SALEM — City councilors voted last night to sell a small city-owned parcel at Washington and Dodge streets, opening the door to a redevelopment project supporters say would revitalize an underused block and extend Salem’s downtown.
The board voted 11-0 to abandon and sell a roughly half-acre parcel of 38 parking spaces along Washington Street last night. Earlier this spring, councilors voted to declare the lot surplus. The lot was put out to bid and Somerville-based developer RCG was the only entity to express interest.
RCG is looking to include the half-acre parcel in a redevelopment project at the block the company owns that is bordered by Washington Street, Dodge Street and Dodge Street Court. The proposed $45 million, five- to six-story building would have a mix of retail, commercial and residential units; possibilities include shops, restaurants, offices and a hotel.
RCG has pledged to make at least 38 of the project’s 278 parking spaces permanently available to the city. The public spaces will be surface-level, not inside the complex’s garage, said Mayor Kim Driscoll.
“In many aspects, we’re getting the best of both worlds,” Driscoll said — not only will the 38 spaces be available to the public, but the city won’t have to plow or maintain them.
“This couldn’t be more of a parking win,” she said. “... I’m very excited about what (this development) could mean for our community.”
RCG was the only developer to respond to the city’s legal advertisement to sell the land and abandon part of a roadway right-of-way, proposing $275,000 for the deal, the amount of a land appraisal.
Last night’s vote was the continuation of the council’s July 9 public hearing on the project.
Chestnut Street resident Elaine Gerdine read a statement on behalf of Historic Salem to councilors last night. The group supports redevelopment of the block, she said, as long as the building design “provides architectural excellence.”
The project’s full scope — from traffic to building design — will be vetted as it makes its way through city boards.
Once RCG submits building plans to the city, the project will have to be approved by the Salem Redevelopment Authority, Design Review Board and Planning Board before construction could begin.
Last night, several councilors said the development would revitalize an underutilized city block, bring the city tax revenue (Driscoll estimates $500,000 annually) and enhance and extend Salem’s downtown.
The project will “add something to the downtown that’s just not there right now,” said Councilor Kevin Carr.
“That whole area is like an open wound,” said Buffum Street resident Michael Paul Marsille, “(and) this would knit it back together.”
Councilor Michael Sosnowski echoed Historic Salem’s request for “architectural excellence,” and said he hoped all the building’s residential units would have on-site parking.
“This will be a key driver in revitalizing that area,” said Councilor Josh Turiel, who represents the city ward where the development would be built. “... I think this is going to be a positive for the city.”
Driscoll noted there is a utility line that runs underneath the land that will have to be relocated before it’s developed.
At the July 9 public hearing, RCG Principal Matt Picarsic said the company tentatively plans to file designs with the city in November. If granted approval from the planning and other city boards, RCG hopes to start construction in April and complete work in 2016, he said.
Last night was the City Council’s last meeting of the season; they will meet next in September.