To the editor:
I am a past president of The Beverly Historical Society and past member of the Ward 2 Civic Association and have also been involved in many other community volunteer organizations.
I’m appalled that the city of Beverly is even considering the Depot II proposal. As stated in the 2002 Master Plan, new development must come under well-defined design guidelines to protect and enhance the architectural and historic character of Beverly’s neighborhoods and significant properties.
This plan does not comply with that goal. Five years ago, the citizens of Beverly came together to protect one of the last, if not the last, historic railroad station areas in the United States with two extant hotels to service travelers to our city. Owners of the properties, Windover Development, after a protracted battle, nominated the district to the Nation Register of Historic Places in 2014 and received more than $2 million in tax credits.
Naively, we thought these properties were now protected forever. What we didn’t know, but apparently Windover did, was that they could run out the clock for five years, pocket more than $2 million, and then demolish these historic treasures.
As The Depot Matters website has definitively documented, that in order to preserve the tax credits, the developer’s president committed to the Massachusetts Historic District Commission that the buildings in the Beverly-Odell Park Historic District would remain. You have all been made aware of this several times in these proceedings. Why then, are special permits even being considered for this project, for a developer who makes commitments, in writing, and then abandons them? In the article about this in the Oct. 1 Salem News ("Tall building guidelines up for debate in Beverly"), the developer is quoted as saying “We understand there’s history and we want to be respectful of that history.” There is nothing in this project that respects the history of this area.
I’m not opposed to transit-oriented development in the area around the depot, but we must also respect the historic fabric that makes Beverly such a desirable community to live in. An adaptive reuse of these buildings with tasteful development behind them would certainly be more acceptable than the current proposal.
As the plans presented are now, the Planning Board must just say no.
However, being a realist, this development will likely win approval in one form or another. In that case, the city and its taxpayers will have suffered two losses; three historic buildings on the National Register and more than $2 million in tax credits. That is just not acceptable.
The Planning Board should not approve this development as proposed, but if they do allow the loss of these historic properties, they could -- and should -- attach a condition to the project approval requiring the developer to fund a substantial payment, ideally in the amount of the tax credit previously awarded them, to the Community Preservation Committee to be used for historic preservation elsewhere in the city.