BY PAUL LEIGHTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — BEVERLY — For at least two decades, people have been talking about the MBTA building a parking garage near the Beverly train depot.
Last night, the talking finally came to a stop. In a couple of weeks, the work will actually begin.
The MBTA held its final public hearing about the garage last night at City Hall. MBTA project manager George Doherty said surveyors will start working at the site in a week or two. Shortly after that, workers will start demolishing the buildings on the site to make way for the garage.
“We’re ready to start construction,” Doherty said.
The garage will be built next to the Depot Square condominiums on Rantoul Street on land that now contains a closed gas station, two former apartment buildings and an MBTA parking lot with 88 spaces.
The garage will have 500 parking spaces on four levels, with the main entrance/exit on Rantoul Street and another on Court Street. Officials say the garage will alleviate long-standing parking problems around the Beverly depot, which Doherty said is the second- or third-busiest commuter rail station in the state.
Construction is scheduled to take 14 months, with the opening planned for December 2013. The total cost of the project is estimated at $34 million, including the money it cost to buy the land.
Last night’s meeting was held to inform the public about minor design changes and to answer residents’ questions. About 70 people showed up, many of them people who live at Depot Square or close by and have been following the design process closely over the last year.
Residents were generally happy with the cooperation of MBTA officials, who agreed to incorporate many of the their suggestions over the last two years. The garage, for example, will have a brick facade, which many residents and officials had said they preferred in order to fit in with the surrounding streetscape.
“I remember the mayor said to us at the end of one meeting, ‘Think brick,’” said Terry Rookard, the principal architect for the garage. “What we heard is that you wanted it to look like Beverly.”
The garage will have four levels, but one of those levels will be “below grade” due to the way the land slopes as it leads away from Rantoul Street. It will have an open design, meaning you can see right through the building to the other side when you are inside, Rookard said.
“Garages inherently aren’t the most attractive buildings that you see, but they did a very good job with the design,” said Mark Boyle, the MBTA’s assistant general manager for development.
The building will have two elevators, eight charging stations for electric cars, a bike-storage area, solar panels on the roof, and security cameras that will take pictures of the license plates of every vehicle that enters and exits.
“It’s going to be a pretty high-tech garage,” Rookard said.
The garage will be set back 85 feet from Rantoul Street, leaving room for future development in front of it. There will also be a covered pedestrian walkway from the garage over Pleasant Street to the train station, which is a block and a half away.
The current MBTA parking lot that will be replaced by the garage will close starting Nov. 5 due to the construction. Neighbors expressed concern about commuters who normally use that lot parking on side streets in the surrounding neighborhoods.
City Planner Tina Cassidy said the city is preparing to take several measures to alleviate that problem, including restricting some of the street spaces to one or two hours, limiting others to residents only and putting up signs directing commuters to municipal parking lots on Cabot Street.
Scanlon said the city might provide a shuttle bus from Cabot Street to the train station to encourage the use of those lots.
Pleasant Street resident Denise Staples praised MBTA officials for their responsive to residents’ concerns and suggestions.
“They listened,” she said. “They have been phenomenal to make a building that fits so well with the neighborhood.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.