By Paul Leighton
BEVERLY — With the beach only a few steps away, residents of lower Dane Street have some of the most scenic views in the city.
According to their testimony at City Hall, however, those views also include fist fights in the street, drug-dealing on the sidewalk and beer bottles being tossed from a second-floor balcony.
Neighbors told city councilors Monday night that the problems are coming from the Greycroft Inn, a three-story rooming house with 21 residents tucked into a residential neighborhood near Dane Street Beach. Ten neighbors asked councilors to either shut down the rooming house or impose restrictions on its operation.
"I need your help," Dane Street resident Elizabeth Schlein said. "I'm begging for it because I don't feel safe in Beverly."
The Greycroft Inn has been in existence for decades, but neighbors said the problems began when Beverly resident Aldo Corelli took over as owner in 2004. They say Corelli allowed two convicted sex offenders to move in and has failed to crack down on the fighting, swearing, drugs and loud music at the house.
Kate Veator, who lives across the street from Greycroft, said her 8-year-old daughter witnessed a scene in which a man chased a woman out of the rooming house into the street and swung a chair at the woman's head. Veator said she does not allow her daughters to play in their front yard because two convicted sex offenders lived in the rooming house.
"We had a year of domestic terrorism to some extent on our street," said Veator's husband, David. "It cries out for regulations."
Neighbors said they have tried to work with Corelli, with no results.
Corelli did not speak during the two-hour hearing, but was defended by his lawyer, Marshall Handly. Handly said Corelli has evicted the two sex offenders and has run criminal background checks on the other residents.
Handly said the Greycroft Inn provides a place to live for people who are down on their luck.
"There's nothing legally offensive about being poor, about being handicapped, about being divorced, about being subsidized on state assistance," he said.
Neighbors said they were not opposed to having a rooming house in their neighborhood, only to the increasingly dangerous behavior. Dane Street resident Robert Schlein said residents have lived next to the Greycroft for decades with no complaints until recently.
"What has gone on the last two years is shocking," he said. "It's dangerous to the neighborhood."
City Councilors Kevin Hobin and Wesley Slate said they have met with Corelli and Police Chief Mark Ray in an attempt to solve the problems. Hobin said Corelli "has done whatever we've asked him," but Hobin wants assurances the progress will continue. Robert Schlein said things have been quiet only because it's winter and the residents are not outside.
Councilor-at-large Bill Coughlin, the chairman of the council's Legal Affairs Committee, told the two sides to work out rules that would govern behavior at the rooming house. If those rules are violated by residents with no consequences, the City Council could revoke Corelli's license to operate.
"Whatever you accept, we will enforce them in this committee," Councilor Maureen Troubetaris said. "I certainly wouldn't want this situation in my neighborhood."