By Paul Leighton
BEVERLY — A developer wants to build 160 apartments on wooded land next to Kelleher's Pond under a state program that encourages "smart growth" close to public transportation.
As an incentive, the state would pay the city $677,000, according to the developer, Omni Properties of Concord.
Mayor Bill Scanlon said city officials have been in discussions with Omni for more than a year.
"I think it deserves full consideration," he said.
The apartment complex, to be called Village Green Beverly, would cost more than $20 million to build, said David Hale, a partner with Omni Properties. It would include three apartment buildings and a clubhouse with an outdoor pool to be built adjacent to Kelleher's Pond and behind the Next Generation Children's Center on Essex Street. The location is also near the YMCA and Hannah School.
The apartments would be within walking distance of the Montserrat train station, which allows the city to establish the area as a smart growth district under state law Chapter 40R.
The law offers financial incentives to encourage cities and towns to create "overlay" zoning districts to promote affordable housing near transit stations or town centers. The designation allows higher density developments than are allowed under local zoning laws.
Hale said the company must build at least 160 units to qualify for the state program. The development would take up about 71/2 acres of the 18-acre site, he said. He said the area around Kelleher's Pond would be protected by a conservation restriction, and the pond would remain open to the public.
"A lot of people skate on the pond and fish in the pond, and we certainly want that to be able to continue," Hale said.
Colon Street resident Katherine Myers, whose home faces Kelleher's Pond, said she was "horrified" when she first saw the size of the project. Many residents expressed their opposition at a neighborhood meeting last week, she said.
"They're not opposed to single-family homes up there, but they don't want to see their neighborhood change that rapidly," she said.
A meeting has been scheduled for June 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Beverly Public Library, where representatives from Omni Properties will give a presentation and answer questions about the project.
The Chapter 40R law that allows for denser developments was passed by the state Legislature in 2004. Communities who approve a smart growth district are awarded a "zoning incentive payment" ranging from $10,000 to $600,000, depending on the potential number of housing units, and bonus payments of $3,000 for each unit.
Communities are also reimbursed for any net cost of educating students who live in new housing in the smart growth district. Hale said he expects "very few students" to live in the Beverly complex, which will be mostly one- and two-bedroom units.
In addition to the incentive fees, Hale said the city will receive more than $700,000 in construction-related fees. The city would also collect $328,468 in annual real estate and excise taxes and water and sewer fees, according to company projections.
"This is a long-term moneymaker for the city," Hale said.
Scanlon said the city will have a public hearing on the possibility of establishing an overlay district. If it decides to proceed, it would have to apply to the state, and the proposed project would have to be approved by the City Council.
In February, officials from the state's Department of Housing and Community Development came to Beverly to provide information on the Chapter 40R program to the City Council. State officials will also brief the Planning Board on the program.
"It's something the state is certainly trying to encourage," Scanlon said. "It's been done in a whole lot of communities, places that are upscale communities."
Hale said 20 percent of the apartments would be set aside for people with "moderate" incomes. Rents would range from $1,200 for an affordable one-bedroom unit to an estimated $1,950 for a three-bedroom market-rate unit, he said.
The land off Essex Street was owned for years by the Kelleher family. Kelleher's Pond was dredged by John Kelleher in the 1950s to produce ice for his business. The family eventually got into the oil and construction business.
In 2008, the family moved its company to Tozer Road and sold its Essex Street property to Walker Realty of Westford for $3.47 million. The Next Generation Children's Center was built on the front of the property in 2009.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.