Revitalizing Salem

Proposed Plan Creates New Town Center

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Drawing of the proposed Tuscan Square—the central public meeting area—with outdoor cafés and the theater’s main entrance

For years I’ve driven by the rear side of the racetrack on Route 28 that once provided horse stables and temporary housing for workers there. After years of decline, they stopped offering live horse racing at Salem, New Hampshire’s Rockingham Park in 2010 (Loder, 2013), and the buildings—in a state of disrepair—are an eyesore.

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Land showing neglected buildings and stables on the Rockingham Park property. Photo by Mary Schwalm

The town of Salem needs this area improved with something more than another big box store. Local business owner, Joe Faro, has a plan, and I think that it is promising.

Faro wants to breathe new life on this property by creating a mixed-use space, incorporating housing, restaurants, shops, entertainment, and pedestrian- and bike-friendly areas (NHBR staff, 2015). As a fan of “new urbanism” development—with a focus on building community rather than structures—I am supportive of this proposal and believe that it would be a huge benefit for the citizens of Salem and surrounding communities. There is no other comparable project like this in the state, and its success will not only be an economic boost to the town, but it will create a newly designed town center as a destination for members of the community.

The Tuscan Village project was presented to the Salem Planning Board on December 8, 2015 (Prellwitz Chilinski Associates, 2015). The board was impressed by the pedestrian areas and noted that Faro will be connecting the pedestrian network to the rail trail that passes right through the property. That means that nearby communities of Windham and Derry, with a combined 7 miles of paved paths, will provide access to the Tuscan Village on foot, by bike, and even wheelchairs—for all ages (TrailLink, n.d.).

The new businesses will reap the benefits of being in a popular location with increased foot traffic. With the incentive of no sales tax, this project will also draw in residents of Massachusetts, who already go out of their way to cross the border to shop in New Hampshire (Woolhouse & Abelson, 2009).

Facebook comments about the project indicate that residents are most worried about worsened street traffic. The planning board has similar concerns (Strugnell, 2015). I drive on Route 28 several times per week, and know that it is already congested during peak times.

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Faro has addressed this, and residents should be at ease. His master plan includes two main access points on Route 28, in addition to two secondary access points at Central and Pleasant Streets, which will be reviewed by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. The additional roads may even improve existing traffic flow.

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According to Salem’s town manager, Leon Goodwin (personal communication, February 16, 2016), the project is expected to create about 1000 temporary jobs and 1000 permanent jobs, based on a similar project in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. He confirmed that the additional revenue would benefit Salem residents by increasing revenue, lowering the tax rate, or perhaps a combination of both.

Residents who live nearby may be concerned about the values of their homes, but studies show that mixed-use living areas increase housing values (Koster & Rouwendal, 2012). Goodwin also confirmed that surrounding property values are expected to increase as a result of this development. I think that this is a preferred alternative to the collapsing old stable buildings or big box stores, which do not have the same economic impact or community benefit.

Although social media responses indicate that most residents agree and are enthusiastic about the proposal, Dave Strout (2016) posted that he is unsupportive. He misses the old Salem, the farmland, and the quietness. But that vision of Salem goes back farther than anything that I remember.

There will always be citizens who do not support change—those whose thoughts are clouded by nostalgia and are against any form of development. But economic considerations are critical for efforts to grow the tax base, provide opportunities to the workforce, maintain property values, and advance community space to support cultural shifts. Over the years, Salem’s commercial areas grew with trends of super-sized store formats, and residents lost their sense of community in the process. What Strout and other sentimental residents may not have realized yet, the Tuscan Village project incorporates old-fashioned principles. I believe that the small shops, outdoor spaces, and walking areas will help to rebuild the community that once was.

When other towns consider the negative impacts of commercial development, they often use Route 28 in Salem as an example of what they don’t want. With the new Tuscan Village project underway, Salem will become a model for other towns by demonstrating unique ways to approach community development.


Join the discussion

Post your comment about the Tuscan Village project by visiting SalemScapeS or the Salem Chamber of Commerce on Facebook.


For more information

Tuscan Village Master Plan

Salem Planning Board Meeting Minutes, December 8, 2015

Information on New Urbanism Design Principals


References

Cianifrini, D. (2016, January 19). Timeline. [Facebook comment]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/SalemScapes/timeline

Koster, H, & Rouwendal, J., (2012). The impact of mixed land use on residential property values. Journal of Regional Science, 52 (5). p. 733-761. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=2177172

Loder, A. (2013, May 24). Remembering Rockingham Park: A story of prestige and decline. Retrieved from http://nhpr.org/post/remembering-rockingham-park-story-prestige-and-decline

NewUrbanism.org. (n.d.). New urbanism: Principles of urbanism. [Webpage]. Retrieved from http://www.newurbanism.org/newurbanism/principles.html

NHBR staff. (2015, December 9). Major mixed-use project proposed at Rockingham Park: Faro’s Tuscan Village plan presented to Salem Planning Board. NH Business Review. Retrieved from http://www.nhbr.com/December-25-2015/Major-mixed-use-project-proposed-at-Rockingham-Park/#sthash.dvXFbmm4.dpuf

Prellwitz Chilinski Associates. (2015, November 23). Tuscan Village Master Plan. Retrieved from http://www.townofsalemnh.org/sites/salemnh/files/u121/tuscan_village_masterplan_planning_board_submission-_2015-11-23.pdf

Roantree, S. (2016, January 20). Merrimack, Salem plans could bring housing, shops, entertainment, jobs: Proposals made for urban-style community, Tuscan-style village. [TV broadcast]. WMUR. Retrieved from http://www.wmur.com/money/merrimack-salem-plans-could-bring-housing-shops-entertainment-jobs/37544164

Schwalm, M. (Photographer). (2014). Retrieved from http://www.eagletribune.com/news/new_hampshire/part-of-rockingham-park-could-be-sold/article_18a3f6b0-8686-5bda-9ced-46b616786aab.html

Strout, D. (2016, January 20). Timeline [Facebook comment]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/SalemScapes/timeline

Strugnell, S. (2015, December 22). Minutes of the planning board meeting of December 8, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.townofsalemnh.org/sites/salemnh/files/minutes/minutes-file/pb_pdf_12-08-2015_final.pdf

Swift, A. (2015, July 13). Plans hinted at for larger Rockingham development. Union Leader. Retrieved from http://www.unionleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20150714/NEWS02/150719653

TrailLink. (n.d.) [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.traillink.com/trail/windham-rail-trail.aspx and http://www.traillink.com/trail/derry-rail-trail.aspx

Woolhouse, M., & Abelson, J. (2009, November 28). Shoppers head north for deals. Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2009/11/28/tax_free_new_hampshire_draws_mass_shoppers/


Reflection

I am not a  journalist but strongly believe that information I share with the public should be held to the same standards as a professional. Whether writing a blog or a Facebook post, I try to act purposely and provide relevant information. It is my responsibility to take extra time to ensure that the words that I have chosen are fair, objective, truthful, and communicate my intended message. I cross reference information with reliable sources to determine if information is factual, and share my source(s)—even on social networks. I was guided by these ethical principles when creating this article.

The most credible information that was used are the approved meeting minutes from a recent planning board meeting, which serve as the official record, and the presentation materials that were provided to them. I also referenced local television and newspaper coverage from reputable news organizations that offered additional details on the topic and show how the topic has been presented to the audience. I was able to fill in some information gaps with direct communication with Salem’s town manager. Facebook posts were also referenced, and while social media posts may not be solely credible for factual data, this information reveals concerns of local citizens on the topic. Reliability is demonstrated through the multiple sources of various types of information provided and cited. My message is also supported with visual aids, including before and after photos, drawings and diagrams.

Although I support the proposed Tuscan Village development, I have no relationship with the Tuscan Brands and do not benefit financially from the approval or completion of this project. I merely look forward to enjoying this finished space as a Greater Salem community member.