SALEM — The battle line is being drawn between Salem and Lynn over a 15-acre parcel on Highland Avenue that's being eyed for a new Lowe's and an expanded Walmart.
In May, the Lynn City Council passed a resolution opposing the project. Last week, Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy publicly came out against the project. She did not return two messages left at her office yesterday.
"We're 100 percent against it," said Lynn Councilor-at-Large Dan Cahill, who lives on nearby Bellaire Avenue.
He was among a group of Lynn politicians who met in private with the board of Camp Lion, which owns the property and has plans to sell it to Revere developer the Kennedy Group Inc.
"We met with members of the Lions Club to discuss our concerns and to appeal to them about our concerns," he said. Among those concerns are an increase in traffic and a decrease in nearby property values.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said yesterday that it's unreasonable for Lynn officials to reject the project outright. Besides, she could never see herself telling officials from another city they couldn't build a project.
"I think it's just selfish for Lynn officials to say no," she said. "Beyond that, I don't want any back-room politics entering into that process or how we review projects in Salem."
She met with a contingent of Lynn officials in April that included the Lynn mayor and wrote up a summary of the issues raised. They were passed along to the Planning Board to consider during its approval process.
"Now, we're working through how we can mitigate any impacts from it," Driscoll said.
The project affects 15 acres of the 70 owned by Camp Lion in Salem.
When the Camp Lion board agreed to the sale about eight years ago, nothing prepared them for the backlash, said Sean Crowley, president of the Lynn Lions Club,
"We as an organization didn't know how many concerns would come up," Crowley said. "Remember, we're about helping people."
The money from any sale will be placed in an endowment for use at Camp Lion and its charitable work, the club president said.
Cahill said he, his neighbors and other residents from Lynn, Salem and Peabody are concerned about drainage off the property with a big-box store. They also have issues with traffic, the effect on the environment and the impact on property values in the area, among other concerns.
"This is a detrimental change," he said. "This only benefits Salem. We get nothing."
The councilor-at-large would prefer the store be built somewhere else in Salem.
"We're prepared to appeal at any and every juncture, whether local and/or at the state, and within our means and capability," Cahill said.
He said the potential loss of property taxes from the Lynn homes near the project could have a deleterious effect on an already struggling city.
"To diminish property taxes on an area that already pays one of the higher percentages, that affects what we can do throughout the entire city," he said.
Driscoll said she doesn't control where private enterprises go.
The Salem mayor added she hadn't heard a "peep" from Lynn officials in the past 18 months the project has been before city boards. She stressed yesterday that the Salem process is public and long by design, to give the Planning Board the chance to properly review projects.
"This is not being rammed down anyone's throat or going through some quick permitting process," she said. "It's an important project for me. It's important that this project be done right for Salem and Lynn."
Lowe's, a national chain of home-improvement stores, expects to bring 125 new jobs and pay $250,000 in taxes to Salem.
"We need the tax revenue here," she said. "I'm worried about the working people in Salem. Anything we get as a community that offsets the impact on residential property owners."
The Salem mayor said the issues raised by Lynn residents are common concerns that have been addressed in previous projects in Salem.
In the meantime, the Salem Planning Board will continue its discussion of the proposal at its Sept. 16 meeting.
Chairman Charles Puleo said the board expects to hear from the city-hired traffic consulting group to provide its findings on the developers' traffic study and, at a future meeting, a city-hired consultant will offer feedback on the drainage.
"We're trying to work on this on an issue-by-issue basis," Puleo said. "We're going to have to rely on the people the city hired to come back with suggestions on how to make this work."
The Planning Board will weigh in on the ways the Kennedy Development Group can make improvements to the project.
"It's a very difficult thing to deny, especially when this is an allowed use," Puleo said. "Everyone has their right to do something with their property."
The chairman said his board's duty is to make the impact from the project minimal.
Ultimately, the development is allowed by right, Puleo said.
"These are two private parties," Driscoll said. "They're moving forward."