By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — It started out as a modest proposal to adjust the city’s zoning map.
But it got hot enough last night that Mayor Ted Bettencourt called for the cancellation of a Planning Board hearing in order to schedule a neighborhood gathering to discuss the future of the Pulaski Street Industrial Park.
Both residents and business people will attend the meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.
The zoning change would alter the industrial designation for roughly half of the park, making it general business. Spurred on by nearby residents, the purpose, explained Community Development Director Karen Sawyer, would be to open up a riverfront area providing for more mixed use.
“Not too many people know that Peabody has a waterfront,” said Sawyer. Indeed, a section of the park borders a navigable stretch of the Waters River. Presently, she laments, it mainly collects trash. “We could at least clean it.” Thus, it might be used for any number of purposes, including recreation.
The plan calls for everything to the right of the road running through the industrial park to be rezoned for business, she explained. At present, there is no plan to call for any changes in the activities on the site, nor was any specific plan offered for further development.
In the past, neighbors have complained about the park, which brings in large and noisy trucks and buses. The street itself is designated a truck route, saving nearby Gardner Street from the traffic.
At the same time, up to 500 people work at the industrial park, according to one of them, Donald Kelley of Wayside Trailers. As many as 150 are employed in the section to be rezoned, but he suggested that the change could impact everyone.
With the Planning Board meeting canceled at the last minute, a number of business people associated with the industrial park appeared at City Hall last night and aired their objections.
“This area has been industrial for the past 150 years,” explained Veikko Huuskonen, also of Wayside. He noted that the site predates the arrival of the homes which are currently the source of so many complaints.
“The proposed zoning,” said Kelley, “is much more restrictive than the existing zoning. It would essentially legislate a number of businesses out of business.”
Under the plan, said lawyer Jack Keilty, representing a company that parks buses on the site, every modification attempted in the business zone will now require the company to go to the City Council for permission. “If that’s not necessary we’d rather not have to do it,” he said.
Further complicating the situation for the businesses, the area is currently considered a Department of Environmental Protection site, with worrisome materials in the soil. Consequently, said Huuskonen, according to the law nothing involving children could be contemplated in the business zoned area.
It calls into question whether any benefit to property owners could be gained by restricting the area to general business, Huuskonen suggested. Additionally, he argued, no infrastructure, not even sidewalks, exist in the area that would be open to business.
“I don’t see the city talking about how they’re going to improve the area,” he said.
The Planning Board hearing has been rescheduled for June 20, according to Sawyer. The City Council, however, will have the ultimate say as to zoning changes.