City Council Notes–24 October

Good morning, Salemites! It’s the eve of the biggest weekend of October, and I’m trying to focus my brain on all the fun things lined up for tomorrow and not dwell on last night’s council meeting. Without further ado…

Public testimony saw four strong comments in favor of Councilor Peterson’s resolution to endorse House Bill 2810: An Act to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Promote Green Infrastructure, including Shelly Stuler on behalf of the LWV–Salem! I’ll share her commentary that under separate cover. Two people spoke in favor of the Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance; one against.

The first matter on the agenda with any heft was a tax increment exemption (TIE) agreement between the city of Salem and Harbor Point Properties for the second phase of development at 129 Lafayette and 20 Harbor Street. I’ve cribbed from the Smart Growth page of the website linked above: A tax increment is the difference between the beginning assessed value of a property before development and the assessed value as the property is developed. The tax increment, calculated by the local Assessor, is the tax on the added value of new construction or rehabilitation. The goal is to incentivize development in areas that might not otherwise get attention so that in the long-term, the project will result in increased tax revenue for the city. The developer in this project has verbally agreed to provide deeper discounts (60% of area median income vs. the more standard 80%) if given the TIE. Councilor Turiel recommended that this is sent to the Administration and Finance committee to work out the details of the affordability percentages before approving it. It was moved to committee.

Mayor Driscoll asked to move the portrait of Andrew Jackson to the antechamber and replace it with a yet-to-be-commissioned portrait of a representative of the Naumkeag people. The empty frame itself would be symbolic of their under-representation. Councilor Furey dusted off his educator background and reminded the council that Jackson was brutal to Native Americans. He noted that representation in the chamber art is critical because so many school and civic groups take tours of city hall and should see this space as a place for more than white men. This was moved to the Committee of Government Services, co-posted with the Committee of the Whole.

Things started to get heated as we moved into committee reports. The Committee on Community and Economic Development, chaired by Councilor Dominguez, once again recommended that the expansion of the Housing Development Incentive Program (HDIP) remain in committee. Again from HDIP provides Gateway Cities with a tool to develop market rate housing while increasing residential growth, expanding diversity of housing stock, supporting economic development, and promoting neighborhood stabilization in designated areas. Salem already employs this tool, and the matter under consideration is whether or not to expand it to more areas of Salem. Peterson noted that this is not a zoning change, this is not something that would be required, this is an option for developers. Councilor Madore mentioned that this program has finite resources, so if Salem wants to take advantage of this state program, the council needs to act more decisively. Councilor Gerard asked Dominguez to explain some of the lingering concerns keeping the matter in committee. Dominguez did not reply with any concrete examples. Councilor Milo made a mention that she “trusted committees” to work and if there were questions about committee work, councilors should attend committee meetings. The matter remains in committee; 3 councilors objected (voice vote, so that was the number I counted).

The inflamed rhetoric and personality conflicts on display during the HDIP discussion did not bode well for the Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance, and the matter did not carry. The ADU ordinance is dead until next year. Zoning matters cannot be taken up immediately. Please see the notes from the OLLA meeting for background. The councilors went around the table (again) voicing their very predictable objections and defenses of the ADU ordinance. Vociferously opposed were Dominguez, Flynn, Milo, Sargent and Dibble. Their overriding concern seemed to be protection of the R1 zone: single-family residences. The concern regarding “turning R1 into R2” was addressed at the OLLA meeting.

I only stuck around for two more votes, the first to endorse House bill 2810: An Act to Reduce Greenhouse Gases and Promote Green Infrastructure, also known as the Benson bill. Sargent moved to send it to committee, but withdrew that motion. The endorsement was unanimous. The second was to create an ordinance that would require “tap boards” in construction zones. Tap boards are physical devices designed to help the visually impaired navigate construction zones that abut pedestrian walkways. The proposed ordinance should be ready by the November meeting. Again, the matter passed.

Respectfully submitted, Jen Lynch