Praise, criticism for Depot Two project

Courtesy imageA rendering of the proposed Depot Two project by Beverly Crossing.

BEVERLY — Residents once again turned out in force for a public hearing on a proposal to build another new apartment building on Rantoul Street.

About 100 people attended the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday night at the Senior Center regarding Depot Two, a proposed six-story building that would go up on a city block across from the train depot. A similar crowd attended the first public hearing last month at City Hall, prompting officials to schedule this meeting at the more spacious Senior Center.

Some residents objected to the size and scale of the building, saying it would overwhelm a historic area that includes the depot, post office and Odell Veterans Memorial Park. Others said the project would continue a string of improvements that has transformed Rantoul Street.

Lothrop Street resident Georgia Bills said she is opposed to demolishing the existing buildings on the block, which include two former hotels, and even broke into the Joni Mitchell song that says, “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”

“I say no to demolishing historic buildings to construct one more brick edifice,” Bills said.

But Richard Vincent, who lives on Mulberry Street not far from the proposed building, said the project would represent a continuation of the improvements on Rantoul Street.

“Our condo has increased in value quite dramatically because of the improvements,” Vincent said. “This is going forward, not backward. No one likes changes, but we have to improve what is there.”

The building has been proposed by Beverly Crossing, which along with its predecessor company, Windover, has built several apartment buildings on Rantoul Street.

Depot Two would have 111 apartments, with retail space on the first floor. The project needs a special permit from the Planning Board for height and parking and to allow the required affordable units to be located off-site.

Lawnbank Road resident Andy Devereaux spoke in favor of the project, saying it represents a continuation of the “renaissance” of the city as a whole and Rantoul Street in particular.

“Things are happening, and this is part of that happening,” Devereaux said. “It’s a very handsome building. We desperately need that area cleaned up.”

Jamie Engel, a chiropractor who owns a business on Rantoul Street and on Federal Street, also supported the project. She said she used to be afraid to walk home after work but has seen Rantoul Street “blossom.” She said the developer has worked hard to re-design the building to meet residents’ concerns about its design and scale.

“I have never seen so much love go into a re-design,” Engel said.

But Longwood Avenue resident Matt Pujo said the city will lose a big part of its history if the three historic buildings on the block are knocked down. Those buildings include the former Casa de Lucca restaurant and Press Box barroom, which were both once hotels associated with the railroad.

“Once those buildings are gone, you lose an entire National Register district,” Pujo said. He pointed out that other historic buildings in the city such as the Cabot Theater, GAR Hall and Lynch Park carriage house have all been preserved.

“We have a chance to save these buildings and make them icons again,” he said. “We have a historic depot, a historic post office and Victorians up and down the street. To me, this (proposed building) looks out of place.”

“This is a crucially important historic area,” Hale Street resident Babette Loring added. “I would like to see something that’s reflective of that.”

Other residents expressed concern about parking and the “canyon” effect of all of the tall apartment buildings on Rantoul Street, with more development likely to come.

“What’s it going to be like on that end of town for residents and businesses five to 10 years down the road?,” said Morningside Drive resident Tom Hayes.

Miranda Gooding, the attorney for Beverly Crossing, defended the developer’s proposal to satisfy the affordable housing requirement by building nine units at other locations. She said those units, at 2 Hardy St. and 461 Rantoul St., will be offered at lower rents than required.

“This is not a company that has shirked its responsibility (for affordable housing),” Gooding said.

The Planning Board had not voted as of The Salem News’ deadline. The hearing was expected to be continued until Oct. 1.

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

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