SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 25, 2013

Plans for $20M complex dropped

Beverly: Developer puts land near Kelleher Pond on market for $1.5 million

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — A controversial plan to build a $20 million apartment complex near Kelleher Pond in Beverly has officially been dropped and the land put up for sale.

Omni Properties this week began advertising the 15-acre site with a sale price of $1.5 million. A company official confirmed that the apartment plan, which had been strongly opposed by neighbors, has been abandoned.

“It’s not going forward,” John Amaral said. “We’ve moved on.”

Concord-based Omni had planned to build 160 apartments in a wooded area next to Kelleher Pond on Essex Street, near the Sterling YMCA. The complex would have included three four-story buildings, a clubhouse and an outdoor pool.

The proposal ran into major opposition from neighbors who worried about its effect on traffic and an influx of new students into the public school system. It led to the formation of the Montserrat Neighborhood Group, which has more than 300 members on Facebook.

Katherine Mills Myers, a member of the group who lives next to Kelleher Pond, said Omni Properties dropped its plans when it realized it did not have community support. The project would have required the approval of the City Council to rezone the land, but the developer never brought the proposal forward.

“It had to go through the City Council, and the City Council was clear that this wasn’t an appropriate use of the space,” Mills Myers said. “We’re a strong voting bloc, and we are sharing all of our information. I just felt like it was dead in the water.”

Omni Properties was hoping to build the complex under a state program that encourages “smart growth” near public transportation. The program offers financial incentives to encourage cities and towns to create “overlay” zoning districts to promote affordable housing near transit stations or town centers.

The Kelleher Pond area is potentially eligible for the designation because it is near the Montserrat train station. Twenty percent of the 160 apartments would have been set aside as affordable units.

The state would have paid the city $677,000 as an incentive to create the district, according to Omni Properties. City officials had been in discussion with Omni for more than a year about the project.

City Planner Tina Cassidy said she was unaware that the land was now for sale but said she is not surprised that Omni dropped its plans.

“They got some negative reaction from neighbors, so it never proceeded,” she said.

The land was owned for years by the Kelleher family, which ran an ice business and then an oil and construction business on the site.

The family moved its company to Tozer Road in 2008 and sold the land to Walker Realty of Westford. The Next Generation Children’s Center was built on the front of the property in 2009.

An online listing for the land describes the location as “a perfect site for a church or school.”

Mills Myers said neighbors would prefer to see the site used for single-family homes or preserved as a conservation area with a park and walking trails.

“Since last spring, the neighbors have really rallied,” she said. “It’s brought us together in a way we haven’t been together. It’s created quite a community.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.