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Not a done deal, Salem proceeds with park drawings

SALEM — Mayor John Berlin received council’s blessing to have plans drawn up for a park on the city-owned lot at State and Lincoln, but as a way to envision what could be done, not as a done deal.

Berlin said it’s just to get an idea, noting that it does not prevent somebody from coming forward with a commercial plan for the property where the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce building used to sit.

Until that happens, he wants to get things going by using $4,750 of the $15,000 council allotted to clean up the property for Howells and Baird to prepare a schematic plan for a park with proposed features. He asked the Committee of the Whole, which includes all seven council members, for permission.

The property in question has sat vacant since July 2020 when the chamber building was demolished by the buyer, who wanted to develop the lot along with neighboring lots. The chamber had vacated the building in spring 2020. The city agreed to purchase the properties from the developer this fall for $400,000.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey, who chairs the Committee of the Whole as president pro tem, said she hasn’t seen much interest in the land commercially, except for talk about a gas station and said that would create too much congestion and would not be appealing for downtown. Formerly known as the Village Green, she said there could be some historical merit for grant funding for a park and the purchase price of the property could be considered the city’s matching funds.

“We are looking for options for that space,” she said.

Councilman Andrew Null said he would rather see it developed instead of being turned into green space, with Councilman Jake Gano agreeing he would prefer some type of economic development. Gano said perhaps they could have a hybrid plan with both some green space and commercial development.

Councilman Steve Faber said he was told several people were interested in developing the space, but then found that there had been no offers. He said he would like to see somebody come in and say they want it.

Berlin said they would have to set a time frame for how long to hold onto the property for commercial development before going forward with a park, but said they can at least start looking at plans so they have options.

“We are in control of the property for any kind of development,” he said.

The committee also hashed out a new makeup for the seven council committees, redefining and renaming several of the committees with the idea of starting the new committees for the new year.

Committee of the Whole is the eighth committee. Each of the seven council members is named as chairman of one of the seven named committees and serves on two of the other committees, with President of Council Tom Baker responsible for handing out the committee assignments.

The current committees include: Finance; Rules and Ordinances; Parks; Streets, Alleys and Sidewalks; Traffic and Safety; Utilities; and Economic Development.

Council members agreed to keep Finance and the Rules and Ordinances Committees the same, but after much discussion, chose the following titles and makeups for the rest: Downtown, which could cover areas such as small business, entertainment, dining, the Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA), Design Review Board, downtown zoning and historical considerations; Residential, covering areas such as housing, concerns with residential zoning, planning, board of zoning appeals and education on new rules; Economic Development, still dealing with the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center, industrial zoning, tourism or the chamber; Public Services, dealing with utilities, streets and alleys, parks, schools and Shade Tree; and Safety, dealing with police, fire, health, township and EMS.

During tonight’s council meeting, they’ll also talk about adjusting council rules so that an alternate council member can be assigned to each committee, that way if two committee members can’t be there, an alternate can go.

Faber said he wasn’t opposed to changing the committees, but thought they should explore the ideas a little bit. Null said they should make the changes now and then readjust in a year if necessary.

The DORA was also discussed briefly and a proposal to change the time frame to year-round is expected to have a first reading at tonight’s meeting. Faber said he’ll oppose the idea and said he sees no point in having the DORA all year long.

In other action, the committee agreed to recommend having the Tobacco 21 rule enforced at city establishments by the city health department. State and federal law already prohibits the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. Action by city council would allow the health department to do random inspections and enforce the rules.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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