Zoning Ordinance, “historic neighborhood character.”
The materials that are encouraged in the ordinance are brick, stone or wood. These, or similar, materials could lend a warmth and connection to place that the building, as currently proposed, lacks. The highly discouraged materials should not be allowed.
There are numerous examples in the neighborhood that the architect did not identify when presenting to the Design Review Board. The Valvoline building and the Salvation Army Chapel (image attached), both designed prior to the NRCC district designation, underwent extensive design work so that the buildings could meet their function, which includes contributing to the public realm. The historic fire station building on North St. provides public safety and is a relevant neighborhood design precedent. Indeed, North Street has a wide mix of historic building uses and there are a variety of forms and materials that could beneficially influence the design of this building.
Because this proposal meets so few of the stated requirements of the NRCC plan, we ask the boards to insist that the building take stronger material cues from the immediate neighborhood and from downtown Salem, the backdrop of this site.
We appreciate the work these two boards do to elevate development in Salem and we appreciate the opportunity as members of the public to have our thoughts considered.
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