Salem committee will discuss firm’s proposal

SALEM — A proposal for the firm SAFEbuilt to provide building department services to the city will be discussed during a city council committee meeting next week.

The Rules and Ordinances Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday in city hall council chambers with SAFEbuilt on the agenda, along with three pending ordinances to make apartments on upper floors of commercial buildings in commercial zones a permitted use instead of requiring approval by the Board of Zoning Appeals for a conditional use.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey announced the meeting time during council’s first session back from a six-week break. She explained that she’s getting a copy of a proposed fee structure from Mayor John Berlin for the SAFEbuilt proposal that will be up for discussion by the committee.

Committee meetings are open to the public so anyone interested in the SAFEbuilt proposal can attend to learn more about what the company wants to do for the city. Tricia Hovorka, treasurer of the Downtown Salem Partnership, had addressed council briefly to ask that they be notified of any meetings regarding the SAFEbuilt proposal, which the partnership had promoted when it was first presented to council in late May.

The Committee of the Whole at the time agreed to have the mayor work with SAFEbuilt on a more formal contract proposal with the fee structure and what would be provided spelled out. According to the initial proposal, SAFEbuilt would provide the building department commercial services currently provided by the state Department of Commerce for plan approvals, change of use, certificate of occupancy and inspections for structural and electrical. The proposal included residential services, which the city currently does not have, except for zoning permits for work being done.

Courtyard Square owner and developer Scott Cahill addressed council about the topic of having building inspectors who answer to the city instead of having to use state inspectors for building projects. It’s not the first time he suggested it, either, telling council members that if they want the success in the downtown to continue as it has the last few years then the city needs its own building inspectors.

Dickey asked what he thought of SAFEbuilt and he commented that a company like that is exactly what the city needs. He said he was impressed with what they were offering and said a lot of what they were saying mirrors what was in the Technical Advisory Committee report that was put out for the downtown a few years back. He and his wife, Lisa, worked with other community members on the TAC report and he said a lot of what was in that report has come true, pointing to the upswing in businesses locating in the downtown.

Not just his development, where at least 25 businesses were opened, with a few now closed or reopened in other locations, but also the Timberlanes Complex and Boneshakers, Mike’s Penn Grille, a new winery and many other businesses now open in downtown. He told council the city needs to be assisting people who want to open businesses instead of putting hurdles in their way.

For the apartments on upper floors legislation, Dickey said they’ll be discussing some of the changes suggested by the city Planning Commission and possibly share the updated document with the commission members to see if any more changes are warranted. She didn’t think it would be necessary for another Planning Commission meeting on the issue.

The three ordinances to change putting an apartment on an upper floor in the commercial zones to a permitted use instead of a conditional use already had a first reading by council in February.