By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The Zoning Board of Adjustment has rejected plans to convert the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on South Broadway into a car dealership.
The board voted, 4-1, on Tuesday to deny a variance requested by Metscott 21 LLC of Haverhill, Mass., for permission 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 car dealership.
But board members said they didn’t want to grant a variance to allow another business that sells used cars. That prompted Scott to say yesterday he is tired of dealing with Salem officials and will challenge the decision.
“They want to keep telling me what to put in there,” Scott said. “I’m going to take them to court if I have to.”
Most new car dealers also sell a few used vehicles, project representative Mark Gross told the board. Scott said he was in negotiations with five or six potential dealers.
The Coca-Cola plant was built in 1921 and operated at 23 S. Broadway for decades, but the building has been vacant for years.
Several commercial proposals for the site were either defeated by town boards or abandoned because they were 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 substantially increase traffic on heavily traveled South Broadway, also known as Route 28.
The ordinance was adopted years ago because there was a concern too many used car dealers were locating along the busy commercial strip, according to town planner Ross Moldoff.
Scott said last month a car dealership was an ideal use for the site because it would not generate as much traffic. But board members, including Robert Uttley, weren’t convinced that allowing a dealership only 1,500 feet away from Toy Store Auto Sales & Service would be in the public’s best interest.
“Route 28 is beginning to look like Route 1 in Massachusetts, with one used car dealer after another,” he 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.
“My concerns are we are going to put this in the heart of our community,” he said.
Diantgikis said Metscott didn’t prove a variance for a dealership was necessary because the property could be used for other commercial purposes.
Bernard Campbell Jr., the only board member not opposed to the request, said any use of the site would better allowing the rundown building to remain vacant.
Karen Forbes, an attorney for Toy Store Auto Sales & Service, said the request should be denied because the applicant didn’t provide enough information on the project, including the dealer’s name and the number of vehicles to be kept there.
“This is a proposal that is amazingly bereft of details,” she said. “Because they haven’t given you facts, we believe this applicant has to be denied on its face.”
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.