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Variance rejected for former Coca-Cola bottling plant

SALEM — Owners of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on South Broadway will have to go back to the drawing board for a redevelopment plan for the property.

Earlier this week, the Zoning Board of Adjustment denied a variance that would have allowed the sale of used cars on the property.

Mark Gross, the engineer for the property owners, Joseph Scott and Dennis Metayer, said the owners were looking for the variance to allow for the sale of high-end new cars on the property.

While the sale of new cars is allowed in the commercial/industrial zone, the property does require a variance for the sale of used cars because it is within 2,000 feet of another used car lot, The Toy Store, on South Broadway.

Gross said the used car sales would have been ancillary to new car sales, but because of town zoning ordinances, a variance was needed for used car sales.

“There is a market in Salem for a high-end new car dealership,” said Gross. “I’m not at liberty to say which ones they are, but there is an interest in the Salem marketplace for them.”

Because there would be trade-ins at a new car dealership, Gross said it necessitated the need for the variance to sell used cars on the property.

Gross noted said there has been an ongoing struggle to determine how to best redevelop the abandoned property.

A decade-old plan for retail development was scrapped because of the high cost associated with making the property viable for higher traffic. A proposal for a waste-to-energy facility on the property was also scrapped.

“I think this is a great location,” said Gross. “This would be a low-traffic generator, and this site cannot support retail development because of the traffic improvements that need to be done.”

Karen Forbes, an attorney for the owners of the Toy Store, said the ZBA should deny the plan because it did not provide enough details about the development of the site.

“This proposal is amazingly bereft of details,” Forbes said. “We are not told who the proposed buyer is or even if there is a proposed buyer. We don’t know how many used cars will be on the lot, and we don’t know what the volume of used car sales will be. The ultimate issue is that the applicant has not submitted enough facts, and its facts that this board has to rely on.”

Several ZBA members stated that there are other more suitable uses for the property and that they did not want to see more used car sales along Route 28.

“This is a location in the center of town, and I don’t feel like we need another used car lot,” said ZBA member Robert Uttley. “It will start to look like Route 1 in Massachusetts, and that does not represent what we want to do in the town of Salem.

ZBA member Bernie Campbell was the lone board member to vote against denying the variance. He said he agreed with some of the points raised by Forbes, but added that any redevelopment of the property would be an improvement.

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