COMPARE 2023 MAYORAL CANDIDATES THOUGHTS ON PRESERVATION
HSI presented our mayoral candidates with 4 questions regarding Historic Preservation in our city.
See how they responded below!
All candidates were given an opportunity to provide their responses to these questions, and the answers below are listed in alphabetical order by candidate. HSI is a 501(c)(3) and does not endorse political candidates.
1) WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PRESERVING HISTORIC BUILDINGS AND SITES IN OUR CITY?
It is extremely important to preserve our historic buildings, sites, and what I call the historic fabric of Salem. City Hall seems to be losing this importance. When we should be increasing the size of some of our Historic Districts to better protect some buildings and neighborhoods, we are instead encouraging the construction of buildings that simply do not look like they belong in Salem.
Salem is special. People move to Salem and others visit this historic city for its uniqueness. We are making Salem look like the places where these people are coming from. Permitting luxury apartments, the new hotel in Riley Plaza, and other buildings that look like they might belong in Cambridge or Phoenix. Not that this type of architecture is bad – it simple does not fit in here in Salem. The historic fabric of Salem is being watered down and instead it needs to be protected.
I am strongly in favor of preserving historic buildings and sites in Salem -- both public and private. As one of the oldest and most influential small cities in the country, Salem has played a unique role in American history. From its colonial days, through its golden age of maritime trade, and continuing on through the industrial revolution and the waves of immigration that helped the City to grow over the years, a variety of homes, businesses and municipal buildings sprang up throughout Salem, helping to create an architectural heritage in certain parts of town that is matched by very few cities in the United States. It is imperative that local government and private property owners preserve this heritage to the greatest extent possible. There are also several important historical cemeteries and other sites throughout the City that need to be preserved, so that their stories can be told to succeeding generations of residents and visitors. In summary, we are the stewards of a rich legacy of historic buildings and sites that enhance the overall character of our CIty and tell a story about certain eras in American history. This legacy must be protected and enhanced.
Salem is one of America’s most historic cities with a tourist economy based on our history. This history is culturally rich with the stories of early settlers, the witch trials, maritime trade, revolution, and new immigrants - all still alive in today’s Salem neighborhoods. Our architecture & coastal resources are
Salem’s greatest assets, unique in the world & pivotal to our economic success. However, fifty years after local preservationists & renowned architecture critic & Pulitzer Prize winner Ada Louis Huxtable saved Salem from the wrecking ball, we are now faced with a new urban renewal movement which once again threatens our heritage.
As a general contractor who has done various projects on the House of Gables and other historic buildings over the years, I have first hand knowledge and respect of what it takes to preserve historic sites. Everything possible should be done to preserve historic buildings and preserve the historic character of our city. Our historic buildings are part of our city’s history.
The preservation of Salem’s history – our structures and sites but also our stories and legacies – is of great importance to me and will be a priority for me as Mayor. I was proud to have helped in the City’s work over the last 10 years in this regard, including, among many other examples, collaborating with the Planning Director to broaden the scope of work of the Historic Preservation Planner, creating the Charter Street Cemetery interpretive center in partnership with Peabody Essex Museum, and developing more thoughtful approaches toward interpreting the Indigenous histories of Salem. Our city is enriched by our history – by all aspects of it – and the lessons of our past are deeply important, not just to our community, but to the Commonwealth and the country as a whole. Not only do they play a critical part in our visitor economy, but they have intrinsic values in their own right - values that I hope we can bring further into focus through the work of the Salem 400+ quadricentennial effort and this special moment in our community’s history.
2) HOW DO YOU PLAN TO BALANCE THE INTERESTS OF DEVELOPMENT AND HOUSING WITH THE NEED TO PRESERVE THE HISTORICAL CHARACTER OF OUR CITY?
Our Residential vs. Business development weight scale is out of balance. I will have the Salem Planning staff stop working on behalf of luxury apartment developers. As a 6 year City Councillor, I have seen too many presentations done by city staff instead of the developers themselves. Under my administration the Planning Department staff instead will be working to encourage the much needed Senior Housing and truly Affordable Housing
and most importantly, grow our Business Sector. By helping current businesses and recruiting additional businesses we will be providing more of the better paying jobs. Businesses pay considerably more in property taxes and ask for very little in city services. Unlike residential
where for every $1.00 we receive in residential taxes we spend on average $1.78 in services. Continued apartment development while ignoring the business sector will cause residential taxes to continue to rise city-wide.
One example of smart growth is being built across Highland Ave from Puleo’s Dairy. I was one of four Councillors who voted NOT to change the property’s zoning from business to residential. Doing so would have allowed hundreds of luxury apartments to be built on that property. My undergraduate degree is in City Planning and with 14 years working as Salem’s Senior Planner between 1986-2000 I understand the need to properly balance our development scale. The result of my vote allowed Tropical Products to relocate within Salem, keep their 100 employees here, soon to add 120 additional new jobs, and Salem will soon be receiving much bigger business property taxes to help keep your taxes down. I know this
Highland Ave example is not historic preservation, but this is the kind of thoughtful leadership I will deliver for all of Salem. We can balance the interests and do this while also protecting Salem's neighborhoods, its green spaces, wetlands, floodplains, and our HISTORIC FABRIC.
Vibrant cities are constantly evolving and changing over time, so a certain amount of development is to be expected, even in older cities like Salem. The key is to manage this development in a way that is consistent with the historic fabric of Salem as a whole. This means that the Mayor must be cognizant of how proposed developments might negatively affect existing neighborhoods and the downtown. Especially in historic neighborhoods, care should be taken to ensure that new development does not detract from the integrity of existing streetscapes and the architectural character of particular streets. So, all new proposed development should be carefully considered, public comment should be solicited and seriously evaluated, and real needs, such as affordable housing, should not be ignored. In this regard, I believe that Salem cannot and should not shoulder the burden of providing the majority of new affordable housing on the North Shore, but I believe we should do our share. We should want an economically diverse group of people living in our City, which has always prided itself on being welcoming to new arrivals. We should also want people who grow up in Salem to be able to continue to afford to live here. I believe we can help develop a reasonable amount of new affordable housing, but as stated above, we cannot plug the existing gap all on our own.
Managing development also means that the City should pay close attention to design issues for new buildings because design matters. Any new projects, particularly those on a larger scale, should be designed with an eye toward fitting into the historic character of the section of the city (and a particular neighborhood, if applicable) where they are proposed to be constructed. We have all seen examples of new development in Salem that sticks out like a sore thumb because the leadership of the City did not insist on developers paying more attention to design. A prime example of this is the Hampton Suites hotel in Riley Plaza, where the modern, bland facade stands in stark contrast to the beautiful WPA-era Post Office and architectural style of the former St. Mary's church and residential neighborhood directly across the plaza from the hotel. Salem is a venerable, historic city, and the next Mayor should insist on high quality appropriate design submittals for all potential developers. Anything less should be considered a disservice to our community.
The current urban renewal movement threatens the cultural diversity of our city changing our beautiful, historic coastal city into a congested, faceless place.
Good work was accomplished extending the demolition delay, and initiating our cemetery restoration projects with new guidelines for visitors. The city needs to use the same focus on guidelines for preservation needs like our municipally owned historic structures, infrastructure of streets and
sidewalks, statues, parks, etc. There is quite a large amount of work to be done in this area to set expectations for the future.
- Appoint a historic preservation professional recommended by HSI for the Planning Board, Salem Redevelopment Authority, etc.
- Create a long-range Master Plan with parameters for new development proposals.
- Partner with the PEM to share and activate the vast inheritance given to them by Salem citizens: historic homes, archives, etc.
- Partner with the local institutions and neighboring towns to broaden the presentation of Salem’s history expanding the understanding and need for historic preservation.
Development and redevelopment should be focused on vacant properties when possible, and when buildings with historic value are redeveloped the replacement should incorporate the historic structure and design notes. We should also focus preservation efforts on structures that contribute to the city’s feel rather than just assume every structure is to be preserved.
The interests of preservation and housing are not mutually exclusive. Salem is a vibrant and attractive place to live and our historic character is a major and essential reason for that; but that also means the demand for housing in Salem is very high. Because our supply is not meeting that demand, the cost to buy or rent a home is escalating faster than local incomes. This results in housing becoming unaffordable and unattainable for many, and the character of our city is as much about the diversity of people who have always been able to call it home as it is about the appearance of a building or a neighborhood. I think we have examples of great design in newer buildings – for example, the Halstead Station project offers a tasteful nod to the industrial style of the 19th century tanneries and factories that once populated the Blubber Hollow area. But we also must be sensitive to the fact that demanding high-end design can also add to the cost of a project, which in turn drives up the cost of that housing. This is the critical balance we must strike in our community if we value the character of our city as a place where people of any background and any means can find a suitable home - which is what Salem has been for generations. I welcome the opportunity to work with HSI and other groups and professionals in the historic preservation space to help guide builders to identify ways they can ensure good design that is compatible with the context of the neighborhood or community, but also that doesn’t prohibitively drive up the cost of housing. I would also want to partner with HSI and similar organizations to help with educational opportunities with boards and commissions that engage in this work.
3) HOW WOULD YOU ALLOCATE FUNDING AND RESOURCES TOWARDS HISTORIC PRESERVATION EFFORTS IN OUR CITY?
I will immediately carry out an Operational Audit of all departments to identify key areas of waste and redistribute funds. I know first-hand there is significant waste where our tax bills should have gone down the past 2 years but instead have gone up. While I was Senior Planner from 1986-2000, I was charged with many tasks including writing grants and getting hundreds of projects completed with cost savings. I negotiated new contracts and
renegotiated some existing contracts. In the mid-1990s I was asked to save $50,000 in our trash contract instead I saved over $1,000,000. In the 1980s I was asked to write a grant for $20,000 for new sidewalks around the New Derby Street Walgreen’s that was not yet built. Well, I wrote
that grant but after reading the goals of the economic development grant application, on my time after work and on weekends I also wrote a much bigger grant application to link the downtown to the waterfront and Riley Plaza to Pickering Wharf. If you remember, much of this
corridor had vacant storefronts, 2 gas stations, Engine House Pizza, the hardware store and not much more. Mayor Salvo telephoned me on a Saturday at home and congratulated me in that we received full funding for the much bigger project and after I supervised the construction of
the new streetscape, all of the storefronts became occupied and it is now a vibrant part of downtown. These are things we need to focus on NOT luxury apartments that Salem residents cannot afford.
City Hall is simply spending too much money. There are many examples of waste including the new Forest River Park swimming pool. As a City Councillor I voted for this when the budget was $3-4 million. The pool project immediately went up to $5-6M, then $8-9M, then $11-12M, then
$14M and more. I ask, where did the extra $10,000,000 go?
The operational audit will identify ways we can be more efficient and save money. The audit
will help us see where we can divert money to address important needs including specific needs in our schools, historic preservation, and key social issues like drug addiction and homelessness.
The City should absolutely allocate appropriate funding levels to preserve and protect its public-owned historic buildings and sites. A good example of this is the wrought iron fence surrounding the Common, which has been in need of significant repair and upgrading for many years. A good start was made by designating some Community Preservation Act funding toward this project, but there is a long way to go, and the City should not lag in its commitment to finish this project. Other examples include historic cemeteries which fall under the control of the City. I must commend the Driscoll administration for putting resources into preserving (and in some ways saving) the Charter Street burial ground, which was in danger of being trampled by uncontrolled crowds of visitors for many years. I also believe that Community Preservation Act funding can, and should, be used to help preserve and protect certain privately-owned buildings and properties which are historic and enhance the quality of life in Salem, such as those held by local non-profit institutions.
- Create preservation and maintenance guidelines for city owned historic structures, brick sidewalks and cobbled streets. Allocate budget items to support these objectives.
- Increase the proportion of CPA funds used for historic municipal properties before we allocate to private organizations. Salem has had many properties impacted by CPA funding: Broad Street Senior Center, Camp Naumkeg, Pioneer Village, Fort Lee, Salem Common, Old Town Hall, City Hall, the Dr. William Mack Park house, Pickering House at Forest River Park, the Salem Willows, Coast Guard facility and Hangar at Winter Island. If restored, many of these properties could also generate revenue specifically Old Town Hall, Pioneer Village, and the Pickering House at Forest River Park; the Mack house; Camp Naumkeag; and the two properties at Winter Island
- Utilize tax abatements for historic homeowner exterior restoration under the guidance of the Historic Commission which would be available to historic homeowners in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Most resources in the city that are of historic significance are privately held and/or are part of nonprofits. The CPA is a tool we can use and have used to help preserve those resources. Regarding the historic sites that are part of the city’s inventory, we can put more work into maintenance and upkeep to prevent costly reconstruction work in the future.
Salem has been able to secure millions in Preservation Project Fund grants from the state for both City-owned and private-sector preservation efforts. Furthermore we’ve leveraged our local Community Preservation Act grants to also help fund both City and private-sector historic preservation efforts. For example, since the inception of CPA here in Salem nearly $3 million in grants from that fund have been awarded to 42 historic preservation projects, including $1.1 million to 18 private preservation projects. I will continue to prioritize the use of these grant funds toward those ends and will work with community partners to explore how we can expand such funding sources, for example by maximizing the CPA surcharge amount to leverage more matching funds from the state. We have a dedicated staff specialist in the Department of Planning and Community Development focused on historic preservation work and I will maintain that role and ensure they have the resources they need to do their job, because I believe it is crucial for a historic community like Salem to have such a person working on the City’s team. I will continue seeking ways to capture visitor revenues through operations like the Corwin House, Pioneer Village, the new Charter Street Cemetery information center, and Old Town Hall, to invest directly in preservation and protection of the City’s historic assets. Lastly, I believe there are untapped opportunities through new federal grant programs, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, which we can leverage for historic preservation-related projects. I’m concerned that we’re missing the window of opportunity to pursue these funds, however, and so I will prioritize efforts to secure as much federal funding support as possible for historic preservation projects..
4) IS THERE ONE SPECIFIC PRESERVATION ISSUE CURRENTLY GOING ON IN THE CITY THAT STANDS OUT TO YOU?
Besides the issues I have discussed above with us losing our historic fabric, focusing solely on luxury apartment development, and not fully protecting and enhancing our historic districts and wetland resource areas, if I had to pick only one preservation issue that is presently in jeopardy, I immediately envision Pioneer Village (and also Camp Naumkeag as they have been linked).
Pioneer Village and Camp Naumkeag are unique, historic cultural landscapes here in Salem. Pioneer Village is the first of its kind. The first living history museum in the nation and an important example of Colonial Revival movement. Pioneer Village was built in 1930 to celebrate the Tercentennial of the landing of Governor Winthrop with the charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 15 years ago, I volunteered on six service projects in Pioneer Village to help the living museum reopen. After being closed for 6 years and after the repairs by volunteers were completed, Pioneer Village reopened only to have City Hall once again pretty much ignore this resource. Camp Naumkeag is an historic tuberculosis convalescent camp with ties to the votes for women movement. There is currently a project to demolish the buildings at Camp Naumkeag and move some of the buildings from Pioneer Village to the Camp Naumkeag site. I understand that the project violates several guidelines for the preservation of historic
sites and that Pioneer Village is currently being considered for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. I also understand that there is an issue with the newly built seawall between Pioneer Village and the ocean. To me this is unacceptable. That seawall was apparently built
18” lower than the previous seawall. The city contends that sea level rise and inundation from the ocean is a main factor for relocating Pioneer Village or switching the two sites. The project has been put forth by the city as saving historic sites but members of the community have come
forward to reveal the historic value of these sites, the inherent value of keeping them intact and in their original place, violations to preservation practice and other concerns about the project. Other members of the community see a value to the proposed plan. A larger, open
public meeting to review the merits and faults of the proposed project is needed to ensure that all perspectives are heard and considered. As mayor I will gather the community together to openly discuss this project.
Lastly, let me end by saying as we have seen time and time again, too much is hidden from the public until it is too late. Some fixes are simple, such as the oddly designed North Street and other pavement markings that I will correct as Mayor. Others are more complex, such as the unusual zoning change at Shetland Industrial Park, where instead of new business growth roughly ½ of the property will soon become over 1,000 luxury apartments, eliminating jobs and tax revenue, that will cause the adjacent neighborhood’s rents to skyrocket and taxes to go up
in all of Salem. There may still be time to pivot from this plan, which I see as a day 1 priority as Mayor. I live my life my life in an honest hard-working way, and this is what I pledge to bring to the Mayor’s office. Thank you for your trust in me, allowing me to speak on historic
preservation and how all of these issues are linked and impact each other. On March 28, please vote Steve Dibble for Mayor.
The one historic preservation issue that stands out at the present time is the proposal put forth by the Driscoll administration to relocate Pioneer Village to the Camp Naumkeag site on Memorial Drive. All things being equal, I would prefer that Pioneer Village not be moved; however, I understand that this is a somewhat complicated (and potentially controversial) proposal. Since I do not have all the facts, I am witholding judgment on whether I believe the proposed move is advisable (or necessary) until I research the issue further.
The Demolition of Camp Naumkeg and Moving of Pioneer Village
First, the demolition of Camp Naumkeg – This is an historic vernacular piece of the Salem Willows which has been allowed to fall into disrepair. The agreement with the Salem YMCA indicated that the Y could use the camp in exchange for maintenance of the facilities. This was not enforced and is now the primary reason for an unnecessary and short-sighted demolition. Like many amenities of Salem which have not been cared for or activated—there remains great potential for its use going forward. Salem has yet to understand and realize the historic value of the Salem Willows and Fort Lee which goes well beyond creating a new tourist attraction. It is part of the historic fabric of the Salem Willows.
Second, moving Pioneer Village - Built in 1930, the museum is one of the oldest open air living history museums in the United States. The museum has five acres in size and originally features 12 buildings, which includes thatched roof cottages, a governor’s mansion, a blacksmith shop, a sawpit as well as a recreation of the Naumkeag Native-American complete with wigwams and dugouts.
The village was designed in 1930 by architect George Francis Dow of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The landscape was designed by Harlan Kelsey a student in the Olmstead tradition and one of the most renowned landscape architects in America. Again, Pioneer Village is a major component of Salem’s evolved history which spans over centuries.
Incidentally, Harlan Kelsey at that time was quoted, “Salem ... has not yet awakened to the amazing potentialities in value of that past, which if conserved, developed and properly exploited, coupled with the right kind of an orderly future planned for and built, would make it possible for us to live an extraordinarily rich and happy community life on our past...”
I hope to change all that.
Pioneer Village and the city’s efforts to relocate and enhance the site as part of Salem’s Signature Park Initiative. The historic value of the existing Pioneer Village is minimal - it’s a reproduction of a reproduction at this point and it’s set in a far out of the way area that isn’t set up at all to handle significant tourist visits. The city’s goal has been to move and rebuild it in a more historically accurate fashion that’s better protected from climate issues, and to be able to increase the visits and also tell the Native story as part of the context.
There are so many critical preservation issues and projects facing our community right now, and I would certainly put key municipal structures like Old Town Hall, the Winter Island hangar and barracks, and sites like Fort Lee on that list, along with building on efforts to expand our preservation and interpretation of Indigenous history, and supporting private historic property-owners in accessing resources to help them protect and preserve their properties. These are at the heart of our city’s historic identity in so many respects. When I think of one overriding - even existential - problem facing our historic preservation efforts in Salem, both now and into the future, however, it would have to be the intersection of the climate crisis with our historic assets and resources is of critical importance. I’m proud of the initial work our city has undertaken in this area, including most notably the efforts of the Preservation Partners and the group’s public education efforts, such as the “Preservation in a Changing Climate” conference. We need to start taking this work beyond planning and public education, however, and begin to act more intentionally to protect, preserve, and make resilient our City-held historic resources as we advance climate-related action items like the Resilient Together regional sustainability plan. As the Sustainability Department develops future action plans through the Resilient Together effort we must ensure consideration is included for evaluating the impacts of the climate crisis on historic assets in the study area in question. Lastly, we need to help the owners of privately-held historic property - which constitutes most of our city’s properties - access the tools, funding, and programs to assist them in undertaking the same work as the City should do for publicly-held historic resources.