BEVERLY — Revised plans for a proposed six-story Depot Square Phase II apartment building by developer Beverly Crossing drew a standing room only crowd before the Planning Board Tuesday night for a hearing on what some residents say is a building that is too big for the area.
About 120 residents spilled into the third floor hallway outside City Council Chambers in City Hall to hear more about the $45 million, 111-unit, C-shaped building facing Odell Veterans Memorial Park. Some spoke in favor, but others thought the revised plans, which reduced the top two floors, was still too big.
“I think this project is too big and too much,” said Sharon McGrath. “I think enough is enough for Rantoul Street.”
The project, considered the centerpiece of Beverly Crossing’s other upscale apartment buildings along the Rantoul Street corridor, would encompass the entire block of Rantoul, Pleasant and Park streets and Railroad Avenue. The addresses are 134-142-146 Rantoul St. and 1-9 Park St.
The building would have parking in lower and upper garages. Plans show a mix of retail and apartments on the ground floor. The project would have a mix of 12 studio, 80 one-bedroom, 2 one-bedroom units with a den, and 17 two bedroom apartments.
Chairperson Ellen Hutchinson told the gathering no decision was expected Tuesday, and it’s likely the hearing would be continued until Sept. 10. Developers need a special permit for height, parking and approval of their off-site affordable housing plan.
Developers, she said, would be focusing on design and affordable housing, not parking and traffic. She noted the issues around Depot Two were coalescing around the size of the building, preservation concerns about historic buildings to be demolished, and the building being out of character. Plans call for the demolition of two former railroad hotels in the Beverly Depot-Odell Park National Register District.
Those in attendance included Beverly Crossing’s President Christopher Koeplin and architect Thad Siemasko, who outlined the revised design.
But first, Koeplin said he wanted to address the elephant in the room, the controversy around how the development related to the use of historic tax credits.
The redevelopment of the block has been controversial because Beverly Crossing’s predecessor company, Windover, nominated the area as a historic district in 2013 so that it would be eligible for more than $2 million in state and federal tax credits for restoring a building at 60 Pleasant St. into veterans housing. The predecessor company risked losing those tax credits if it demolished other buildings in the district within five years, but that time period has lapsed, allowing Beverly Crossing to move ahead with the demolition of historic buildings in the district, including the former Casa de Lucca restaurant building and the former Press Box building, both of which were built as railroad hotels in the 19th century.
Koeplin wanted to publicly acknowledging that the controversy “is rooted in our actions.” The historic district was sponsored by prior leadership, and the tax credits were used to create the veterans housing project.
“That mechanism does not translate into the block,” Koeplin said. “We are proud of what we did for those veterans, they earned it.”
He said Beverly Crossing was not a beneficiary of those credits, but he acknowledged that what happened did not look good, and this should have been handled differently.
“It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t feel good,” Koeplin said. “On behalf of Beverly Crossing, I’m sorry.”
Koeplin said the new neighborhood that has arisen around the Beverly Depot does matter, and the project was not just another six-story building to the company.
He then spoke about other projects and charitable efforts Beverly Crossing has done over the years. He noted that with Depot Two, Beverly Crossing’s projects represent a more than $170 million investment in the city. He also said the company would assist anyone who wants to preserve and move the Casa de Lucca building off site.
Other tweaks to the plan include a reduction of the scale and mass of the upper stories. Beverly Crossing is reducing “the height and massing of the prominent corner element which has been reduced to 5 stories from the original 6 story proposal.”
There is also a redesign of the courtyard feature and open stairs to encourage pedestrian access between the park and the building and streetscape improvements “to highlight appropriate pedestrian crossings between the plaza/sidewalk and the park.”
However, as far as the “historic aesthetic” goes, architects are not drawing inspiration from the old Casa de Lucca restaurant building on the corner of Rantoul Street and Railroad or the former Press Box building next to it, which were once “railroad hotels” built as the railroad spread across the country in the 19th century.
In April, the Historic District Commission imposed a one-year demolition delay on the former Casa de Lucca building, which was built in 1894. Demolition delays on the former Press Box building and the Sullivan Chiropractic building have both expired. The developer has said it is not economically feasible to rehab the Casa de Lucca building at a cost of $2.5 million.
The historic inspiration is coming from the U.S. post office building diagonally across the street, a building that is undergoing renovation.
“The prominent corner feature has been significantly revised to incorporate more historic design elements and materials which relate directly to the post office building, including a prominent portico entrance,” Gooding said in her letter.
Developers were still presenting plans at 9:30 p.m., The Salem News deadline.
However, there is opposition to the project that includes a change.org petition with nearly 2,000 signatures urging developers go back to the drawing board. A group called Depot Matters is looking for a “right size” to redevelopment of a block adjacent to Beverly Depot.
Plans also drew a cool reception from the Ward 2 Civic Association back in April.
The revised plans, presented to residents, including “reduced scale and mass of upper stories overlooking” Odell Veterans Memorial Park, according to a letter from lawyer Miranda Gooding of the Beverly law firm Glovsky & Glovsky which outlined the revised plans from Aug. 12.
These proposed design changes still must go before the Design Review Board, and Gooding wrote to the Planning Board that developers expect further refinements over the next few weeks. In a change from the original plans, the top two floors will be stepped back from the street.
The project also needs an inclusionary housing permit, Gooding said. She said this permit can be satisfied by off-site affordable housing, or by payments in lieu of providing housing on site.
Gooding said they plan to transfer units created at other properties and apply them to this project.
“Every single project has complied with inclusionary housing permits,” she said.
Gooding said developers have created a total of 403 units with 50 affordable units onsite in other projects since 2012. For this project, they are required to create nine units.
So, why is Beverly Crossing asking for off-site units? Gooding said Depot Two site is expensive to develop. So, instead, they want to use credit units off site, six at a project at 2 Hardy St., and three at a development at 461 Rantoul St.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.