BEVERLY — City councilors last night voted in favor of a lease between the city and the Black Cow restaurant, a significant step in the grueling process to bring a waterfront restaurant to the city.
By a 6-3 vote, the City Council authorized Mayor Bill Scanlon to enter into a 40-year agreement with restaurant owner Joseph Leone to build a Black Cow on city-owned land near the Beverly-Salem bridge.
Some councilors contended that the city is getting the short end of the deal in the transaction, while others argued that a decision should be put off until Mayor-elect Mike Cahill and a new City Council take office in January.
But a majority of the board ultimately decided to give Scanlon permission to make a deal, saying residents have waited long enough for a waterfront restaurant, which Leone first proposed in 2006.
“People want a waterfront restaurant,” Councilor Jason Silva said. “We’ve got this beautiful waterfront, and we don’t have one place to eat. I see this as a great opportunity for the city.”
The proposed lease calls for Leone to pay the city $30,000 a year to lease the land, which has been occupied by a vacant former McDonald’s restaurant for 20 years. Leone has said he will spend $3 million to build a restaurant similar to the one he owns on the Newburyport waterfront.
Beverly Port Marina owner Frank Kinzie, who spoke before councilors voted, called the $30,000 in rent money “absurdly low” and said the lease is a “very bad deal for Beverly.”
But Mayor Bill Scanlon said the city has requested proposals for the property six times over the years and Leone’s is the only one that would not require the city to invest its own money.
“Your approval,” Scanlon told councilors, “is the best possible gift we can give to the new mayor, the new councilors and the city.”
Councilors Brett Schetzsle, Don Martin and Jim Latter voted against the lease. Schetzsle cited several reasons, including concerns over parking, traffic and a proposed access road through the Ferryway Landing park, which he called “unthinkable.”
“What we’re proposing to do under this lease is just too big,” he said.
Schetzsle, who lost his re-election bid in Ward 6, proposed putting off a vote until the next council and new mayor take office in January.
“The mayor-elect has said he will take a different approach to developing the waterfront,” Schetzsle said, referring to Cahill, who was in the audience. “Let’s take him up on it.”
But Councilor Maureen Troubetaris, who is retiring in January after 22 years on the council, said she wanted to vote.
“I’m qualified to make my decision,” she said. “I don’t know if the new board is.”
Martin said Troubetaris’ remarks were “insulting” to the newly elected councilors and the mayor-elect. The council voted down Schetzsle’s proposal to put off the vote, 6-3.
Martin expressed concern that the city would approve a lease while the restaurant proposal is still in litigation. The state Appeals Court is scheduled to make a decision soon, possibly in January.
Martin said the city should issue another request for proposals to see if it can get a better deal, as it has done with the former McKay School, which is out for bid for a third time.
Schetzsle said he was also concerned that the city changed the terms of the lease since it issued the original proposal. He compared it potentially to the controversial bidding process to run the city-owned Beverly Golf & Tennis Club earlier in Scanlon’s administration that ended up in court.
“If this restaurant fails, we get an empty restaurant,” Schetzsle said. “That’s a worst-case scenario, but we saw a worst-case scenario at Beverly Golf & Tennis.”
But the councilors in favor — Paul Guanci, Wes Slate, Scott Houseman, Scott Dullea, Silva and Troubetaris — said now is the time for the city to finally move ahead on the waterfront.
“It’s worth doing,” Slate said. “It’s worth doing now.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.