The City Council met tonight to discuss New Boston Venture’s proposal to reconfigure the greenspace triangle at St. Peter, Bridge and Howard Sts for additional restaurant parking.
The proposal is apparently dead.
I couldn’t hear everybody who spoke—nearly everyone from the neighborhood groups showed up, but the important points are here as best as I could hear and write down.
The original proposal brought by New Boston Ventures (NPV) was for 37 parking spaces carved out of the greenspace near the Jail wall.
NPV came back with a compromise proposal of 13 parking spaces and a turnaround that would be on a new access road from Bridge St.
There are two restaurants currently interested in the space. They have indicated that additional parking is a prerequisite for their interests.
NPV talked a little about the sidewalk that bisects the current greenspace and will intersect the access road. Some thought was given to a crushed stone sidewalk recycled from the original granite blocks from the Jail.
NPV expressed great appreciation for the effort that the city, the Council, and the SRA have put in to make the Salem Jail project work. Everyone agrees it has become a beautiful building and NPV is happy with their efforts so far.
The head of the Planning Dept. (Lynn Duncan, IIRC) has been inside the restaurant space. It is on a second level with a river view. She believes the parking plan is much improved.
If there is no restaurant, the space will be made into housing, 3 units.
But the City would much prefer the restaurant; she is concerned that if the Jail becomes all private housing, that will threaten or make non-viable the small Jail museum that is in the current plans.
One member of the committee (couldn’t make out whom) talked bout the spaces lost from Morency Manor use. [For a long while, while the Jail property was vacant, visitors to Morency Manor were allowed short term parking in the Jail lot. These were used by VNA’s, relatives, and other visitors who needed to stop by briefly.]
NPV proposed their lot to be used by Morency Manor visitors during the daytime hours (2 hr. parking.)
Councilor O’Keefe: The access road must be there on Bridge St. due to fire regulations. That is not negotiable.
Counicilor Pelletier: Are there condos [in the Jail]?
NPV: No. Apartments for now but if phase 2 is approved, the new building will be condos. Because of a complicated arrangment involving tax breaks for historic properties, this was necessary for the project to go through.
Question from the committee regarding National Grid’s transformer—why did that take three months to settle?
Transformer siting--National Grid changed their mind on NBV’s placement of the distribution transformer on site. National Parks Service rejected this placement, due to the sensitive granite wall around the Jail. National Grid then wanted to place their vault with other utilities, water, sewer, etc. and NBV thought that was infeasible. This went on for some time. The morning of this meeting [tonight], National Grid agreed to a compromise placement suitable to NBV, NG and NPS.
A committee member had a question: Is the road considered a private access road on what is public land.
Rules were suspended so that the public comment period would take place. Nearly half the room took their place to speak [including my colleague Charlie Reardon, and myself] so I didn’t get everyone and couldn’t.
The public comment was unanimous—No parking! The points came down to three.
1) Green space is very very important to Salemmites. No one wanted to lose any. People were very concerned over the original 37-space proposal, and very few people, if any, were mollified by the compromise, although people appreciated that NBV tried to change it. The quote of the night came from one woman: With the recent reconstruction of Bridge St., and the Leslie’s Retreat park space along the North River to the south, Salem has its own “Emerald Necklace”, like the famous green space of parks, rivers and walks in Boston writ small.
2) Why does a restaurant need additional spaces when there are already spaces available during the evening hours? Moreover, many thriving restaurants manage to survive without storefront parking. One committee member put it: “Salem doesn’t have a parking problem, it has a walking problem.”
3) If the restaurant can give up 13 spaces during the day to Morency Manor, spaces that it would use for delivery trucks and etc., perhaps it didn’t need the spaces after all.
Mike Sosnowski had the closing words before the vote. He had been present during the long planning process for the Bypass Road, some 35 years of effort, and the word [a new word to many of us at the time] was mitigation. That green space was mitigation for the road, amongst many other compromises that needed to be made.
Mike, continuing: I respect NBV very much for what they have done so far. But it is not worth losing that green space to keep the restaurant.
NBV: Offered and requested to withdraw their proposal.
The committee voted to give a negative recommendation to the full Council.