By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The Temple of Witchcraft has received final approval to expand its operations on North Policy Street, despite opposition from neighbors.
The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to grant the nonprofit organization the permission it needs to relocate from 2 Main St. to a two-story building at 49 N. Policy St.
Neighbors have voiced concern about the increased traffic and noise the project could generate, but not the classes in witchcraft and neopaganism being taught in the former 19th-century home. Some also expressed concern about lighting and a 16-car parking lot to be built on the property.
Temple of Witchcraft co-founder and minister Steve Kenson has said classes in witchcraft would be taught on the first floor and the second floor would be home to three of the organization’s ministers. The temple purchased the property in September for $420,000.
The temple has about 100 to 150 local members, and approximately 300 to 400 worldwide, according to Kenson. Many take the organization’s online courses, he said.
Several residents approached the board at public hearings in November and on Dec. 11 to oppose the proposal, according to Planning Board Chairman Robert Campbell. The board approved the proposal last week after being satisfied with the final engineering report and minor conditions met by temple representatives.
A traffic study concluded the temple would generate little additional traffic, but residents are concerned there is already too much congestion, Campbell said. The property is near Canobie Lake Park, which attracts thousands of visitors daily during the summer months.
Christine Davis, a North Policy Street resident with four children, said she doesn’t want the additional traffic, noise and a 16-space parking lot to be built next to her home.
“I don’t have a problem with their study of witchcraft, it’s with the traffic and everything else,” Davis said.
She voiced concern about lights from the temple shining on her home and its use seven days a week until 10 p.m., saying it would keep her children awake at night.
Campbell said one condition of approval was that the lights be moved so they didn’t bother abutters.
North Policy Street resident Gene Bryant said he is worried the temple would become a distraction in his neighborhood. He questioned whether it’s truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption to locate there.
Campbell said the organization meets the proper criteria and the board could not base its decision on the group’s religious teachings.
“The Planning Board isn’t in a position to make a judgment on that,” he said.
Kenson has said neighbors have no reason to worry. He said the “nature-based” organization has been in Salem for two years and holds peaceful rituals on a regular basis at the Masonic Temple.
“They have absolutely nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “We’re certainly not a threat to anyone. We believe very strongly that our practice isn’t for everyone.”
Project engineer David Jordan said the organization was pleased to receive approval. He did know when the expansion would begin.
Jordan said some residents are more concerned about future projects considered for the property, including possible use of a barn and construction of another building. Those uses would require further town approval, he said.
But those are just ideas at this point and nothing definite, Jordan said.
“Right now, it’s just dreams and planning,” he said.