MRM Project Management presented an overview of the proposed $20 million redevelopment of the 250-year-old industrial site on the North River canal between Grove and Harmony Grove streets to the Planning Board Thursday night.
When the lawyer, engineer and architect had finished discussing the proposed redevelopment of the contaminated Salem Oil & Grease Co. site into 141 new apartments and 17,000 square feet of renovated office space, the only thing any of the two dozen people in the audience could say positively about the project was that it was better than nothing.
“These are the ugliest buildings I've ever seen,” Susan Strauss said. Of the three, four-story apartment buildings, she said, “They are just massive blocks.”
She was joined by several other speakers who had waited three hours to complain that the proposed project did not comply with the master plan for redevelopment along the North River canal. The structures were compared to the often-criticized JPI apartments near the station.
Jim Carey, noting that there will be a lot of redevelopment projects in the area, said, “I would hate to see this set the tone for other developments.”
The apartment buildings, which would contain a total of 135,768 square feet of residential space, were shown in drawings as being tall, long and having a white exterior. There would be 41 one and two-bedroom apartments in each building with parking underneath.
Speakers criticized the buildings, saying they look like giant railroad cars.
Most speakers urged the planning board to force the developers, Michael and Robert Hubbard of Beverly, to redesign the project to make it less dense and more historic appearing. Because this site is in a Planned Unit Development, the city has considerable power over the project's design.
'Only a Beginning'
Planning Board Chairman Charles Puleo told the audience, “This (hearing) is only a beginning.”
The project must also be approved by the Conservation Commission, the Historical Commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Ward 6 Councilor Paul Prevey, who attended the hearing, filed a letter with the Planning Board citing concerns about the density of the project and traffic issues caused by the growth in the area.
“The overall anticipated impact to the neighborhood will be overwhelming,” Prevey wrote.
The Mack Park community is alarmed about the redevelopment of not only this site, but two other old industrial sites along what was known as Blubber Hollow.
In addition to the 141-apartment development, other proposed projects along the North River canal include a 130-apartment complex at the former factory site on Flint Street and a 44-unit condominium development on Goodhue Street.
Prevey told the board the MRM project and the others “would fundamentally change the character of the neighborhood as well as the quality of life for the neighbors.” He noted that most of the residences in the immediate neighborhood are single-family, detached houses.
He proposed a comprehensive traffic study for all three residential projects.
The Salem Oil & Grease project may have an immediate hurdle to overcome. The announced that it owns one of the lots that the developers believe they own.
“That could be a problem,” said Joseph Correnti, the attorney for the project.
The board expected Correnti to have an answer to the cemetery's claim by its next meeting in two weeks.
The project, once completed, would pay more than $400,000 in taxes to the city, Correnti said.
And engineer Bob Griffin said cleaning up the old site, which has been a long list of factories for 250 years, would improve the smell along the North River canal.