SALEM — A zoning plan to allow 180 apartments across seven separate parcels on Highland Avenue failed by a single vote from the City Council Thursday night, thus allowing the project to go forward in a way that supporters have argued is worse by design.

The Council voted 7 to 4 to support changing zoning at 355 and 373 Highland Ave., and five parcels along Cedar Road, from business formats to residential multi-family zoning. The matter required a super-majority of eight votes to pass, meaning it failed.

Dissenting votes came from councilors Steve Dibble, Domingo Dominguez, Tim Flynn and Arthur Sargent for various reasons including a past Planning Board recommendation against the change and preserving the site’s potential for developing jobs under its current business park zoning.

Not dead yet

As a follow-up to hot issues like rezoning of this scale, the Council then took a vote to reconsider with the “hope that it doesn’t prevail.” This is a procedural step that would block an attempt from councilors to trigger reconsideration at the Council’s next regular meeting. Initially, that vote was declared to have failed — the typical “99 times out of 100” outcome when a reconsideration vote comes up, according to Council President Bob McCarthy.

Then, after a recess and an explanation to the Council’s four new members on what a reconsideration vote is, the body took a second reconsideration vote that went 7 to 4. It triggered an extended recess looking into the legality of the proceedings, after which McCarthy declared the reconsideration vote successful and explained that one of the seven yea voters could move for the body to re-vote or file to do so before noon Friday. 

None of the affirmative voters did so, however. So long as a motion isn’t filed Friday, the zoning proposal officially fails. If someone does, a crush of special meetings would be needed for the zoning to pass, as the 90-day timeline that automatically defeats zoning proposals will hit before the next regular City Council meeting on Thursday, Feb. 14.

Beyond that, the project still goes forward under current zoning, with residences able to be built on two of the parcels zoned as business park development. An attorney representing both the property owner and developer has said the project can be built by right on those parcels, though they preferred the zoning change to lead to a better project. The remaining parcels are zoned in a way that prevents housing.

Public comment: Listen to the residents

Public comment focused mostly on a petition about Americans with Disabilities Act compliance across Salem. Those who discussed the zoning issue, however, urged councilors to support it.

“We’ve held several meetings, and we feel like this project will have less impact on our neighborhood than what the land is currently zoned for,” said Lorelee Stewart, a Barnes Road resident speaking on behalf of a neighborhood group alongside the site. “This development will have less traffic and neighborhood impact than if we were to get another cineplex-like development.”

Ann DeIulis, a Barnes Circle resident, said rezoning parts of Highland Avenue faces resistance “due to Highland Avenue being classified as the city’s entrance corridor.”

“Highland Avenue feeds the minds, nourishes the bellies, clothes the backs and heals the injuries of the city of Salem,” she said. “We are not seeking preferential treatment, and we are realistic. We know the area will be developed further. We believe that the rezoning of an area of the lifeline corridor will preserve our neighborhoods.”

The meeting also heard from Lisa Peterson, Ward 3’s most recent councilor. She was succeeded by Patti Morsillo, who attended her second meeting as a city councilor Thursday night.

“This was a very high-quality process. The whole neighborhood was invited to participate on many occasions,” Peterson said. “Everybody was well aware of what was going on, and there was a vote taken by the neighborhood association, and it did come back in favor of the project.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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