Would the proposed F.W. Webb project be good for Salem?

Rinus Oosthoek


Rinus Oosthoek

Executive director, Salem Chamber of Commerce

F.W. Webb is trying to build a new, two-story building at 297 Bridge St. in Salem, the former site of the Universal Steel scrap metal and recycling plant. The $6 million project would relocate F.W. Webb’s current Salem operation from 295 Bridge St., a historic brick building located next door.

It is important to have a reputable company such as F.W. Webb stay, which would mean the hiring of 10 new people on top of the 14 the company currently employs in Salem. By doing so, we will see an exciting renewed use — housing units — in the current Webb facility. Development of the new and the old property would bring the additional benefit of creating a great number of construction jobs.

Development in Salem is important and needed. New growth increases the tax base and expands the customer base. Salem is steeped in history. But if a city does not grow, change, and develop, it stagnates, and because of a lack of financial resources, it deteriorates. Well managed development such as the Webb proposal that increases the tax base provides for good fiscal health.


The project will provide approximately $100,000 per year in new commercial tax revenues to the city, and will allow an existing business to continue to grow and contribute to the local economy. The proposed project would add to the overall revival of the area and fits well along the Bridge Street corridor, which already includes a number of commercial users, such as Public Storage, Landry & Arcari rugs and carpets, All Creatures Veterinary Hospital, O’Rourke Brothers Memorials, and others.

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Finally, Webb’s proposal will have to go through the city’s permitting system, and a lot of issues brought up by neighbors will be resolved, such as drainage concerns, traffic impact, construction management practices, and design of the building. The fact that F.W. Webb has operated as a good neighbor at the same location for over 60 years means that the company know exactly what the problems are and is prepared to deal with them.

So let’s say “yes” to Webb and others like them, and allow for positive development to move forward in what is currently a blighted area.

John H Carr Jr.


John H Carr Jr.

Salem resident, former longtime member of Salem Historic District Commission

The issue is not about F.W. Webb, which we regard as a valued member of Salem’s business community. Nor is it about Webb staying in Salem, which the company has already committed to doing, or jobs, since they will follow wherever Webb expands.

The real issue is whether the Universal site is the proper location for Webb’s proposed huge new retail/wholesale/distribution facility on a heavily contaminated site that was only partially cleaned up to the federal Environmental Protection Agency standard required for a parking lot at a cost to taxpayers of $3.5 million two years ago. The EPA has certified that the cap presently poses no significant risk to human health if undisturbed.


We categorically believe Webb’s proposed rezoning and new facility is totally wrong for that location. Health and safety risks posed by disturbing the site are paramount, especially since the site is adjacent to a family-oriented residential district that is part of the McIntire Historic District, in some cases less than 10 feet away.

Besides the potential release of pollutants in the construction process, other serious issues include:

• Presently the site serves as a parking lot with capacity for 112 cars. Average daily use this month has been — by our count — 83 cars. The probate court, which returns in September, alone has a projected need of at least 140 parking spaces. Parking during Halloween season and snow emergencies is already beyond capacity. Several developments are planned nearby that include no parking. Measured by any credible standard, the Universal parking lot is not surplus property.

• The city projects annual tax revenue from Webb of $90,000 for the Universal lot once the tax break it is offering Webb expires. The neighbors project annual parking revenue from the Universal lot of $83,000. The lost revenue from the project’s negative impact on surrounding property values would wipe out that $7,000 difference several times over.

• If the higher cleanup estimates turn out to be the case (more than $1.5 million), the city would not realize any taxes for more than 15 years.


We also contend the city has not followed its own ordinance requiring it to select proposals based on their compatibility with the neighborhood.

Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at