SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 25, 2013

Beverly drops housing project

Plan for affordable homes near train station was opposed by neighbors

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The Beverly Housing Authority has dropped its controversial plan to build affordable housing next to the Montserrat train station, a major victory for neighbors who vehemently opposed the plan.

The Housing Authority’s board of directors voted on April 11 to withdraw a court case against the Beverly Zoning Board, which had denied a building permit for the project.

Housing Authority Executive Director Kevin Ascolillo said yesterday that the board decided to drop the $1.27 million project because construction costs have gone up 15 percent due to delays in the court case.

The case was recently delayed for 45 days and would not have been heard until May or June, he said.

“We have sort of this perfect storm between labor rates, construction costs and pushing the court date out,” Ascolillo said. “We would have had to rebid the project, which is an added expense and time-consuming.”

The Housing Authority had planned to build two, two-family houses and renovate an existing single-family home at the corner of Spring and Essex streets, next to the Montserrat train station.

Neighbors objected, saying the lot is too small for three buildings and the additional housing would create traffic and safety problems in a busy neighborhood.

In September, neighbors appealed the issuance of the project’s building permit to the Zoning Board, which ruled in their favor by a 5-0 vote. The Housing Authority appealed the Zoning Board’s decision in Land Court, where the case has been sitting since November.

Essex Street resident John Rush said yesterday that neighbors are happy the project has been dropped but are still wary of the Housing Authority.

“We managed to catch up to them, but they were never willing to share their plans,” Rush said. “I’m glad the project they had planned is over, but we’re still not sure what they’re planning for that lot. Hopefully, they got the message that they need to engage the neighborhood.”

Ascolillo said the project would have provided much-needed housing for military veterans and Beverly families. One of the houses would have been designed for a disabled military veteran.

“The need for veterans’ housing is incredible,” he said. “A lot of men and women are returning from eight years of war. We thought we had a way of addressing that here in Beverly.”

Rush said the neighborhood is not opposed to affordable housing, “but that project does not make sense for that lot. It is just too dense for that lot.”

Ascolillo said the lot will remain as it is for now, with the family who lives in the existing home remaining there.

The legal dispute revolved around whether the Housing Authority could count parking spaces in the adjacent MBTA parking lot in order to meet lot-size zoning requirements. A fence separates the housing lot from the train station parking lot.

The Housing Authority had acquired the housing lot in 2002 from the MBTA for a nominal $10 fee.

Ascolillo said he felt the Housing Authority would have won its court case.

“If we didn’t, we would not have pursued that,” he said.

The Housing Authority will now concentrate on a five-year modernization project to improve the 650 units that it manages throughout the city, he said.

“We’re going full steam ahead on transforming a lot of these units that we manage in Beverly,” he said.

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