New apartments are rising skyward on Rantoul Street where older, tired buildings stood for decades.
As the new housing complexes — built over the last few years — fill up, and with still others in the planning stages, residents are becoming part of a new neighborhood that is taking shape around the MBTA’s commuter rail depot.
It’s called transit-oriented development. Though not a new concept — it’s going on throughout the country — the city and interested developers are making this idea become a reality in Beverly.
The city is looking to continue to open up the area around the Beverly Depot train station to housing, as well as areas slightly further afield but within walking distance of the Depot. Talks are underway to rezone the area near the Bass River to allow residential uses. Live-work spaces for artists are also proposed as an addition to the city’s zoning to invite artists to live and sell their work out of the same space.
At the center of much of the development on Rantoul Street is Beverly-based Windover Development. The company has already opened two apartment buildings on Rantoul Street — Enterprise Apartments with 45 units and Burnham Apartments with 38. Windover plans another 72 apartments for 131 Rantoul St., and 62 apartments at 10-12 Congress St., near the foot of the Beverly-Salem bridge.
The state’s $20 million Rantoul Street reconstruction project is ready to ramp up this spring and not only smooth out the street, but provide it with a much-needed facelift.
Old concept, new life
Though it seems these projects and city zoning changes are happening all at once, transit-oriented development has been on the city’s radar for more than a decade.
Aaron Clausen, the city’s planning and community development director, pointed to the city’s master plan, developed in 2002. The plan pushes for residential development downtown as ways to draw people in, along with entertainment and restaurants, as well as developing the waterfront.
In particular, the plan cites the train station as being one of the busiest in the state.
“The master plan starts talking about this as a resource or an asset,” Clausen said.
This type of development doesn’t increase traffic, he noted; couples living near the train station, for example, may need only one car instead of two.
There are many factors responsible for migration downtown, Clausen said.
A recovering economy is partially responsible, he said. The Baby Boom generation is aging and, with kids out of the house, may be looking to downsize. Young professionals also may want to live where the action is, rather than in more suburban areas.
Beverly offers beaches and many summer activities. The Cabot Performing Arts Center, the Larcom Theatre and North Shore Music Theatre bring entertainment.
Another major factor? Boston is becoming too expensive.
“A lot of people are being priced out,” Clausen said.
Now is the time
For all these reasons, “now is the time to invest in Rantoul Street,” according to Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, a local business group.
Though it may seem less attractive an urban area now than the city center on Cabot Street, Rantoul has great potential as businesses crop up to serve all the new residents.
“Developing transit-oriented housing has always been one of our top priorities because in order to attract a strong retail business, you need to have a strong downtown,” Wallace said.
True to their history, Cabot and Rantoul will maintain their differences.
“I think some of the businesses might be different than what we’re seeing on Cabot Street,” Wallace said, considering Rantoul Street’s more residential nature. “I think what you’re going to see down there are more (businesses) that are service or convenience-related.”
Windover Development certainly sees the potential.
“We love the city, its many and varied attributes, its quality of life and texture, its down-to-earth people, its heads-up leadership, and for many other reasons,” Steve Dodge, Windover’s founder and CEO, said in an email.
From a development perspective, Beverly is attractive: It’s close to Boston, it’s just off of Route 128 and has employment opportunities nearby.
But developing in Beverly does have its challenges, Dodge said.
The developments are generally small, he said, and ground contamination frequently comes with the city’s industrial past. While sites can be brought to the required standards, it can be expensive.
“To help overcome some of the economic hurdles that our work in Beverly involves, clustering our developments in the downtown area, particularly around or within walking distance of the Depot, is very important,” he said. “This will better enable us to provide amenities and attract other businesses to the area. And clustering provides an offset to our higher capital costs and operating expenses that go with small apartment complexes.”
Over the next few years, Clausen said he hopes to continue to see Cabot and Rantoul streets’ business diversity increase.
Melding the feel of the two streets together is important, he said, adding that part of the challenge is how far apart they are.
“Cabot Street by the theaters will have a particular feel, Rantoul down by the Depot will have a particular feel,” Clausen said.
An important factor is making them more walkable, as well as making sure side streets in between are just as interesting. Walking between them feels longer just because of a pedestrian’s perception.
While ideally the city wants to be seen as a regional tourist destination, known for art and culture, Clausen said a lot of this comes down to having new residents living close to the activity.
“They’re activating the streets and the restaurants,” he said. “There’s sort of a snowball effect.”
Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill.
- Burnham Apartments, 375 Rantoul St.
- Enterprise Apartments, 72 Rantoul St.
- 131 Rantoul St., 72 apartments
- 10-12 Congress St., 62 apartments
- 211 Rantoul St., (former Thomas Ford dealership, currently Kelly Ford), 2 apartment buildings
CITY’S PROPOSED CHANGES
- Rezoning the area between River Street and the Bass River for residential use
- Adding artists’ live/work zoning downtown
- Tax-increment finance program on Rantoul Street to aid developers
- Zoning change to permit fewer parking spaces per apartment