SALEM — A largely forgotten piece of land along the North River, owned by one of the city's most historic cemeteries, could become a key piece of a controversial, $20 million housing development.
More than an acre of Harmony Grove Cemetery property may be acquired by MRM Project Management of Beverly for Legacy Park Apartments, a 141-apartment complex it wants to build at the site of the former Salem Oil & Grease factory on Grove Street.
"We have the land under agreement," said Joe Correnti, an attorney for the developers.
Correnti made the announcement at a public hearing Monday night before the Planning Board, which has been reviewing this project for several months.
The land is across Harmony Grove Road from the 100-acre cemetery and not within the fenced cemetery grounds, which hold the remains of noted abolitionists, more than a dozen former Salem mayors and the last surviving bodyguard of Gen. George Washington.
It was part of the original land purchased for the cemetery in the 1830s and 1840s, according to an attorney for the cemetery board. It once ran down to the edge of a mill pond that no longer exists. Part of it, a long thin strip, parallels the tidal North River and stretches all the way to the Peabody line.
More than a century ago, the city built Harmony Grove Road through the property, marooning this strip of land on the other side of the road.
"Once the road went in, that land really served no purpose for the cemetery," said attorney Francis Mayo. "I think (the board) saw this as an opportune time to divest themselves of that property."
Although it is an odd-shaped piece of property adjacent to the Moose lodge, it could prove valuable to the developer by providing just enough adjacent land to ease the pressure being applied by several city councilors and neighbors.