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Beverly residents remain skeptical of downtown development proposal

Posted by Ryan Mooney  September 5, 2012 12:27 PM

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A proposal to create a district in downtown Beverly that would give tax breaks to residential developers was back in front of the City Council on Tuesday night, when it was met with the same resistance from citizens as it did at a July public hearing.

"I think the biggest concern for me is that I get that we have to do something, I just don't know if this is the answer for us," said Patty Zelano, a downtown resident. Zelano said she was concerned that creating more apartments in the proposed district will not have a significant impact on retail and commercial development.

The state's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program allows communities to create a 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 zone proposed in Beverly encompasses a rough area extending from Bow Street in the north to Edwards Street in the south, and from River Street in the west to Cabot Street in the east.

Supporters, most vocally Beverly Main Streets, believe that bringing more residences to the downtown area will result in a surge in retail and commercial growth. The TIF program focuses on creating mixed-use developments, with retail or commercial space on the first floor and apartments above.

Andy Goldberg, of Beverly-based Goldberg Property Management, who was brought in to give his professional opinion on behalf of BMS said that he has "experienced firsthand how the addition of residential units in an area helps with the demand for retail," 

 The company does not own any land in the proposed TIF district.

"Although no one can guarantee that trying to bring in additional residential will succeed in attracting more retail,'' Goldberg said. "I definitely believe that it is a calculated risk worth taking."

   But Michelle Gordon, a resident of Rantoul Street, said she does not feel that the TIF district is necessary to the development of the downtown area, and she pointed out that the city stands to bring in more revenue through future development by not allowing a tax break.

 "I guess unlike the members of [Beverly] Main Streets, I truly believe that Beverly is going to be developed with or without the TIF," Gordon said.

Some residents see the proposal as an attempt by residential developers, such as Windover Construction, to get the district just for the tax break, and feel that more apartments will not necessarily lead to more business.

     In part to answer claims that the district was only designed to benefit developers, Lee Dellicker, president of Windover Construction,announced Tuesday night that his company will move forward with a development on a site in the proposed district with or without the TIF agreement. The site is the location of the former Enterprise Rent-A-Car business on Rantoul Street, 

The  company also owns property next to the Beverly Depot commuter rail station, that falls in the proposed TIF district.

   Part of the program's stipulation is that plans for a development need to be in place when a community applies. But Dellicker said he is proceeding now with the development on Rantoul Street in part to answer charges that the only reason for the TIF district is to benefit companies like his. He said he did not want opposition to his company's projects to stand in the way of getting the TIF district created.

Ward 2 Councilor Wes Slate spoke at length on the accusatory attitude taken by some opponents.

"I think it's unfortunate that success is sometimes seen as something negative, that because [Windover] has been very successful in other business ventures, that somehow casts dispersions on the fact that you want to do more projects in this city," Slate said.

"I've been stunned by some of the vitriol and comments, mostly online, that somehow we're all involved in some secret agenda."

Council President Paul Guanci warned multiple residents to stay focused on the proposal and not to lob accusations of back-room dealings or turn the discussion into a political debate.

Not all opponents came with that intention. Sean Hanlon, a resident of Congress Street, thinks the city should focus more on what he believes could be its greatest asset: the waterfront.

"We are the only city on the North Shore that does not have a waterfront eatery," Hanlon said. "How much of the success of Salem was due in large part to the development of Pickering Wharf? How much of the development and turnaround of Newburyport was due in large part to the development of their waterfront?

"We have a waterfront that has a vacant lot. A blighted piece of land, with graffiti covered walls and derelict buildings. That is the entrance to our city, that is the first thing people see when they enter our city...why we are not focusing on our greatest asset as the lynchpin of moving our city forward, I have no idea."

Questions about a TIF district's possible effects on the city, such as a negative impact on public services and the school system, were also brought up, and not limited to residents.

"It's my understanding that there's 42 parcels available in this proposed district," said Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Troubetaris. "Should they all be developed, wouldn't you have an oversaturation of people?"

The proposal was referred to the committee on finance and property, which will discuss it Monday night. Ultimately the decision to move forward or not will come down to a City Council vote.

"I think this looks like a viable option, and I'm going to seriously consider it," said Councilor-at-large Scott Dullea.

Ryan Mooney can be reached at globe.mooney@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.

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