BEVERLY – It would be the first new construction on downtown Cabot Street in years, a three-story apartment building that City Council President Paul Guanci said is “just what downtown Beverly needs.”
But the proposal that officials say fits perfectly with their strategy to revive the downtown is drawing vehement opposition from some people who live there.
Neighbors say 255 people have signed a petition against the planned apartment building at 130 Cabot St., and dozens have attended or spoken out at recent meetings of the Planning Board, which must approve the project.
As if to emphasize the signficicance of the building’s impact on the downtown, brothers Dana and Dale Acciavatti have videotaped the Planning Board meetings to keep an eye on the process.
Dana Acciavatti has posted a video on YouTube outlining his opposition. At last week’s Planning Board meeting at the Senior Center, he showed blown-up photographs of congested parking in the area to illustrate neighbors’ objections.
“They’re tired of the unbridled construction that’s going on in Beverly,” he told board members.
The building would be built next to the Siam Delight restaurant and Sam’s Cleaners on what is now a parking lot. The space has been vacant since the C.F. Tompkins furniture building burned down in 1973.
The area is located on a commercial stretch of Cabot Street but is also surrounded by apartment buildings on Railroad Avenue, Elm Street and Vestry Street.
The developer, Jeff Halloran of Salem, is asking for a three-story building with 13 apartments and commercial space on the first floor.
City officials and Beverly Main Streets have been promoting the concept of building apartments in the downtown, especially on Rantoul Street, in order to create a customer base that will encourage the opening of new retail stores.
Cabot Street has less available land in the downtown area, so this project is a rare chance to bring more residents to that stretch.
Guanci and Beverly Main Streets Executive Director Gin Wallace have both written to the Planning Board in support of the project.
“These improvements will help strengthen that section of Cabot Street which is currently experiencing a revival of commercial businesses that support residents and attract visitors,” Wallace wrote.
Neighbors have used another word to describe what the building will attract – congestion.
They said the project will only add to the parking and traffic problems on the narrow streets on that block.
“We’re building something very giant where it doesn’t belong,” Vestry Street resident Elisabeth Veliaj said.
The biggest sticking point is parking. The city’s zoning laws normally require two parking spaces for each two-bedroom apartment. But the rules also allow a project to count spaces in parking lots within 500 feet of a development.
Under that rule, the 130 Cabot St. apartment can be built with only 13 parking spaces on site. A city-owned parking lot across Cabot Street fulfills the requirement for the rest of the spaces.
Residents of the apartment building would have to pay the parking meters like anyone else who uses those spots, Planning Board Chairman Richard Dinkin said.
Vice Chairman John Thomson said he does he does not necessarily like the rule that allows multiple properties to use the same parking lot, but “it’s on the books and we’re stuck with it.”
David Flint, who owns two properties on Railroad Avenue, and Danielle Gunn, who lives on Railroad Avenue, both said they are leaning toward supporting the project.
If the apartment building is not allowed, Gunn said, a developer could build something even less appealing.
“I wish my neighbors had an understanding of the monster that could be there,” she said. “We’ve come to accept what’s going to be there.”
The Planning Board voted to recess the public hearing until Oct. 16 at City Hall.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.