A proposed 141-unit apartment complex on the site of the former Salem Oil and Grease factory in the Blubber Hollow neighborhood that drew ire from a handful of councilors has been referred to the City Council Committee on Ordinances, Licenses, and Legal Affairs, but no date for a meeting has been set.
The issue was last taken up at a June 7 Planning Board meeting, at which time there was some confusion over the legal guidelines of placing Planned Urban Development residences in business park zones.
A PUD is a development that has the flexibility to be placed in different city zones through a special permit. The city has placed PUDs in other zones, but this is the first time the Planning Board has seen a developer trying to put residences on a site designated for commercial use.
The ability to do so comes from a City Council ordinance passed in 2009 - after being shot down once previously - that allows residential units in business park zones under the condition that no more than 50 percent of the land be residential. It is unclear what exactly defines this stipulation, and the committee will seek a written opinion from the city solicitor or an independent legal counsel.
"This should have actually been done at the beginning of this project, this question should have been answered," said Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Ryan.
The crux of the complicated issue is taxes. The residential tax rate in Salem is $12 per $1,000 of valuation, and the commercial rate is $29 per $1,000 of valuation. City officials put the 50 percent stipulation in the ordinance to preserve the city's tax base, as well as to help promote business and create jobs.
"To me when all is said and done, the final approval on a project like this is if it pays half residential taxes and half commercial taxes," said Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent. "And that was our undivided intent, to preserve at least half of our commercial tax base on these properties."
The developer of the proposed Legacy Park Apartments - MRM Project Management - intends to put 141 residential units in three new buildings, while converting the former office of Salem Oil and Grease at 60 Grove St. into commercial space.
"This whole project, all they're talking about is residential, they barely mention commercial," Ryan said. "And I just think it's being abused, and this is the first real test of this ordinance, this zoning law...I want to make sure this is done right."