To the editor:

Where is the soul of Beverly? Where is the sense of outrage at those who will accept $2 million in tax credits in exchange for a written commitment to preserve the national historic district that it itself applied for, and now single-mindedly drive to demolish it?

By the nature of the Planning Board process, and through the developer’s refusal to offer a single plan with any aspect of preservation, this process has been exhausting. But it doesn’t mean that we should give up. The Planning Board may reach a decision at this next (Oct. 22) meeting. So Beverly citizens need to SHOW UP, SPEAK UP, AND STAND UP now. The city needs you! If you’re not quite sure why yet, please read on…

Are we so hell-bent on housing with apparently minimal demand for related school costs that we are willing to trash the one-block-long street section in Beverly, aptly named Railroad Avenue, that still contains vestiges of those days when railroads flourished here? When railroads connected us with the rest of New England and the country? When these connections helped the shoe machinery, shoe making and leather markets prosper?

Granted, the Casa de Lucca building is now an inglorious echo of its former self. Granted, the old Press Box has been allowed to become quite literally an eyesore and a wreck. But that doesn’t mean the developers, with assistance, couldn’t repurpose them cleverly into their retail and housing plans. In the process, they would help Beverly celebrate its history, help us teach our children and all those interested in moving to Beverly, where our roots lie.

Further preservation funds are available in the form of federal, state, and even local grants, the latter through the Community Preservation program. But the developer has never seriously sought funding from any of these sources.

In fact, despite at least four iterations of plans, presented painfully over months, and despite lately saying that they have explored numerous preservation options, they have never presented one version that shows the slightest tribute to the scale, character and presence of the two railroad hotels. Why? They are afraid that even opening up this possibility will stir citizen interest. We need that interest to be stirred up now.

The developers argue that the $2 million was intended for, and spent on, preservation of the old box factory on Pleasant Street, now veterans housing. But that doesn’t matter: That funding was directly tied to preservation of the entire district, and correspondence from the Massachusetts Historic Commission underscored that fact.

Unfortunately, the law allows the developer to take the credits, wait five years, and then blatantly renege on their specific commitments. But that doesn’t mean we, as a city, need to sit by spinelessly and let them get away with it. Much as we want additional housing in Beverly, we are not compelled to grant this developer the special permit it would need to build beyond the five-story height provided in the downtown Beverly zoning regulations as a matter of right. Five stories in this area, well designed and with reference to history, would be fine! Let’s do it!

Why do we continue to even consider special treatment for people who unashamedly default on written preservation commitments? Why, especially, do we cringe at their barefaced threats that if we don’t allow their tall, non-historic buildings, someone else will eventually build something far less attractive, by right. Do you see the irony in that?

Why do we fawningly buy their relentless pitch that extending the aesthetic of the “new Rantoul Street” requires wrapping that design around the corner on Railroad, in the face of Odell Park and the Railroad station. Granted, in many cases, developers have in recent years replaced buildings and empty lots on Rantoul, some — but not all — of which were past their prime. But that shouldn’t give them carte blanche to make everything in the same image.

They twist the principles of the Tall Building Guidelines (TBG) to have us believe that the new Rantoul Street is the “urban fabric” sought to be preserved by the TBG. They twist the guidelines to make landmark structures apply to only one building in the district (the post office), and the TBG’s “significant corners” to apply only to the Rantoul/Railroad corner as viewed from Rantoul to the east.

Why is it that we let them overwhelm us with blizzards of technical measurements, selective view angles and calculations that overlook the core preservation intent of the spoken word? Exhaustion perhaps?

Why is it that we let the developers explain the intent of the TBG, rather than examine it critically ourselves? Deference to their years of self-serving interpretation? Who can argue with someone who has done this sort of thing dozens — perhaps hundreds — of times? We can, if we value what is important to ourselves and to Beverly.

It IS late, but not too late, to exercise our concerns as involved, caring citizens. Now, more than ever, we need a massive outpouring to demand that city leaders, individually and collectively, stand up for right-sized and proud character development of Beverly by rejecting this tweak of an unacceptable proposal. This is no time for “it’s better than it was,” or “we really don’t have a basis for saying no”. THIS IS IT. If we lose this history, and this showing of spine, it’s GONE. We will have no standards we will defend.

Peter Johnson

Beverly

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