BEVERLY – Front Street resident Ginny Hartnett said she already has a tough time finding a parking space near her home in the historic Fish Flake Hill neighborhood.
As she watched cars back up in front of her house on Wednesday night, she wondered what will happen if a proposed 350-seat restaurant is built down the street.
“Look at the traffic now,” Hartnett said, gesturing to the long line. “How are they going to do it?”
Hartnett was one of about 70 people who turned out for a demonstration designed to show that the area is not equipped to handle all of the vehicles that a restaurant of that size would draw.
Organizers put out the word for people to drive to the site at 6 p.m. and try to find a place to park, in an effort to simulate what it might be like when the restaurant is open for business.
A total of 69 people showed up and signed in for the demonstration, according to Dan Finn, one of the organizers. The McDonald’s parking lot, where the restaurant will be built, was mostly filled, with many people fishing off the dock. So drivers fanned out along the nearby streets.
The proposed restaurant would be built on the site of the former McDonald’s restaurant, which has been closed for nearly 25 years. The city owns the property and has been trying for years to entice a restaurant to the spot, on the waterfront next to the Beverly-Salem bridge.
The city has signed a 40-year lease with Marty Bloom, a restaurateur who has opened more than 30 restaurants and is best known as the founder of the former Vinny Testa’s chain. According to the lease, the restaurant and bar will have approximately 200 seats, plus an outdoor seasonal deck for functions with up to 150 people.
Informed about the demonstration Wednesday night, Bloom said, “At the end of the day, the scale of the restaurant is what should be there.”
“It’s actually quite a bit smaller than we have in Swampscott, which has zero parking,” Bloom said, referring to his Mission by the Bay restaurant. “People find their way through the neighborhoods.”
Bloom said that between the restaurant site and the adjacent harbormaster parking lot, there will be more than 100 parking spaces. He said he is also looking to buy or lease nearby parking lots for his staff to use.
Mayor Mike Cahill said he understands neighbors’ concerns and wants to talk with them. “At the same time this is a project that the community has really wanted and needed for a long time,” he said. “The challenge will be to make it work for everyone.”
Cahill noted that the intersection at the foot of the Beverly-Salem bridge is scheduled to be improved next spring, which should help with restaurant traffic.
Finn, a real estate agent who lives and works on Front Street, emphasized that he and other neighbors are not opposed to a restaurant, but do object to the size.
“We just don’t want a 350-seat restaurant,” he said.
Residents said the streets in the historic Fish Flake Hill and Goat Hill neighborhoods are narrow and aren’t built to accommodate more cars.
“The streets are so tight right now, if somebody parks illegally you’re not getting an ambulance or a fire truck up there,” Summit Street resident Patrick Murphy said.
Paula Schultz said she took part in the demonstration and ended up parking at the corner of Wellman and Congress Street, in the Goat Hill neighborhood where she lives.
“I think having a restaurant here is fine,” she said. “But it’s the number of cars that it will bring.”
The restaurant plan must get a special permit from the Beverly Planning Board, which will include a review of parking and traffic. Bloom said he plans to file his proposal soon and is hoping to open the restaurant next summer.
“They’re going to get a world-class restaurant in their neighborhood,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.