BEVERLY – A resolution calling on the City Council to condemn a developer's "manipulation" of $2 million in taxpayer money was put on hold by a council committee Monday night.
Councilors said they were wary of passing a resolution that targets one company, but said they would back a broader resolution addressing corporate responsibility.
"I support bringing this information out," City Councilor Estelle Rand said. "I don't know that this resolution is the most direct way of bringing that information out."
The resolution was written by City Councilor Scott Houseman and refers, without naming the company, to Windover Development receiving more than $2 million from a state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credit program. Windover nominated an area around the Beverly train depot as a historic district in 2013 in order to be eligible for the tax credits for restoring a former box factory on Pleasant Street and turning it into veterans housing.
But at the same time, the company was planning to demolish three other historic buildings in the district in order to make way for a six-story apartment building. After a warning from the Massachusetts Historic Commission, which oversees the tax credit program, Windover promised not to demolish the buildings.
But now that a five-year period in which the tax credits could be recaptured has expired, Windover's successor company, Beverly Crossing, plans to demolish the three buildings and construct the six-story Depot Square II apartment building.
Houseman's resolution does not mention Windover or Beverly Crossing by name, but says the "local business" violated its "commitment, if not the law."
"This council condemns such corporate behavior as inconsistent with our community values," the resolution says.
The resolution ends calls on all businesses operating in Beverly to "exercise good and responsible corporate citizenship and uphold community values of civic honesty in the conduct of their business."
The buildings set to be demolished include the former Press Box and Casa de Luca buildings, which are former hotels across from the train depot. The other building is the former Sullivan Chiropractic, which was once used to manufacture carriages. Windover cited all three buildings in its application to have the area declared a historic district.
Councilor John Frates said he objected to the resolution's obvious reference to a specific company, especially one that has a project now seeking approval from city boards. The Planning Board is scheduled on Nov. 19 to consider whether to issue the special permits needed to proceed with the Depot Square II apartment project.
"It almost feels that we are inserting ourselves in a case where we don't have deliberations before us," Frates said. "It almost prejudices what is going on."
Councilor Tim Flaherty agreed, saying, "I think the general public might say we're trying to influence the decision."
Councilor Don Martin said the City Council needs to be careful not to "slander" anybody.
"You're basically saying they're dishonest," he said to Houseman.
Houseman acknowledged that the resolution was "unusual." He said he was not trying to influence the Depot Square II project, but felt it was important to make a statement about what he called the manipulation of the tax credit program.
"The reason I wrote this resolution has to do with taxpayer money," he said. "I'm not trying to address the application that is before the Planning Board."
Councilor Julie Flowers said the resolution could be a "stepping stone" to a larger conversation about what the city would like to see in terms of good corporate citizenship.
"Beverly is a desirable place for where businesses want to be," she said. "We have a lot of strength in our ability to state what our community values are."
Frates said he would be willing to work with Houseman on a revised resolution that did not single out any company but addressed the issue of corporate citizenship. The council's finance and property committee voted 3-0 to put the resolution on hold.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.