BEVERLY — A neighborhood group is challenging the Beverly Housing Authority’s plan to build two affordable homes next to the Montserrat train station.
In an appeal filed Sept. 13 with the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Montserrat Neighborhood Group said the lot, which already has one house, is not legally big enough to fit two more.
The group has sent out a press release accusing the housing authority of “deceptive methods” and “manipulation” of the zoning laws and calling the plan “an affront to the community and to the families and children who would live in this ill-conceived project.”
The zoning board is scheduled to hear the appeal at its Oct. 23 meeting. Beverly Housing Authority Executive Director Kevin Ascolillo said he could not comment while the matter is pending before the board.
The housing authority plans to build two two-story homes on a triangular shape of land at the corner of Essex and Spring streets, next to the Montserrat train station parking lot.
The authority bought the land for $10 in 2002 from the MBTA, which said it no longer needed it and did not want to be responsible for its maintenance. The authority currently manages a single-family affordable home on the property.
In August 2012, the city granted the housing authority a building permit to construct a pair of two-family homes on the lot. Officials say the homes will provide housing for three families and for a disabled military veteran.
Housing authority officials say the lot is 20,166 square feet, enough to meet the minimum zoning requirement of 20,000 square feet for a project of this size. But neighbors say the lot meets that requirement only by including part of the adjacent train station parking lot.
About 4,500 square feet of the lot is owned by the housing authority, according to neighbors, but it is separated from the housing lot by a fence and is used by the MBTA for parking.
According to an email from Mark Boyle, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for development, the housing authority will use four parking spaces in the lot for its development but will “deed back” 10 spaces to the MBTA at no cost. Boyle’s email was included as an exhibit in the neighborhood group’s appeal.
Neighbors say the parking lot should not be counted as part of the “buildable” land because it will continue to be used by the MBTA.
“On paper they own it, but the MBTA still uses it and collects fares on it,” Colon Street resident John Hall said. “Essentially they’ve borrowed it for zoning purposes, but they don’t intend to do anything with it.”
The appeal says the project also violates several other zoning laws regarding parking, setback and recreational area requirements.
In addition to the legal challenges, neighbors say the two new homes would create traffic and parking problems at “one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in Beverly.”
“It is clearly an insufficient and inappropriate location for such a project, especially one geared toward families and children,” the group’s press release said.
Neighbors also questioned the $1.3 million cost of the project, which they said would be better used on improving the condition of the housing authority’s existing properties. And they criticized housing authority officials for failing to include them in the planning process, which began in 2008, and city and state officials for not helping them challenge the project.
The Montserrat Neighborhood Group includes 300 members, according to the group, and many of them have contributed to a legal fund to pay for the legal challenge.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.