Salem voters approve buying 14.5 acres of former Zemko Sawmill property

Salem — The town will purchase 14.5 acres on the former Zemko Sawmill property after voters approved the sale in a referendum Wednesday.

The vote was 209-94 in favor of the $450,000 purchase. It will allow the town to acquire property located in an area town officials hope will eventually provide a new, walkable town center.

“I think most of our residents saw the value of the property being right in the center of our town and our historic district,” First Selectman Kevin Lyden said of the land located at 228 and 230 Hartford Road. “I think most of our residents saw the many reasons we should purchase it.”

The property is located between the Salem School, the town offices and the Round Hill Road Recreation Complex. It was called an “eyesore” and described as in “derelict condition” at a town meeting last week.

Town officials were interested in the land in part because the town needs new storage space for its public works department. The land has five buildings equipped for storage with a combined space of 15,162 square feet.

Two other buildings are also on the property, and Lyden said recently the land could eventually be a place for new businesses. The Planning and Zoning Commission is working on a set of regulations that would create a “village center zone.” The regulations would allow for a bakery, a barber shop, professional offices and other similar projects.

Options for funding the land purchase were a major part of the conversation at the town meeting. Lyden said the town has $106,000 available in state local capital improvement money that could help cover the cost.

The recent foreclosure sale of Salem Country Gardens is also expected to bring the town about $200,000. The Board of Finance will ultimately explore options for funding the sale.

The sale reaffirmed a desire in town for there to be a more developed town center. A survey on the topic and its results were part of the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, which was updated earlier this year.

Lyden said the Zemko property had been off the market for 90 years. The former owner offered to sell it to the town for $1 million in 2010 and owed about $70,000 in back property taxes, according to the town.

Voter turnout Wednesday was 11 percent. The town has 2,832 registered voters, according to the registrars of voters office.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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