Representatives of Beverly Main Streets brought a plan to take advantage of a state program aimed at creating more housing downtown before the city council on Monday night, but residents in the packed chamber at City Hall greeted the possibility with a heavy dose of skepticism.
The program allows communities to create a residential Tax Incentive Financing (TIF) district, within which taxes are only paid on half of the value added to a property through redevelopment for a period of up to 20 years. Taxes on the base value of the property before development are still paid in full.
The ultimate goal is commercial, specifically retail growth. The tax break is an incentive for residential developers to bring their business to downtown Beverly, and the idea is that the influx of residents will spur commercial growth in the area.
But residents were quick to cite concerns.
"Even though we will be seeing 50 percent of the increment in taxes, I don't really see whereas that's going to cover the increase in public services that are going to be needed by the individuals moving in there," said Sean Hanlon. "We're already stretched thin there...we don't even see the police officers in our neighborhood that we need, when we've got people in our neighborhood being held up at gunpoint."
"I think it's a big gamble for more commercial and there's no guarantee," Patty Zelano said.
City council members were also hesitant to jump right on board, opting for a few months to digest everything that goes into the complicated process, but they reminded folks to keep an open mind. The council will re-visit the possibility on September 4.
"If you bring more people to live downtown and increase housing in the downtown area then businesses will follow," said Ward 2 Councilor Wes Slate. "I don't know if that's true or not. I guess it could, I hope it is...but I have to tell you this is the only idea I've heard that has anything behind it."
"How would we use this to encourage not only housing, but the retail...I think that is a critical component to this," said Councilor-at-large Jason Silva.
The zone proposed to the city council encompasses a rough area extending from Bow Street in the north to Edwards Street in the south, and extending from River Street in the west to Cabot Street in the east. If the city council decides to move forward, it would ultimately decide on the base terms and what area to submit to the Department of Housing and Community Development for consideration.
Stipulations for applying to the program include having a project already lined up and detailed in the application. The state also wants to see at least 25 percent of the residential space dedicated to affordable housing - which alarms some residents - but city planner Tina Cassidy would like to see the city apply for a waiver to have less.
Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, made sure to point out that the ultimate goal is not affordable housing, or even housing in general, but rather a revitalization of the downtown area. More people in the area means more business, more business means more taxes, more revenue for the city and so on.
"More residents downtown is absolutely critical for us to be able to bring in the kind of retailers that we believe will make the downtown more vibrant," Wallace said. "We have very few retailers right now, and every research study tells me that a vibrant downtown is absolutely dependent on retail.
"We need people living downtown to support the retail businesses."
Ultimately, the decision to move forward will fall on the shoulders of the nine members of Beverly's City Council, but it seems early on that any decision regarding a TIF zone in Beverly will be met with dispute.
"This is my fifth year serving, and I can't think of another issue that has come before the council that's been more significant, more important and also more controversial," Slate said.
Ryan Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.