BEVERLY — A city board that helps determine the look of new buildings is hitting the street — Rantoul Street — in preparation for the latest tall building coming to the constantly changing roadway.
The Design Review Board has scheduled a special "site walk" meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. in anticipation of the Depot Two project, a proposed six-story apartment building to be built across from the train depot.
The board's chairperson, Sandra Cook, said the trip, which is open to the public, is not technically about the Depot Two project because it has not yet been submitted to the board. But she said members want to look at buildings already on the street and review the city's "tall building guidelines" in anticipation of the proposal.
Cook said board members have visited project sites on their own, but this is the first time in recent memory that the board is heading out as a group.
"People on the board feel like this is a really important building and we want to get it right," she said.
Developer Beverly Crossing has proposed building a 115-unit, six-story apartment building at the corner of Rantoul Street and Railroad Avenue. The project has sparked controversy because it involves demolishing a block of historic buildings, and because it is the latest in a string of about a half-dozen tall apartment buildings to go up on Rantoul Street over the last 15 years.
Beverly Crossing will be free to knock down the buildings after waiting out a one-year demolition delay imposed by the city's Historic District Commission. But the city does have some say in how the new building will look.
That's where the Design Review Board comes in. The volunteer committee focuses on design elements of proposed projects, including landscaping, building materials and colors, lighting and windows, according to a description on the city's website. The board's role is advisory. It makes recommendations to the Planning Board, which has the final say on approval.
Cook said the Design Review Board will take a close look at the city's design guidelines for tall buildings, a 57-page document created in 2007 in anticipation of continued development on Rantoul Street.
The guidelines give specific recommendations for buildings facing "civic open spaces" and within a block of "landmark buildings." Both of those would appear to apply to Depot Two, which would face Odell Veterans Memorial Park and be near the historic Beverly Post Office and train station.
"The unique architectural quality of both the post office and railroad station set a standard for a higher level of architectural fenestration of facades," the guidelines say.
John Hall, a Beverly resident who owns John Hall Design Group on Rantoul Street, said the board should look beyond design details and consider whether they should approve the project at all. He pointed to a section of the tall building guidelines that say consideration of new construction "should question the fit and appropriateness of the proposal to the urban fabric at large, as well as the immediately adjacent buildings and properties."
Hall called the Depot Two building "a proposal that simply destroys all the surrounding, smaller scale historic structures, rather than trying to work their new building into the historic 'urban fabric' that exists on the site."
But Cook said the Design Review Board has a limited purview.
"I tell people that we're the Beverly Design Review Board, not the Beverly Re-Design Review Board," she said. "It's not our job to throw the baby out with the bath water and start from scratch. The idea of chopping off a story, shrinking it down, that's not our job. We need to focus on design. We just want to make this building look and feel as good as we possibly can within our jurisdiction."
Beverly Crossing President Chris Koeplin said in an email that the proposed new building will adhere to the guidelines by "respecting a prominent corner at Rantoul/Railroad, upper level step-backs, and harmonizing new construction with existing urban context."
Koeplin said his company has already worked with the Ward 2 Civic Association, the mayor's office and the city's Planning Department on the building's design.
"Such collaborations resulted in new details and features that are now incorporated into what we believe is a great building Beverly will come to appreciate and enjoy," Koeplin said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.