BEVERLY — The chairwoman of a city board will recuse herself from upcoming meetings on a proposed six-story apartment building due to her ties to the developer.
Beverly Design Review Board Chairwoman Sandra Cook acknowledged that she has been doing contract work for developer Beverly Crossing since May 2018 on two of the company's apartment buildings, and is the construction manager on a third project that will help the company meet its affordable housing requirements.
In addition, Cook is a partner with architect Thaddeus Siemasko in a company they formed in 2013 to buy and develop real estate. Siemasko has been the architect for several Beverly Crossing projects that have been before the Design Review Board and is the architect for the planned Depot Two building on Rantoul Street.
Cook agreed to recuse herself from the board's meetings on the project after The Salem News raised questions about her relationship with Beverly Crossing. Mayor Mike Cahill said Cook sent him a letter disclosing her ties with Beverly Crossing and made the decision to recuse herself from the upcoming Depot Two meetings after discussions with him and city officials.
"We all agree it makes sense for her to recuse herself on this project," he said.
Cook could not be reached for comment on her decision. In earlier interviews, she said she felt she was being "fair and impartial, but it's really up to them (city officials) to decide if I should recuse myself or not."
Beverly Crossing has proposed building a 115-unit, six-story apartment building on a city block across from the train depot. On Monday night, the Design Review Board scheduled a site walk on Rantoul Street in anticipation of the proposal and how it will fit in with the city's tall building design guidelines.
Cook has been a volunteer member of the Design Review Board since 2015 and chairwoman since 2016. The board reviews the design of building projects and makes recommendations to the Planning Board on such elements as building materials, colors, lighting, windows and landscaping.
Cook, who owns Tiro Design & Construction in Beverly, began doing work for Beverly Crossing in May 2018 on two apartment buildings that the company owns. She said she is the contractor for renovation work at 461 Rantoul St. and is helping the company with deleading certificates for 50 Broadway.
Cook is also the construction manager for an affordable housing project at 2 Hardy St. in Beverly. Beverly Crossing plans to donate the building to Harborlight Community Partners and use the six units to help meet a legal requirement to create affordable housing units as part of the Depot Two project.
Cook said she is working for Harborlight Community Partners and is not paid by Beverly Crossing for the Hardy Street project. She said she has no financial interest in the Depot Two project.
Asked if there is a conflict because the Hardy Street building will be used by Beverly Crossing to meet its affordable housing requirements for Depot Two, Cook said, "That's an interesting point. I'm trying to make sure that there is no conflict."
Business partner with architect
Cook is also partners with Siemasko in a company called Cache Development, which was created in 2013 to buy and develop real estate, according to state records. Cache Development has purchased three properties in Beverly and one in Salem, according to online deed records.
Siemasko is the principal of SV Design in Beverly. Cook was a project manager for the firm, then called Siemasko + Verbridge, from 1999 to 2003, according to her LinkedIn page.
Cook has voted on several projects involving Beverly Crossing and Siemasko since she joined the board in 2015, according to meeting minutes.
Asked about a potential conflict, Beverly Crossing President Chris Koeplin said Cook is "highly qualified in both roles" as board chair and a Beverly Crossing contractor.
"We have tremendous respect for her in both capacities as well as any decision she must make vis-a-vis the (Design Review Board)," Koeplin said in an email. "Sandy's decision to review Depot Two is just that, her decision. It's not ours to make or judge."
A spokesman for the State Ethics Commission said he could not comment on specific cases.
The state conflict-of-interest law prohibits public employees (which include volunteer board members) from acting in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that any person "can improperly influence or unduly enjoy the public employee's favor in the performance of his or her official duties," unless the employee discloses the facts in writing to his or her appointing authority.
Cahill said communities face a balance between finding qualified people to serve on city boards and being cognizant of conflict-of-interest laws.
"One of the necessities of making sure you have expertise on these boards and commissions is that some of these people with expertise work in the community in order to make a living," Cahill said. "I think Sandi's done a lot of great work on behalf of the people of Beverly. But we all agree it makes sense for her to recuse herself on this project."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.