Lowe's/Wal-Mart Project Gets Thumbs Up From Planning Board
After nine months, the Board unanimously okays the Highland Avenue project.
The Planning Board unanimously approved the controversial Lowe’s/Wal-Mart project on Highland Avenue on Thursday night.
The long-awaited vote came during the Board's 16th meeting, spanning nine months, on the proposed project by the Kennedy Development Corp. Now, the project faces scrutiny from the Conservation Commission and an even more comprehensive review by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Transportation.
The project was approved with about two dozen conditions that address issues ranging from where trucks will be parked during construction to what trees will be planted along a 15-foot sound barrier wall and what color the wall will be.
Board member Randy Clarke, who declared himself “not a fan of big box stores,” summed up what many Board members thought.
“This project is not perfect, but the drainage [at the site] will be better and traffic [on Highland Avenue] will be better. It is a better project for the work we have done," he said.
Helen Sides, another board member, said she supports the project because “Salem needs more revenue.” Board Member Christine Sullivan said having a new Lowe's and an expanded Wal-Mart will create badly needed jobs.
The new and expanded stores, according to Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, will generate $225,000 in new tax revenue and create more than 100 jobs.
Joseph Correnti, the attorney for the Kennedy Development Group, told the Board he was "pleased with where the project ended up."
"We believe it will be beneficial to the city," he said.
He acknowledged that winning the Planning Board's approval is just “the first major step” in the permitting process.
Residents from Salem and Lynn, who have been present at the meetings over the past nine months, filled the City Hall Annex to hear the Board’s decision.
The dozen speakers at the hearing before the Board closed off public comments were about evenly divided. Most of the Lynn residents, including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, and a few Salem residents, came to oppose the project. They have argued for months that the new stores will make traffic and drainage issues even worse.
A new complaint was that the large stores will hurt sales in downtown Salem. Sullivan, a board member, strongly disagreed. “Downtown Salem is booming, better than it has since the 1950s,” she said.
Other complaints about the project were that it would hurt the environment, raise property values and desecrate Indian tribal lands.
The Board disagreed with most of the objections and agreed with the developer and the Board's consulting engineers that the drainage plans “will improve the existing pre-development condition of the site and surrounding neighborhoods.”
The Kennedy Group agreed to give the city of Lynn $60,000 to improve drainage issues in the nearby neighborhood. It has already identified a broken storm water runoff pipe in the Buchanan Circle neighborhood that is malfunctioning.
Similarly, the Kennedy Group agreed to donate $75,000 to fund a new traffic study to identify ways to improve traffic on Highland Avenue from Swampscott Road to the Pep Boys shop.
At the start of the hearing, the developer also announced it had worked out an agreement with the developer of the Apple Hill community to plant from 80 to 100 evergreen trees to shield the residents' view of a new 15-foot sound wall.
The Board members had a few other suggestions for Lowe's and Wal-Mart. Clarke and Sides said they wish the two buildings had solar panels to reduce their impact on the environment and pave the way for smaller companies to afford solar panels.
Sullivan urged Lowe's to take “a few sheets from the Wal-Mart playbook” and design the new building with recycled materials.
“I never thought I would praise Wal-Mart for anything,” she said.