BEVERLY — The criticism Tuesday night to Beverly Crossing's plans for a six-story, 111-apartment, mixed-use development at the corner of Rantoul Street and Railroad Avenue centered on the building's size.
Most who packed the City Council Chambers told the Planning Board the proposed Depot II Building was too large for the area adjacent to the Beverly Depot and Odell Veterans Memorial Park.
"We are for development, but right-sized development," said Hale Street resident Peter Johnson, who is part of a group called Depot Matters that has been formed to advocate for a more careful planning process for the area.
The developer is seeking special permits for a building that would be 73 feet tall and have fewer parking spaces than zoning requires. The developer also has to fulfill inclusionary housing requirements of the zoning ordinance.
Plans include demolition of all four buildings on the block, including three vacant buildings. Of these, two are former railroad hotels, the former Press Box building at 1 Park St. and the former Casa de Lucca restaurant building at 146 Rantoul St.
Residents who spoke at Tuesday's hearing were concerned about the demolition of the Casa de Lucca building, seen as a historic icon of the neighborhood. They also fretted that nine affordable apartments, required under inclusionary housing requirements, would be created offsite instead of in the building.
Johnson said residents were given less than a week to review advanced copies of updated plans. A reduced scale and mass of upper stories overlooking the park and a slight reduction of apartments from 115 to 111 were among the changes.
Johnson brought with him a rendering that showed the proposed apartment complex with a picture of the Casa de Lucca building imposed over the drawing. He was trying to illustrate the "massive difference in scale" between the two buildings.
Planning Board member William Boesch doubted the building shown on Johnson's rendering was the same one shown by project proponents earlier in the meeting.
"With all due respect," Johnson said, "it is."
Johnson spoke about the proposed demolition of the Casa de Lucca building, which is known as the Walter Hotel. The Beverly Historic District Commission imposed a one-year demolition delay on the building in April. Johnson said the city should not obliterate a building dedicated to Beverly's railroad past.
Johnson also questioned the plan to create affordable housing outside the apartment building, at 461 Rantoul St. and at 2 Hardy St., where Beverly Crossing has donated a vacant parcel to Harborlight Community Partners, which intends to build a six-unit affordable housing building there. The apartment building has already been approved.
However, Johnson and others said any affordable housing belongs in the project, and he urged the Planning Board to deny the use of offsite credit units.
Suzie LaMont, another member of the Depot Matters group, said she planned to submit a petition from change.org to the Planning Board that has drawn nearly 2,000 signatures online. The petition urges the Planning Board to deny the special permits. When she asked how many people in the room signed it online, most everyone in the room raised their hands.
Not everyone spoke against the plan. Jackie Moldau, owner of Jackie's Tee's at 238 Rantoul St., said the developments Beverly Crossing has built in recent years along Rantoul Street have benefited the neighborhood. She said she is no longer finding hypodermic needles behind her building.
Moldau said in an interview developers are going above and beyond to make the corner special.
"For one thing, it's bringing to the area the commuters with discretionary incomes to spend on local businesses," she said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.