BEVERLY — City Councilor Scott Houseman last night raised the question of how to preserve historically significant buildings on Rantoul Street in Beverly while at the same time giving tax breaks to developers.
“I’m not one to say we need to save every historically significant building, but the character of our city is important,” Houseman said.
The City Council is considering a controversial proposal that would grant tax breaks to developers who build residential developments in a section of Rantoul Street near the train station.
The plan is designed to rejuvenate the area by establishing a residential base that would lead to new retail businesses. It was proposed by Beverly Main Streets and has the backing of Mayor Bill Scanlon.
The proposal is now before the City Council’s Finance and Property Committee, which met last night at City Hall. The committee decided to hold the matter to consider a couple of concerns raised by Houseman, including historical preservation.
Houseman, who said he supports the concept of the residential tax break, said he plans to submit an order that would provide developers with additional incentives to save historically significant buildings.
“Rantoul Street has some of our most historically significant buildings,” he said. “It behooves us to be careful.”
In an interview after the meeting, Houseman said he’s not sure whether the council can carve out exceptions for historic buildings under the Urban Center Housing and Tax Increment Financing Zone, the state plan that the city is considering. Only two other communities, Quincy and Easton, have created a TIF zone since the law was implemented in 2005.
“I think the jury is still out on that because there are so few examples,” he said. “We’re sort of making new ground here. I think it’s worth the City Council saying, ‘We tried.’”
Houseman has also submitted an order that attempts to address the issue of whether residential developments in the TIF zone should include commercial space on the first floor. He said he does not like the fact that the new Burnham apartment building on Rantoul Street, on the site of the former Infiniti dealership, has apartments on the first floor with no setback from the sidewalk.
“To literally have someone be able to stare into your living room or your bedroom from the sidewalk does not seem to be a good result,” he said.
Houseman said his proposal doesn’t prohibit residences on the first floor, “but it’s intended to make sure that the developer give a good explanation and the board give it a good deliberation.”
Councilors last night did not discuss the terms of exemptions that would be granted to developers if the proposal passes.
The current proposal calls for a 50 percent tax break over 20 years on any improvements made by developers. Main Streets Executive Director Gin Wallace has submitted a second option that calls for a 50 percent exemption for the first 15 years, with the exemption dropping by 5 percent in each of the next five years.
Finance and Property Committee Chairman Don Martin said the committee would consider those proposals at its next meeting in two weeks.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.