BEVERLY — More than 1,100 people had signed an online petition as of Friday evening opposing the “mass and scale” of a proposed six-story apartment building on Rantoul Street.

Peter Johnson, one of the residents behind the petition, said organizers are not trying to stop the project, but want the building to be less imposing and to reflect the history of the city block it is replacing.

“The whole point is, ‘Go back to the drawing board and give it what it deserves,’” Johnson said.

Johnson said organizers plan to present the change.org petition to the city’s Planning Board, which is reviewing the project, at its next meeting on Aug. 20. The petition asks the Planning Board to deny the special permits needed for the project to proceed.

The proposed building, to be called Depot Square II, would be six stories tall with 115 apartments, with commercial space on the ground floor and a two-level underground parking garage.

The project will require the demolition of four buildings, including two former hotels, on a city block across from the train station.

Developer Beverly Crossing is requesting special permits from the Planning Board for the building’s height (72 1/2 feet), parking (one space per apartment), and affordable housing requirement. Beverly Crossing is planning to satisfy that requirement by getting credit for 10 apartments “off-site,” at 2 Hardy St. and 461 Rantoul St.

Johnson said he would like to see the building better reflect the history of the block, which once featured two hotels that were built when the railroad came to Beverly and are part of the Beverly Depot-Odell Park National Register District. Those two buildings are known as the former Casa de Lucca restaurant and Press Box barroom.

Beverly Crossing said it will create an exhibit, in consultation with Historic Beverly, on a public plaza along the Railroad Avenue side of the building to commemorate the transportation history of the district.

Johnson said that is not enough. He said he would like to see a portion of the facade of the Casa de Lucca building duplicated in the new building.

“I’m not stuck on, ‘You need to preserve the building,’ but there needs to be something there that evokes what used to be there,” he said. “There ought to be something remarkable that focuses people’s attention.”

Beverly Crossing President Chris Koeplin said the company has listened to residents and collaborated with public officials on the building’s design. He said city guidelines for tall buildings encourage the use of modern materials and prominent corner height.

“We’ve never looked to Tokyo or the Seaport for design inspiration,” he said in an email.

Koeplin said the company filed for a continuance of its first Planning Board hearing specifically to incorporate design comments received at a meeting of the city’s Design Review Board. 

“We’re working hard to get this right and are making design changes that we believe will address concerns,” he said.

Johnson said he would also like to see some type of “step-back” of the building’s height at its most prominent corner, at Rantoul and Railroad, along with better architectural details. The current design, he said, “overwhelms” the adjacent Odell Park, one of the few green spaces in the downtown area.

“It’s a special place and it ought to be a special design and not just another one of these boxes,” he said.

As for parking, Koeplin said the company recently counted cars in parking spaces on its current Rantoul Street buildings three times a day for a week and found that “peak utilization” was 201 cars in 292 spaces.

Koeplin added that more than 200 of the 345 residents living in the company’s four Rantoul Street buildings are from Beverly and the North Shore.

“Rantoul is getting better and local folks want to live here,” he said. 

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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