There are spots where Salem's tough, industrial-strength North River can seem idyllic, where you can look out at sunset toward the arch of the Beverly-Salem bridge and think you're in another city altogether.
But those places are few and far between.
The most common view of Salem's North River gateway, from the North Street overpass, is of the Ferris junkyard on the riverbank. It's been an eyesore for decades, dating to a time when the river was polluted and people here saw little value in the land on its shores.
That view has changed, but the junkyard hasn't, except to comply with a consent decree to stop discharging contaminated stormwater into the river. That agreement was reached with the Conservation Law Foundation, which filed suit in 2013. The following year, the owners put the junkyard up for sale.
All that leads to the current status of the property, which is under agreement by Juniper Point Investment, a Salem development firm that wants to reclaim the 2.2 acre property and build a condominium community there.
Cause for celebration? Well, not exactly. As neighborhood councilor Beth Gerard put it, "it isn't all rainbows and puppy dogs."
Folks would be thrilled to lose the junkyard, but they're worried, too, about what will replace it. Neighbors have had two meetings with the developer, who has downsized his original concept from 50-plus to 44 condominiums and decreased the height of the buildings. But it's still, he says, a work in progress.
"We're still open to everybody's feedback and suggestions," Juniper Point owner Marc Tranos told The Salem News. "I think the city is going to be really proud of what's going to go there."
Neighbors have some legitimate concerns. What goes on this parcel could influence what happens on neighboring properties, from North Street to Furlong Park, once developers realize the potential in the waterfront site, just steps from the commuter rail station. Few want to see a community of high-rise buildings blocking the waterfront, and some have pointed to the two-story townhouse development along Collins Cove as a more appealing model.
Exactly what will eventually replace the junkyard will be worked out between neighbors, developers and city officials in the months to come. By starting the process with the neighbors, Tranos has indicated his willingness to compromise and to create something that everyone can embrace.
But it's important for neighbors, too, to be willing to work with the developer to clean up the blighted area. We like the idea of two-story townhouses, but whether it will work financially, given the site's clean-up costs, remains to be seen. And any new housing is going to bring more traffic, and probably parking issues. These can be mitigated, but not eliminated.
The real danger here is intransigence on either side, as the city has seen with the nearby F.W. Webb expansion, where neighbors refuse to compromise and seem determined to block any development at all.
If that happens on the Ferris junkyard site, the city could lose the best chance it's had in years – the last redevelopment plan fizzled in 2001 – to reclaim that area. As the process goes forward, let's keep that bigger picture in mind. Not just the neighbors, but the city will benefit if the junkyard goes away and the North River becomes a thing of beauty again.