SALEM, N.H. — For decades, what is now an abandoned building on South Broadway was once one of the nation’s first Coca-Cola bottling plants.
Owner Joseph Scott is frustrated he can’t sell or develop the property, blaming town planning officials for thwarting efforts to use the site. The plant, built in 1921, sits vacant at 23 S. Broadway. The popular beverage hasn’t been bottled or sold there for years.
“The town of Salem is extremely difficult to deal with,” said Scott of Scott Properties in Haverhill, Mass.
Scott said he’s given up on plans to develop the site after he and business partner Dennis Metayer were told by Planning Board members two years ago that a proposed construction and demolition recycling center was not an ideal use for the site.
“It stopped everything,” Scott said. “They have taken a $5 million piece of property and left it empty because they are very difficult to deal with.”
The project was abandoned shortly after conceptual plans for the 91,800-square-foot facility were presented to the board in March 2011, Scott said.
“I just want out of Salem,” he said.
Scott said the Planning Board and Planning Department have tried to dictate what would occur the site, including the types of curbing, lights and architectural designs.
Some board members have said the 92-year-old building should not be razed. In the meantime, Scott said, he’s been asked to pay thousands of dollars in property taxes and permit fees.
The recycling center, proposed by Smart Grid Development of Rhode Island, would have generated its own electricity using a wind turbine and photovoltaic panels on the roof.
Scott and Metayer, who could not be reached for comment, purchased the property for $3 million in January 2006. The property is now assessed at $2.4 million, most of that for the 5 acres of land.
Shortly after the purchase, they proposed razing the building to build a pharmacy, restaurant and bread company, but dropped the plans. A year later, they considered razing just the plant’s additions, which were about 20 years old at the time.
After several appearances before the Planning Board, a proposal for a shopping plaza was approved by the board in January 2009. But before final approval was received, prospective tenants said they were no longer interested.
That project was dropped. Scott said town officials are discouraging economic development in Salem.
“You don’t own your property in Salem, New Hampshire — the Planning Board does,” Scott said. “They dictate what you can do and can’t do.”
But Planning Board members James Keller and Robert Campell said the board has been reasonable, just unwilling to endorse proposals unless major traffic improvements are made along congested South Broadway. Those improvements include installation of a traffic light and turning lanes.
“That (traffic) is always a big issue, particularly in that part of town,” said Campbell, the board’s chairman. “I think the Planning Board has been fair to Mr. Scott.”
Campbell said proposals were withdrawn before the board had a chance to vote on them.
“If we don’t think something is going to work at that site, we tell them so,” Campbell said.
Keller, a former Planning Board chairman and the selectmen’s representative to the board, said it’s disappointing that Scott has left the property in disrepair, even neglecting to mow the grass.
He said the property has a lot of potential for development, but the previous plans were not suitable for the site.
Keller disagreed with Scott’s contention that Salem officials are discouraging development.
“The town, from an economic development perspective, is the farthest it’s ever been,” he said. “There is no shortage of activity.”