With the recent tsunami in Japan sitting like an unwelcome guest in the room, the Planning Board listened to a detailed explanation Thursday night about a new plan to prepare the city for a possible hurricane, flood or other disaster.
The good news is that the plan could win Salem a significant grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to fix issues such as chronic street flooding.
Randy Clarke, a planning board member, said one of the great things about living in New England is that it is less prone to major natural disasters than other parts of the country and the world. The most serious threat to Salem, he said, is flooding.
Sam Cleaves, a senior regional planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, said Salem had “a good chance” to win a FEMA grant, although he warned that there is a lot of competition for the grants across the country.
The grant might be as much as $500,000 to $750,000, Cleaves said.
Two flooding projects would be high on the list – the South River Basin and Forrester Street drainage improvements, he said.
A draft of the city's hazard mitigation plan will be available on the city's Web site in a few days. The public is invited to review it and comment on it.
Cleaves said 181 sites in Salem have been identified as ones that need to be protected in the event of a disaster. These include police and fire and emergency medical facilities, senior housing, churches and schools, public works facilities, communication facilities and industrial assets like manufacturing plants and pipelines.
The plan is being developed by the city staff. “You have a very good engineer,” Cleaves said.
Once the plan is finalized, it will be submitted to the state and federal emergency management agencies. Once FEMA approves the plan, the city can apply for the grant.
St. Joe's Development Moving Ahead
The developers of the St. Joseph Church project closed the door on what was its backup plan for developing the site on Lafayette Street that included having a drive-through pharmacy as part of the project.
The Planning Board voted unanimously to allow Salem Lafayette LLC to withdraw its application for that design of the project and move ahead with its first plan.
Thanks to nearly $6 million in state subsidies and federal low-income housing tax credits, the developer plans to transform the church property into a $20 million affordable housing project. The site will be a four-story building, at the corner of Dow and Lafayette streets, with 51 apartments and retail space on the first floor.
Construction is expected to start in late summer or early fall.
Mayor Kim Driscoll, who initially wanted to incorporate a senior center in the project, has said the redevelopment of the long-vacant church property will augment other planned improvements on Lafayette Street and a small park across the street.
The apartments, which will be subsidized, will include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents from $815 to $1,200. Eligible families can earn up to $57,500 a year.
The 60-year-old church will be demolished along with the convent.
North River Canal Corridor Traffic Study
In other business, Planning Staff member Danielle McKnight announced that the planning department has received a grant to conduct a comprehensive traffic study on the streets along the North River Canal Corridor.
She said the area has been studied in piecemeal before, but never had a full comprehensive study of the area where there has been chronic traffic issues.