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City Council Joint Hearing Minutes 05/31/2011

A joint hearing of the Salem Planning Board & the Salem City Council was held on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. at 93 Washington Street, Salem, Massachusetts.

Those present were: Council President Jerry Ryan, Councilor Steven Pinto, Councilor Joan Lovely, Councilor Thomas Furey, Councilor Joseph O’Keefe, Councilor Michael Sosnowski, Councilor Arthur Sargent, Councilor Robert McCarthy, Councilor Jean Pelletier, Councilor Paul Prevey, Chuck Puleo, Planning Board Chair, John Moustakis, Planning Board Vice Chair, Mark George, Christine Sullivan, Helen Sides, Tim Ready, Tim Kavanaugh, Lynn Duncan, Director, Department of Planning and Community Development, Danielle McKnight, Staff Planner, and Beth Gerard, Planning Board Recording Clerk.  Absent: Councilor John Ronan, Randy Clarke, Nadine Hanscom.

Councilor Jerry Ryan opened the meeting at 7:08 pm.     

A Joint Public Hearing with City Council regarding a proposed amendment to the City of Salem Zoning Ordinance to rezone the property located at 111 Highland Avenue (Assessor Map 14, Lot 199) from R-1 Residential One Family to B-4 Wholesale & Automotive Zoning District.

Documents & Exhibitions:
  • Petition to rezone the property located at 111 Highland Avenue and accompanying materials
  • Aerial photos of the property
  • Plot plan dated 8/19/08
  • Draft Zoning Ordinance amendment
  • Petition in opposition to proposed zoning change
  • Memo from Assistant City Solicitor Robin Stein, dated 5/26/11, regarding spot zoning
  • Memo from Leslie Limon on behalf of Northfields Residents, dated 5/31/11
Dennis Cataldo, Vice President and Petitioner for Cataldo Ambulance, explained that prior to this meeting he met with neighbors of the potential site on April 20th to address noise concerns.  At that meeting, Mr. Cataldo stated that he would take an ambulance to the location to exit the location with audible warning devices and he described his experience.  There were some concerns expressed about turning on and off Wilson Street and Wilson Terrace.  Additionally he contacted the Fire Chief regarding concerns about the traffic light to allow it to change upon approach of emergency vehicles.  Mr. Cataldo described the property as a 2200 sq foot building and he stated that it would be in operation 24 hours & 7 days per week.  He noted that he did not believe that the property was large enough to allow a single family house by right.  He stated that they are the largest emergency operation in the Commonwealth.  At the community meeting, he provided aerial photos of other locations and proximity to neighbors and further stated that they have not had problems with neighbors at any of their other locations.

Councilor Pelletier asked Mr. Cataldo to brief the members on noise issues.  Mr. Cataldo described the current situation and stated that there would not be repairs of vehicles going on at this location.

Councilor Furey asked if they have thought of other locations.  Mr. Cataldo stated that they have been looking for other opportunities for property purchases that would be more centrally-located, however he hasn’t found any that are considered as good as this location.  Councilor Furey asked if they considered a non-residential location.  Mr. Cataldo stated that their proposed use for this site is as good as any other, though the site is not currently zoned for this type of property.  He described other properties as examples of how during the day, most ambulances are out on calls and not disrupting the neighborhoods.

Councilor Lovely questioned Mr. Cataldo’s comment that this property was undersized for a house, and Councilor Sargent supported her statement by stating that if it can’t fit a house, it shouldn’t fit a business either.  He stated that his concern is that if the zoning is changed then there may be an opportunity for this business to be sold, and there would be any number of other businesses allowed by right.

Councilor O’Keefe asked if there have been time-distance studies from this location.  Mr. Cataldo stated that those studies have not been done.  Mr. O’Keefe stated that the average response time is about 4.5 minutes to which Mr. Cataldo responded that their average response time is 6.5 minutes while the national standard is 8 minutes.  

Councilor Ryan opened up the questions to the Planning Board.

Mark George asked about the previous use of the property.  Mr. Cataldo stated that it was in use over 6 years ago as a transmission service place.  Mr. George explained that his concern is that there are single-family homes behind this location and asked what is this going to do the character of the area.  Chuck Puleo, Planning Board Chair, stated that it was a gas station, then auto repair shop and later a transmission shop.  

Tim Ready asked how this location will be different from how the fire department operates down the street.  Mr. Cataldo stated that from an operational standpoint, they provide universal coverage throughout the area.  They do not respond typically from a central location like the fire department, they respond from the community.  Mr. Ready asked if this location will be more of a storage lot rather than a central location.  Mr. Cataldo stated that people will be surprised at how quiet it will be.  Mr. Ready asked him to explain this further.  Mr. Cataldo stated that ambulance drivers are very responsible about using sirens, and try to minimize their use due to how loud it is outside as well as how loud it is in the ambulance.  He explained that their location in Lynn has abutters that are closer than these abutters will be and he has never had a complaint in over 20 years of doing business.

Councilor Prevey asked how the Canal Street property is zoned.  Mr. Cataldo stated that he doesn’t know how it is zoned as they acquired the lease when they bought Northshore Ambulance.  He stated that the current building no longer meets their needs.  

Councilor Sosnowski asked Lynn Duncan, Director of Planning and Community Development, what is the zoning around this particular lot.  Ms. Duncan stated that the parcels that are adjacent to the lot in question are zoned R-1.

Mr. George asked what are the residents feeling about this.  Councilor Pelletier stated that there are 101 signatures on a petition opposed to the business going in that lot.  He further stated that the larger concern is that any business can come in after the zoning is changed.  Ms. Duncan stated that there are various uses by right and by permit that could be used in this site.  Mr. George asked if it was possible to allow all parties to benefit without a permanent change to the zoning.  Ms. Duncan stated that they did believe that they only way to accommodate Cataldo Ambulance is to re-zone, however there may also be an option for a Special Permit for this site, and noted that a previous special permit issued for the property could possibly be extended under the new “Permit Extension Act,” though they are looking into specifics on this.  

Ms. Duncan also shared a copy of the legal opinion written by the Assistant City Solicitor with the Council, and explained why this would not be considered “spot zoning”.  Ms. Duncan also noted that if a single-family house could not be built on that lot without dimensional relief from the Board of Appeals.

Councilor O’Keefe asked if there is a need for this meeting based on the legal opinion.  Ms. Duncan clarified that the memo means that the zoning could legally take place, that the Council could legally re-zone this.  She reviewed the public hearing process for re-zoning and the timeframes.

Councilor McCarthy asked if Cataldo Ambulance bought the property and subsequently sold the property, would the zoning change remain in tact.  Ms. Duncan stated that once it is changed then it is permanently changed.

Councilor Sargent stated that he felt that changing the zoning would be disrespectful to the neighborhood.  He stated that based on the spot zoning criteria, where it is allowable if there is a benefit to the community, would not, in the long run be a benefit to the neighborhood.
Councilor Sosnowski stated that he is in favor of the company, but not sure if he is in favor of the site.  He asked about the opposition in the petition submitted.  He stated that he believes the proposal would constitute spot zoning.

Issue is opened up for public comment
Council President Ryan asked for those to speak in favor to begin.  No one came forward.

Council President Ryan asked for those opposed to begin.

John Lunt, 6 Greenway Road, lives approx 100 yards from the garage.  He stated that the garage is not vacant and is used by the property owner.  He noted that spot zoning is illegal in Massachusetts and that he was heavily involved in the petition against the re-zoning of the property.  He stated that the information about spot zoning is very confusing, and further, that none of the cases presented in the legal analysis is comparable to the issue before the City Council and Planning Board.  He stressed that they are not sending a message to businesses to leave the city, rather they are sending the message that this is not a good location for this business.  The current location on Canal Street is more central.  He feels the piece of property is being sold at a bargain to the detriment of the neighbors, with concerns about the effects on quality of life and health.  Mr. Lunt stated that there is heavy traffic at 2:30 in the afternoon and in the morning; and when traffic is flowing freely then they drive upwards of 50 miles per hour.  He states that the growth of the hospital has added to the noise significantly and Highland Avenue traffic is getting worse.  He said the intersection of Highland, Wilson and Cherry Hill is the worst intersection in the city for an emergency vehicle to get through.  He also called the fire department to find out how many calls they respond to per year, which is 6500.  He said to make a fair comparison, he asked the audience to imagine the North Street fire station tripling activity.  He said that the increased activity will be heard.  In summation, this will be a dramatic decrease in quality of life for those in their neighborhood.  He requests that the Council and Planning Board consider all of their concerns.

Stan Poirier, 8 Cottage Street, supports Mr. Lunt’s arguments.  He noted that from Wilson to Jackson Streets the properties are all R-1s and feels this is an illegal encroachment.  He stated that this is the beginning of something that if it’s allowed to go forward it will bring on more problems.  He feels that it is going to affect the resale values.  He strongly urges and recommends that this proposal be rejected.

Roger Hastings, 3 Wilson Road, is one of the closest abutters to this property.  He has mixed emotions because the plot is overgrown and would like to see something go there.  He implores the Planning Board to look at the history of the lot and how it has been subdivided into two separate properties.  He stated that an issue that has not been mentioned is the proximity to the schools.  His daughter was almost killed by a woman on Highland Avenue pulling over for an ambulance.  He said it is the wrong place for an ambulance company with kids in the area.  He would like something to be done with the property, but just not this.

Sandy Benson, 14 Greenway Road, stated that as a parent and a health care provider she is extremely concerned about the increased traffic.  She noted that people cut through the area and there are kids walking to the school who are not paying attention to ambulances.  She does value the benefit of an ambulance company but is concerned that they will be cutting through her neighborhood.  It’s a safety issue for all kids.  
Leslie Limon, Northfields Representative, Mayor’s Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council, speaks to the impact of making this zoning change in perpetuity.  She has no doubt that the ambulance company will be a responsible neighbor.  Her concern is that things change.  In North Salem they have properties that are abutting a commercially-zoned property.  She is concerned about what will be there in years from now.  

Mr. Lunt spoke again, stating that in looking at the spot zoning issue, he believes that it will end up in court.  He states that if the City Council supports this measure, then he has to pay legal fees to his lawyers and noted that by paying city taxes he is also paying for the city to fight against him.

Councilor Pelletier moved to close the public hearing.  All approved.  Chuck Puleo left the meeting at 8:33 pm.

Councilor Pelletier reviewed the petition and stated that he could not support the zoning change.  He recommended looking into a special permit.

Councilor Prevey feels that this constitutes spot zoning.  He rejects the Assistant City Solicitor’s argument, and will not support it the petition.

Councilor Sargent stated that he feels that if they change the zoning, that they will devalue the land.

Councilor Sosnowski recommends that this be put to a vote in the hopes that it fails.  He thinks it is a good company doing business and hopes it finds another place to do business.  Ms. Duncan clarified the Planning Board process, and says they will take up the issue at the next Planning Board meeting.  

Councilor O’Keefe asks if this constitutes a legal opinion.  Ms. Duncan clarified that this is a full legal opinion.  Councilor O’Keefe asks where this goes from here.  Ms. Duncan answered through the President that the public hearing is closed, the Planning Board will meet to discuss this on 6/2, to make a recommendation to the City Council and the City Council can take it up at the next meeting.

Councilor Pelletier stated that they will vote to send it to the Planning Board for their recommendations.

Councilor Lovely stated that this is no slight to the Cataldo Ambulance Company, but she is concerned that this property will not always be with the Cataldo Ambulance Company.  She is concerned that the parcel could be turned into something else and she does not support this.

Councilor Pinto stated that he has concerns about this.  While he feels that this is a good company, his concern is that if this isn’t supported that it could come back as a special permit.  He also noted that he doesn’t support this.

Ms. Duncan clarified that she has no control over if the Planning Board will vote on this on 6/2.  

Councilor Pelletier stated that he does not believe it will pass.  He does not believe in spot zoning.

Council President Ryan stated that he was at the meeting with the neighborhood and noted that most neighbors did not support it.  He is thinks the company is a great company, but he cannot support this zoning change.

Mr. Cataldo stated that he appreciated the time that everyone has put into being there.  He stated that he is fine with withdrawing the petition.  He wants to be where the city wants them to be.  They are a community friendly business.  He hopes that they do find another appropriate bidder.

Councilor Ryan asked City Clerk LaPointe if this has to go before the Planning Board if it is withdrawn, and City Clerk LaPointe stated no.

Ms. Duncan asked Mr. Cataldo to submit his request to withdraw in writing.

Councilor Sargent said he has not seen something like this before.  He thinks Mr. Cataldo was very gracious.

Mr. Cataldo said that they are a family business, and this is how they will do business.

Council President Ryan made a motion to adjourn the meeting.  All approved.  Council President Ryan adjourned the meeting at 8:56 pm.

Respectfully submitted,
Beth Gerard, Recording Clerk

Approved by the Planning Board 6/16/11

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