SALEM — Plans to establish a car dealership at the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on South Broadway have received new life.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment has granted a rehearing to Metscott 21 LLC of Haverhill, Mass., after rejecting the proposed project in November, according to town planning director Ross Moldoff.
The board voted, 4-1, to deny the variance needed to establish a dealership in a zone where sellers of used cars cannot be within 2,000 feet of each other. There is no restriction on new car dealers.
Property owner Joseph Scott of Metscott 21 proposed renovating the approximately 70,000-square-foot building — one of the nation’s first Coca-Cola plants — so he could sell it to a dealership. The building has been vacant for years.
Scott said yesterday he was pleased his project is being given another chance. It should never have been defeated, he said.
“They had no right to reject it,” Scott said.
It’s one of many projects proposed at 23. S. Broadway over the years that was either rejected or abandoned because it was no longer economically feasible. They include plans for shopping plazas and a waste-to-energy plant.
Planning officials have been concerned that most commercial uses of the property would increase traffic on heavily traveled South Broadway.
The zoning restriction was adopted years ago because there was a concern too many used car dealers were locating along the busy commercial strip, according to Moldoff.
When they rejected the latest proposal two months ago, zoning board members said they didn’t want to grant a variance to allow another business that sells used cars.
The board, especially Robert Uttley, wasn’t convinced that allowing a dealership only 1,500 feet away from Toy Store Auto Sales & Service would be in the town’s best interest.
“Route 28 is beginning to look like Route 1 in Massachusetts, with one used car dealer after another,” Uttley said. “I don’t think this is what we want in Salem.”
Vice chairman Steven Diantgikis, serving as chairman in Gary Azarian’s absence, agreed.
He said Metscott didn’t prove a variance for a dealership was necessary because the property could be used for other commercial purposes.
In Metscott’s request for a rehearing, attorney David Rayment said there was no basis to deny the project just because there are other dealerships nearby. Rayment also said the project should be allowed because the dealership would mostly sell new vehicles.
Diantgikis said yesterday the board granted the rehearing last week because it wanted to put to rest any doubts the project should have been approved. Bernard Campbell Jr. was the only board member to back the request.
“I don’t think we erred in judgment,” Diantgikis said. “First and foremost, we want to get it right and we want to make sure we get it right.”
A rehearing date has not been set.
Scott said he has marketed the property to several prospective dealers and is renovating the building so it can be sold.
Today, a crane will remove the original sign from the building, he said.
Scott and partner Dennis Metayer purchased the property in January 2006 for $3.6 million. The property is now assessed at $2.4 million, most of that for the 5 acres of land.