To the editor:
Permitting and review for Depot Square Phase II, the 115-plus housing unit development in Beverly’s historic district, continued Aug. 1 with a revised design before the Design Review Board. Like the few people in chambers at City Hall on a hot summer night, I was surprised to watch the developers and their architect appear with a new set of drawings not filed in advance and effectively depriving the public an opportunity to review them.
There was no way for the review board members or the public to be prepared to respond thoughtfully to these revised drawings. Any thoughtful review of revisions takes at least 30 days.
After presenting them for more than one hour, the developer team refused to submit them for public review until the second week of August, during which time the developer said it will present them privately in non-public meetings.
This development on Odell Memorial Park, across from the post office, will have a significant impact on Beverly’s future. Along with the destruction of two significant historic buildings, the project will continue to add to the city’s traffic congestion, keep their required allotment for affordable units out of their building by locating them off site, and erode the architectural fabric now present in Beverly’s unique civic gateway to the North Shore.
Last night there was only one associate member of Beverly’s city planning staff present along with the DRB volunteer members. On the other side, the development team includes multiple paid professionals, lawyers, architects, and engineers, who have time to strategize how to push their plans through the city’s planning and review process. The residents rely on their city government to protect their interests, that’s why we elect our leaders and that’s why we pay our taxes.
Now is the time for the city to step forward and demand that the Depot Square Phase II site is developed responsibly with the interests of the city in mind. I applaud the city for undertaking the current $150,000 Beverly Master Planning exercise with Utile Design at the helm. But the permitting for the developer’s building and the tearing down of the 125-year-old historic buildings on the site will have long happened before the Plan Beverly process is complete.
The developers proposed Depot Square Phase II building is at the heart of one of Beverly’s most significant civic public places. Will it be a stake in the heart of this important space?
The developer’s project requires the attention of our elected city leaders. And the review board and Planning Board would benefit from the assistance of consultants hired by and for the city whose task would be to evaluate it with a critical eye rather than push it through the permitting process.
This building at Depot Square Phase II will be in place long after our politicians have served their collective terms.
I urge our city government to ensure that the public has access to the developer’s design submission 30 days in advance of any Design Review Board or Planning Board meeting and I urge Beverly’s citizens to attend the next Planning Board meeting currently scheduled for Aug. 20.
James M. Younger