BEVERLY – When city officials considered a proposal in 2007 to allow taller buildings on Rantoul Street, they created guidelines to prevent larger structures from changing the city's "small New England town character."

Those guidelines are now at the heart of a debate about the latest, and biggest, project on Rantoul Street, the proposed six-story Depot 2 apartment building. The project will be the subject of two more public meetings this week, before the Planning Board on Tuesday and the Design Review Board on Thursday.

A group called Depot Matters contends that the 73-foot building as proposed does not meet the "Design Guidelines for Tall Buildings," the 57-page document that the city developed in 2007 with the help of a two consultants.

The goal of the guidelines, according to the document, is to "harmonize new construction with the existing urban context and to minimize the impact of a tall building's height on its surroundings." It lists a series of design elements that should be governed by the guidelines, including street walls, corner buildings and view corridors.

In a presentation before the Planning Board last month, Depot Matters member Wendy Pearl said the building's design fails to meet several conditions laid out by the guidelines.

Pearl said the building, which will take up an entire city block across from the train station, is not inviting to the public, with walls separating it from pedestrians on the Railroad Avenue and Park Street sides.

The design does include a public plaza on the side of the building facing Odell Veterans Memorial Park. But Pearl said there is a similar plaza at Beverly Crossing's 131 Rantoul St. building that the public rarely uses.

"I have never seen anyone other than residents and their dogs in that plaza," she said in her presentation.

"The Depot Matters group is really saying, 'Look at the intent of the guidelines and let's make sure what we're building conforms to the intent,'" Pearl said.

Beverly Crossing President Chris Koeplin said the company is following the design guidelines with the Depot 2 project. The only time it has deviated from them, he said, is after recommendations from city boards or the public.

For example, Koeplin said the guidelines recommend "stepping back" the top floors of a building to make it look less imposing. But he said the Planning Board decided it would look better if the floors were not stepped back along Rantoul Street.

"We understand there's history and we want to be respectful of that history," Koeplin said. "But we think we've got a design that's going to be well-received in the long run."

The Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Beverly Senior Center on Colon Street. The Design Review Board is scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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

 

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