BY TOM DALTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — The latest volley in a fight that has raged for nearly two decades was fired several days ago by residents in one of the city’s most prestigious neighborhoods, the McIntire Historic District.
A letter by a Federal Street resident, signed by more than two dozen neighbors and city residents, demanded the city take action on 6 Federal Court, a 206-year-old brick house, with a barn, or carriage house, both of which have been vacant and deteriorating since the early 1990s.
The letter was sent to Mayor Kim Driscoll and other city officials.
It was triggered by a late September storm in which part of the carriage house roof reportedly blew off, damaging a car at adjacent 95 Federal St.
“We have been more than patient and understanding over the years, but given the events of this past week, we are now writing to demand action on the part of the building inspector, the city solicitor and our mayor, to bring about a substantive improvement and/or resolution to this distressing situation,” Bill Aydelott wrote on behalf of several owners of a nearby condo building.
The letter claimed the 6 Federal Court property not only presents a danger and health hazard, but has attracted a “criminal element” and vagrants.
“The carriage house part of that property is nothing if not a disastrous tinderbox that could result in a very serious fire...” Aydelott added.
The Salem News was not able to reach city officials late Friday, but city files reveal a long history of correspondence and conflict between the city and the property owners.
The city’s building department has repeatedly cited the property owner for code violations and gone to court to seek repairs or other action. Over the years, minor repairs or improvements have been made, but not the major work sought by neighbors, according to the files.
The property is owned by the Federal Court Realty Trust, a Peabody family trust. The Salem News was not able to reach a trustee.
Until his death a few years ago, the late H. Berkley Peabody, a former college professor, dealt with city officials over the property. His family lived in the brick house at 6 Federal Court for years before moving out in the early 1990s, according to a 2003 interview with The Salem News.
He purchased the carriage house, once the property of 95 Federal St., in the 1960s, according to a former neighbor.
The Peabody family requested several times to raze the carriage house, but was denied by the Historical Commission, which contended it was an important historic property that should be preserved.
The family also made an unsuccessful attempt to convert it to a single-family home.
As recently as last month, the trust submitted a request to the Historical Commission to repair a door. It is not known if those repairs were made.
The main house, a three-story brick building, has eight bedrooms and two baths and was built in 1806, according to city records. The property has an assessed value of $446,500.
Ward 2 Councilor Mike Sownowski, who represents the neighborhood, said the fight is a complex legal battle among owners of a private property, neighbors and the city.
“Is it frustrating?” he said. “Yeah, it’s frustrating as hell. We wish they’d sell it to somebody who’s going to restore it.”
Neighbors share the frustration.
“The time has come for the city of Salem to take serious, aggressive, appropriate legal action to remedy this truly outrageous on-going stalemate,” their letter stated.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.