SALEM — A proposed market-rate apartment project at the site of the former Salem Oil & Grease factory secured a key approval last night despite strong opposition from a half-dozen city councilors.
The Planning Board voted 8-0 to grant a special permit to Legacy Park, a 141-apartment complex planned at the contaminated site dotted with vacant buildings along the North River Canal. It will have three four-story apartment buildings, 215 parking spaces and an entrance off Harmony Grove Road.
The $20 million project by MRM Development of Beverly will have one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments with expected rents from $1,400 to $1,800.
Even with this vote, the developer still needs approvals from the Conservation Commission and a state agency. But last night’s vote was a key step, coming after nearly a year of review by the board.
“This is a critical approval,” said Joe Correnti, the developer’s attorney.
City councilors turned out in force to oppose a largely residential development in an old industrial area known as “Blubber Hollow,” where they wanted to see commercial development.
Ironically, the project was able to go forward thanks to a zoning amendment approved more than a year ago by the City Council allowing up to 50 percent residential use in this business park district. Councilors said they agreed to that change only to assist a planned and later abandoned Lowe’s development on Highland Avenue.
“This is not what we intended,” Ward 2 Councilor Mike Sosnowski said.
The developer and lawyers for the city said the project met zoning guidelines and was legal. The developer even agreed to purchase more than an acre of adjacent land from Harmony Grove Cemetery to ensure that the residential component of the project was under 50 percent.
The project had strong backing from Mayor Kim Driscoll and other city officials. City Planner Lynn Duncan said it is expected to generate an estimated $250,000 in new tax revenue. Duncan said the city is appreciative that this developer has come along during a difficult economic time to clean up and develop a polluted former factory site.