Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My first ever neighborhood association meeting

Last night I attended a neighborhood association meeting for the first time. I've meant to go several times, but one of the agenda items, an update on the plant reuse study, really caught my eye, and I made sure to attend.

Here is what I learned:

1. The British are coming! The British are coming! They're also camping. This looks like an interesting and fun event put on by theNational Park Service this weekend. They promised that all musket shots will be aimed toward Marblehead.

2. The currently condemned former home of Bik's Variety may have new life. The property was purchased, and the purchaser hopes to renovate that building into a single family home, and build another single family home next to it, on a spot that once had a 4-6 unit building. Each home would have off street parking for two cars, and would be around 1500 square feet, listing for 300-325k. It seemed like it would fit well with the neighborhood. It would definitely be an improvement to the area to have that site cleaned up. If you don't believe me just read the comments on the article linked above, about a rousting at the site.

3. The no turn on red signs at the Derby/Congress/Hawthorne intersection were placed at the recommendation of the traffic engineer, so sayeth the mayor. I drove through the new intersection this morning and it seemed to flow just fine at 9 AM. Right turn green arrows may make the no turn on red signs less of an issue than I originally thought. This intersection will definitely be safer now.

4. Councilor McCarthy likes to hear himself talk so much that he insisted on doing so in the back of the room several times during the meeting. Quite rude. It's impossible to listen to your constituents, Councilor McCarthy, if your gums are always flapping. Listen more. That said, I don't envy your job as head of administration and finance, especially during budget season. Good luck with that. Councilor Lovely slipped in after the meeting started, and other than her tardiness, was the perfect picture of good manners. Watch her, and then act like her. Council candidate Teasie Riley-Goggin was present as well. At least I think that was her I saw leaving when the meeting ended. The mayor was in attendance for the beginning of the meeting, but needed to leave to attend a school committee meeting about the superintendent search. She spoke about the power plant study, and set the table with a healthy, needed dose of realism. She also talked about a bill that rep Keenan is trying to pass that will help Salem maintain the level of funding that the power plant currently provides to the city through 2021. If successful, the city should use that funding to aim high with the reuse.

These city officials, (and apparently Teasie as well) put in very, very long hours. They all seem to be in a meeting or two almost every night. We may give them a hard time (see beginning of previous paragraph) but we all should give them credit for the effort they put in.

5. The agenda item that really brought everyone out, including yours truly, to the point that there weren't enough chairs, was a report out from the Salem Power Plant Reuse Study. It's clear that a lot of work went into the study. I'm also heartened to hear how realistic they are about the potential, and limitations at the property. I found myself nodding my head with almost every statement the mayor made while setting the table for the presentation

Among the limitations are the National Grid Substation, as well as the Southern Essex Sewerage District facility. They aren't exactly desirable neighbors. Some of the opponents of the power plant seem to ignore the existence of these less than desirable items when talking about the site's potential. The other item that they fail to talk about is that the entire site falls under Chapter 91, and is also a Designated Port Area (DPA). Chapter 91 and the DPA designation both put massive restrictions on the use of this land. It also gives the state a larger role in the approval of uses than the city has. In fact, residential and hotel are both specifically prohibited uses for a DPA. The point of a DPA designation is to keep our ports available for use as commercial ports. This was news to me, and I think it was to many others in the room. One resident asked,  "There have been full page ads in the Salem Gazette about residential, and I think hotel and park development, from what you were saying tonight it appears that those are all illegal, so the person who is putting these ads in, she's basically wasting her money?" (Her name is Susan Livingston.) The generic crowd response was, "she's lying, and yes." Look at her picture below, and count the things that apparently won't fly. It's really too bad. You can make a perfectly good case against the plant without resorting to ridiculous propaganda.

Weird, this looks heavily residential. Also, where is the National Grid Substation? Isn't that the newly paved Blaney Pier covered in dozens of trees?

Some seemed quite surprised that the city couldn't "dictate" the future of this parcel. Everyone needs to understand, Dominion owns the land. They could just close the gates and walk away, leaving it exactly like it is. Some suggested that because of this, the city was wasting its time studying this. I vehemently disagree with that. It's extremely smart of the city to try to learn what types of developments could realistically work on the site. The city's best hope for a good development is to go out and find that development, and advocate for it, both with Dominion and the state. If they don't know what can work they are ill positioned to do that.

One item that seems apparent, is that the existing structure is a tear down, and it will be an expensive one at that, as it is laced with lead and asbestos, which is expensive to remove. My point is, don't expect a project like the Power Plant Live development in Baltimore's inner harbor. We don't have the population or trasportation infrastructure to support it at this location, and we don't have a beautiful, national register of historic places building either, whether the Vision for Salem kooks want to admit it or not.

We don't have a structure like this to work with

6. City Planner Lynn Duncan didn't take very kindly to one neighborhood resident's suggestion that the city may want to postpone the building of the Blaney Street Pier extension out into the ocean since the design was done specifically to allow coal ships access to the plant, resulting in the pier being shaped like an off-kilter T. Ms. Duncan seemed to really take offense to that characterization of the design, but doesn't it? She also pointed out that the design and engineering has been completed, and permitting done, so they intend to go forward with building the first 250 feet of the 300 foot extension.

A straight T, and a crooked T.


  1. I should also note, there is a public meeting scheduled for the Bentley School, on June 30th, at 6:30, to review the reuse study.

  2. Thanks so much for this run down. I would love to go to all of the important meeting around the city but nighttime is pretty much out for this Mumma. Excellent reporting!

  3. Great post. I missed this meeting so I appreciate the detail you've included here. Thanks!

  4. The presentation that they went through has no been posted, as many of the residents requested. They raced through it during the meeting, at a very high level. I'll do another post highlighting the important points.


  5. You had a better experience at your neighborhood group (presuming Derby St.) than I did at the Alliance meeting. The Commission was asked to attend because the MBTA project and pedestrian travel were on the table, but in the end it was just a bunch of us giving opinions--there wasn't anyone from the state or the T.

    Just some guy (did not get his name) saying that we should build a pedestrian bridge over Washington & Bridge with an elevator. Sure.

    And another woman had a report from the state that had already analyzed ped traffic. She's hoarding that. Teasie was going to ask her to get in touch with me so the Commission could see the analysis. Nothing.

    I don't know if this is the case in your meeting, but I am bothered by the stereotype of a neighborhood group activist that knows everything; the sort of people like that woman in Marblehead that know absolutely everything about what we should do with the power plant site but who also don't really care about anyone or any neighborhood not in their circle.

    I had thought, being an appointed official, that I am very responsible for sticking to my experiences and expertise and not knowingly going beyond it. I can report my experiences first hand (I'm expert at falling down stairs at Salem Depot), and share my expertise in IT. Environment? Urban planning? Not so much.

    I understand in a neighborhood group like the ones you and I attended, there is no screening for expertise and everyone can have a say.

    I'm just nervous since the associations have a lot of influence and I need to be able to trust the guy next to me talking about zoning and such. During my meeting, Teasie was talking about abolishing the SRA. OK, we've been in that argument before and I have no clue what I think. But to leave it up to her or the Alliance? "Overreach" comes to mind.

  6. Excellent reporting, G! Thank you!
    This is much more interesting than your documentation of pipes and puddles!
    Onward and upward!

  7. Thank you for this report!! I appreciate your detailed rundown of events and clarification of the restrictions the land is under.


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