BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Ferry Way Landing is a small public park on the city’s waterfront with a couple of important roles in the city’s history.
It was the spot where many of the area’s first settlers landed by boat, dating back nearly four centuries ago. It is also the spot, or at least near the spot, where the Hannah, the first ship in George Washington’s fledgling Navy, was outfitted in 1775.
A small plaque in the park commemorates the area as the “Birthplace of the Continental Navy.”
After all these years, the city now has another use in mind for the historic site — as an exit for patrons of a proposed restaurant.
On Monday night, the City Council authorized Mayor Bill Scanlon to reach a lease agreement with restaurant owner Joseph Leone to build a Black Cow restaurant on city-owned land next to the park. As part of the agreement, Leone would be required to seek permits to build a road through Ferry Way Landing park in order to provide a second exit for customers.
City Councilor Brett Schetzsle voted against the lease for several reasons. But the one that really pushed him over the edge was the idea of a building a road through the park, he said.
“We’re preparing to do something that is really kind of unthinkable,” Schetzsle said at the meeting.
“We’re going to place a paved road through an open space that has belonged to this city for 400 years. It’s central to the legend of the Hannah, around which we’ve built our brand as a city as Washington’s Naval Base. We’re going to try to destroy it.”
The park is bordered by a public walkway on the water side and a wall on the street side. A set of stairs leads from the street down to a walkway that winds through the park toward the water. There are a few trees, and the commemorative plaque is on a rock surrounded by bushes.
Scanlon said the road would be built near the wall at the edge of the park that separates it from the main road, away from the water side.
The park is also squeezed between the site of the proposed restaurant, where a former McDonald’s restaurant has sat mostly empty for 20 years, and the city harbormaster’s office.
The proposed road would be one-way leading from the restaurant lot, through the park to the harbormaster’s lot, then under the Beverly-Salem bridge and out of the site via Congress Street. Vehicles would not be allowed to use the road to get into the restaurant lot.
As the area is currently constructed, the only entrance and exit is on Water Street, and critics say that is not enough to handle the traffic that would be generated by a 200-seat restaurant.
Scanlon said the roadway was first recommended years ago by the Police Department’s former traffic officer as a way to improve traffic flow on the waterfront site.
“It would be very close to the wall and quite narrow,” Scanlon said. “It’s not as if it really cuts through the thing.”
Frank McMahon, who walks his dog in the park every day, said he does not like the idea of putting in a road.
McMahon, who lives on Ellingwood Court in the nearby Goat Hill neighborhood, said the area is often crowded with fishermen, lobstermen and people sitting in or walking through the park.
“There’s not enough room down here (for a road),” he said as he walked his dog, Boomer, in the park earlier this week. “I don’t think it would look right.”
Schetzsle said the park is the “only piece of green space” on the waterfront and should be preserved. He also said the city could be liable if someone in the park is hit by a car.
“The vision of the waterfront was one of open space and enjoyment,” he said. “What we have in front of us (with the proposed lease) is a stark departure from that. It’s less about open space and more about restricted access and enforcement.”
The proposed lease calls for Leone to make “best efforts” to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to build the roadway. The plans would need to be reviewed by the Beverly Conservation Commission, the Beverly Planning Board and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
“Hopefully, someone will stop it from happening,” Schetzsle said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.