, Salem, MA

March 29, 2013

Senior center gets final OK

Salem: Councilor's request to delay vote for last-minute amendments is rejected

By Bethany Bray

---- — Second passage of the previously approved $4.9 million bond for a new senior center hit a few bumps last night before it was ultimately approved by the Salem City Council.

It was the final OK needed for construction to start on the planned community/senior center at the corner of Boston and Bridge streets — a project that has been years in coming.

Councilor Michael Sosnowski asked for the vote to be delayed two weeks while several amendments could be negotiated with the project developer, High Rock LLC.

Citing concerns over contamination at the property, a former Sylvania plant, Sosnowski proposed a list of six stipulations for the project design and construction, from removal of contaminated underground “hot spots” and installation of a “state-of-the-art” vapor barrier under the building to having an independent company monitor the site cleanup and adding charcoal to the property’s wells, if the groundwater is found to be contaminated.

Sosnowski said he had run the stipulations by the developer’s attorney, who had verbally agreed to the list. The two-week delay was needed, Sosnowksi said, to negotiate a written agreement from the developer.

Sosnowski said he wouldn’t vote to approve second passage of the senior center bond until the city receives written agreement from the developer for the six stipulations.

“If we don’t get that in writing, I’m going to vote no,” Sosnowski said. “My purpose here is to protect the seniors and anyone that goes in this building. ... I’m not going to stick my head in the sand any longer.”

After discussion, the City Council voted 7-4 against Sosnowski’s motion to delay the vote two weeks. Voting in favor were Councilors Todd Siegel, Arthur Sargent, Paul Prevey and Sosnowksi.

Ward 1 Councilor Robert McCarthy said it was “troubling” that Sosnowski went outside the council — using a chemist and attorney not affiliated with the city — to develop and draft the six stipulations.

Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel argued how the building is built, what materials are used and the other issues that Sosnowski was raising aren’t in the realm of the City Council.

“These type of remediation questions are in the purview of the planning board,” Turiel said.

“I like the remediation questions that are coming up,” Councilor William Legault said. “Yes, we need to remediate this property ... but do we have to wait two weeks (to vote second passage)?”

The 20,000-square-foot Gateway Center will be part of a public/private development that will also include offices and a 374-space parking lot. In 2009, the city signed a $5 million purchase-and-sale agreement with High Rock LLC to buy a large portion of the proposed four-story building.

Cleanup and decontamination of the Boston/Bridge site will be required by the Department of Environmental Protection as it is redeveloped.

Remediation will be done to the “highest standards,” as required by law, Mayor Kim Driscoll said last night.

After voting against Sosnowski’s motion to delay the vote by two weeks, councilors voted 8-3 to grant second and final approval of the $4.9 million bond for the city’s portion of the project. Sosnowski, Siegel and Sargent voted in opposition.

Two weeks ago, the City Council voted 10-1 to approve first passage of the $4.9 million bond. Sargent was the lone vote in opposition.

Sosnowski said he voted in favor of the project on March 14 after talking with the project developer, David Sweetser, in the parking lot after the board’s lengthy discussion and public forum on March 13. Sosnowski said Sweetser assured him that the property’s “hot spots” would be decontaminated.

Siegel, the Ward 3 councilor, said he was also involved in the meetings with the developer’s attorney since the March 14 vote.

“I want this to go forward,” Siegel said last night. “There’s a lot of pluses here. (But) I think there’s a couple of things that need to be addressed.”

Driscoll said she was unaware that things had transpired since the March 14 vote and was upset those with questions or plans to attach stipulations to the project “did not even have the common decency and respect to call me.”

The list of six stipulations deal with “levels of detail that are completely out of the realm of expertise of anyone in this room,” Driscoll told the council. Two weeks won’t provide any additional information on design details, such as the building’s vapor barrier and ventilation systems, she said.

“To delay this for two weeks would be useless,” said Driscoll, who advocated for the senior center project prior to the March 14 vote. “... We are ready to go. The time is now. This is the final vote. Can we please get this done?”

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.