SALEM — You can't build homes at Shetland Park if the only mechanism to do so is eliminated first.
Josh Turiel, one of two city councilors who represents The Point neighborhood next to Shetland Park, has asked his colleagues to tweak a zoning use table to prohibit planned-unit developments — which would encompass housing — at the industrial park. The proposal will go to the City Council Thursday night, and it's expected to then go to a public hearing with the Planning Board in the coming weeks.
"There was an overlay zone created some time ago specifically to give Shetland Park the same abilities to build uses that Cummings (Properties) in Beverly had..." Turiel said. "There are things that are possible in Shetland that wouldn't be possible in an industrial zone, which is the underlying zoning."
A zoning change is effectively the only way the City Council could have a say in any future development at the property. Turiel said his proposal could be withdrawn in the future, however, as city planning director Tom Daniel is looking for other ways to give the council veto power.
"My order is going in at this point," he said, "but we may change things if we find a more effective tool."
Turiel's proposal targets the city's "Waterfront Industrial Overlay District." As written today, it allows a wide range of non-industrial uses like education, carpentry and family day care at Shetland Park. Turiel's edit would add one line to prohibit "Planned Unit Development" completely, which is otherwise allowed in industrial zones by special permit from the Planning Board.
"Planned-unit developments can contain housing as a component of the development," Turiel said. "So by removing planned-unit developments as an allowed use in the WIOD zone, that takes housing at this point off the table."
Principals with Arrowstreet and Avison Young, two firms involved with the redevelopment process and neighborhood outreach, didn't respond to a request for comment.
The potential to redevelop Shetland Park into a large housing complex has sparked concerns across the city, from officials and residents alike.
The property was bought by New York-based Prime Group Holdings in 2019 for $70 million — more than double its assessed value at the time. The site has 1.5 million square feet of space spread across five buildings, with Salem Harbor and the South River on three sides of the property. Possible redevelopment has triggered conversations about Salem's housing issues, economic needs, concerns about gentrifying The Point, and more.
Designers involved in the property's redevelopment have started meeting with neighbors to discuss the site's future potential. As part of that process, they also submitted a pre-emptive application to a state agency that oversees waterfront development, and within that application, referenced a possible plan to build as many as 1,425 apartments on the property.
That drew quick objections from Mayor Kim Driscoll, who successfully lobbied the firms to pull their application for the time being. Sean Selby, an Arrowstreet principal, told neighbors at a meeting last week that filing the state application early "totally backfired on us." He said they currently don't know how many units Shetland Park could feasibly support.
Turiel also said he's concerned about the loss of businesses with residential construction.
"What triggered this for me was the (state wetlands) filing, where they filed pretty much a maximum proposal without any discussion or heads up," he said. "I've learned over the years what the zoning sequence is, so by putting this in now and beginning that process, it means at least for the time being, they're not in a position to file a proposal."
That position could — and should — change if appropriate, according to Turiel, and that would require another zoning change.
"If Shetland had a proposal to do additive housing that didn't displace the businesses, that allowed for continued commercial growth and perhaps added some apartment units or townhouses or whatever, use some of the property a little better, I'd seriously consider that," he said. "This would basically eliminate the option of housing unless they came up with something that all parties were comfortable with — the administration, City Council, Planning Board and Prime Storage."