BEVERLY — The summer break did nothing to diminish the controversy over a proposal to give tax breaks to developers on Rantoul Street.
Picking up where it left off in July, the City Council last night continued its public hearing and heard more than two hours of often-heated opinions on the subject.
Beverly Main Streets, developers and Mayor Bill Scanlon all expressed their support for the proposal, which would encourage residential development on Rantoul Street by giving developers up to a 50 percent tax break on the improvements they make.
But most members of the general public who spoke at City Hall came down strongly against it. City Council President Paul Guanci twice had to pound the gavel and ask for a vote from his fellow councilors to put an end to talks by residents who went on too long.
“We live in a beautiful waterfront community, and somehow there’s this conception that we have to come with our hat in our hand to help developers,” Congress Street resident Sean Hanlon said. “The people most behind this (proposal) are the people with the most to gain. They’re not doing some altruistic project for us out of the goodness of their heart.”
Beverly Main Streets has promoted the plan as a way to revive a tired stretch of Rantoul Street around the train station. Developers would be given a tax break to build residential buildings, which in turn would create a customer base that would lead to more retail businesses and a thriving downtown, proponents said.
The Main Streets proposal originally had Windover Construction as the first developer that would benefit from a tax break, on the company’s apartment building project at the site of the former Enterprise car rental business.
But Windover President Lee Dellicker said last week that his company has withdrawn from the plan due to the controversy it has generated and will build the apartment buildings without a tax break.
Dellicker, whose company owns other land along Rantoul Street, spoke last night in favor of the tax break plan in general, saying it could make the difference to a developer deciding whether to build in Beverly.
“The demographics right now don’t support retailers,” Dellicker said. “The end game is retail because that is what provides a vibrant downtown.”
Another developer, William Goldberg of Goldberg Property Management, said he has lived in Beverly his entire life, “and downtown Beverly has been deteriorating my entire life.”
“Many developers who have developed in downtown Beverly have lost money and have not come back,” he said. “If we don’t encourage this, the continued slide of downtown Beverly will continue.”
But Hanlon, the Congress Street resident, said there are already plenty of residents and apartment buildings along Rantoul Street. He said the area is simply not attractive, and that the city should concentrate on developing its waterfront like Newburyport and Salem have done.
“We have a waterfront that has a vacant lot, a blighted block with graffiti,” he said. “That is the first thing people see when they come over the bridge and they accelerate up Rantoul Street to get away.”
Rantoul Street resident Michelle Gordon said there has already been development around the train station and developers will continue to show interest in the area “with or without the (tax break).”
Residents Rosemary Maglio and Rick Marciano both spoke out against the tax break before being gaveled down by Guanci for going on too long and straying off topic.
Maglio, who lives on Pleasant Street just off Rantoul Street, said residents in the area fear that “massive” apartment buildings will create a “Pottersville society” and the “canyon-ization of their streets.”
Beverly Main Streets Co-President Mary Grant said many people have a misconception about the part of the proposal that requires a developer to set aside 25 percent of the units as affordable.
Grant described the affordable units as “workforce housing” for people like police officers, teachers and bank tellers. A single person with an income of $45,500 would qualify.
Councilors eventually voted to end the public hearing and sent the matter to the council’s finance and property committee for further discussion.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.