For several months we have been reporting on a zoning overlay district that is being considered by the City Council. At all public meetings and in written comment we have been clear on two issues:
1 – We want to see historic schools, churches and other large civic buildings reused (and they would be great for housing).
2 – We want any new construction on these neighborhood sites to suit the surrounding neighborhood.
In early January the planning department submitted a re-draft of the ordinance, in response to public comment, that allowed for flexibility in reuse of existing buildings and a limited ability for buildings to be expanded in a way that met the character of the surrounding neighborhood. We were pleased to support this version of the ordinance at the January 9th meeting, as did most members of the community who also commented.
Unfortunately, the ordinance has again been redrafted. This is a result of Planning Board recommendations made on January 17th. The redraft allows for new construction, including additions, on the historic sites that could be up to 55 feet tall. It also allows for very high density. For example, it could allow up to 40 residential units at 5 Broad Street (the former Senior Center), over 150 units at the St. James Church site on Federal Street, and over 140 units at Immaculate Conception on Hawthorne Blvd. Many of the properties eligible for this overlay zoning are in residential neighborhoods, yet the allowed zoning would be similar to that allowed in the downtown district (B5 zoning) which is the densest and tallest zoning in the City.
At the next meeting of the City Council on Wednesday, February 14th, the City Council will either vote on the Ordinance or refer it to Committee for further revisions.
It is Historic Salem’s position that this Ordinance should not be passed in its current state. Allowing such extreme new construction does not meet the intent that the ordinance “allow for reuse..but minimize impacts to surrounding neighborhoods.”
Because we support the reuse of historic schools and churches we would like the ordinance to be referred to Committee so it can be adjusted to allow for new construction consistent with the character of the neighborhood surrounding each unique site. The January 9th version of the ordinance, that we supported, allowed for new construction that followed the underlying zoning of the neighborhood. This is how new construction is handled in the best practices model ordinance published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Salem is full of examples of churches and schools reused without additions or large new buildings. We view the historic buildings in our city as benefits (cost savings include the ability to reuse exterior walls, foundations, roofs while avoiding the monetary and environmental costs of demolition) not as detriments. People want to live in these interesting buildings embedded in the community. We do not think developers will need to be convinced to take on these projects by allowing excessive new construction.
If you agree please consider writing to the City Councilors. Councillor contact information can be found on the city website.
Here are some possible messages. We encourage you to customize them. (And don't miss the links at the bottom of the post that give more information about the ordinance and HSI’s position)
Sample Letter 1
To City Councillors:
I am writing to ask that you not take action on the Municipal and Religious Adaptive Reuse Overlay District Ordinance until it has been revised to reflect that new construction comply with the provisions of the underlying zoning. Please take the time to get this Ordinance right as it will affect many properties and neighborhoods across the City.
Sample Letter 2
To City Councillors:
I am writing about the Municipal and Religious Adaptive Reuse Overlay District Ordinance because I support the reuse of historic buildings, and specifically the three former school buildings currently being considered for reuse. However, in its current form, the Ordinance should not be passed.
The Planning Board’s recommendations for large 5-story 55-foot high new construction should not be accepted. The dimensional recommendations are completely out of scale with many of the neighborhoods where these buildings are located, and the dimensions do not represent the wishes of the many residents who have spoken at the public hearings.
The density that would be allowed for new construction is 15 times (or more) that allowed in the underlying neighborhood zoning and is too high. Further, the definition of eligibility as presently written is so broad that many potential sites could be included that are not consistent with the intent of the ordinance. At a minimum, eligibility should be limited to buildings currently in municipal and religious ownership and use, not just use.
Zoning is complex and long lasting. Please take a few more weeks to develop this ordinance so that it does not create years of unintended consequences.
Our Letter to the City Councillors - January 22, 2019
Memo to City Councillors from Planning Department incl. Planning Board Recommendations - January 29, 2019
Previous Draft of Overly District Ordinance - January 8, 2019
Original HSI Preservation Alert about the overlay district (December 5, 2018)
Update #1 about the overlay district (January 17, 2019)
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