Beverly may create a smart-growth zoning district to accommodate a proposed rental housing development behind Kelleher’s Pond.
Omni Properties, a Concord-based developer, wants to construct a three-building complex of 160 apartments and a clubhouse on about 7.5 acres of an 18-acre vacant site off Essex Street.
Omni is asking the city to designate the site as a smart-growth district through a 2004 state law, Chapter 40R. The law encourages municipalities to create such districts — zones in which dense residential or mixed-use projects are allowed by right — in areas deemed suitable for them. At least 20 percent of any housing must be affordable.
The property, which for many years was the site for the Kelleher family’s fuel and construction businesses, has a child-care center in front of it, the Sterling YMCA and the Hannah Elementary School on either side, and the former city landfill to the rear.
David E. Hale, a partner with Omni, said the property would qualify as a smart-growth district under the state law, in part because it is located within a half-mile of public transit — the MBTA’s Montserrat commuter rail station. He said that made the site attractive to his company.
“We think smart-growth projects make a lot of sense from everybody’s point of view,” he said.
City officials have agreed to seek preliminary approval from the state Department of Housing and Community Development for the smart-growth designation. But even with that approval, it would be up to the City Council whether to adopt the district.
“This is ultimately going to be a council decision. I don’t know which way the council would choose to go but I think the project does deserve to be fully considered,” said Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr., adding, “Nothing has been decided except to consider the project.”
The city plans to hold a public hearing within the next month and a half on a draft application for the smart-growth zoning, according to Tina P. Cassidy, Beverly’s director of planning and development. She said the hearing is designed to “begin the discussion and elicit comments” on the zoning and development proposals.
Omni, meanwhile, will provide the Planning Board with a brief presentation on its proposals at a special meeting Monday at City Hall. The meeting is set to begin about 8 p.m. following unrelated hearings. Omni has also agreed to meet with neighbors on Wednesday.
Hale said that if it adopts the smart-growth district, Beverly would receive a $200,000 incentive payment and then $477,000 in added bonus payments when building permits are issued for the future units. The company expects that the project would also generate $784,000 in building fees and $328,000 in new annual revenue for the city.
The proposed housing also matches current demographics, Hale said, noting that the design of four-story buildings with underground parking and elevators would be attractive to the growing population of aging baby boomers.
And he said the affordable units, which will be priced for moderate-income people, would meet a growing need for such housing.
Hale said that following the rules of a smart-growth district, the housing would be concentrated in one area, maximizing open space on the rest of the property. He said Omni would maintain the existing public access to Kelleher’s Pond and to trails that run between the Hannah School and the YMCA.
Hale said Omni, which has the property under agreement, is prepared to invest $20 million in the development. But he said the project hinges on adoption of the smart-growth district since the existing zoning does not allow multifamily housing. (The proposed 40R district is an “overlay zone” that would not replace the existing zoning but instead offer an alternative set of rules for development).
Cassidy said neighbors have voiced concerns about the project, including the potential effect on motor traffic, whether sidewalks and lighting are adequate to handle the increase in pedestrian traffic, and whether the Hannah School could accommodate an influx of students from the development.
Hale said Omni did a traffic study that found the project would not have a significant effect on local streets. He said the company expects the effect on the schools would not be heavy, estimating 21 or 22 students would be added to the school district at various grade levels.
The 33 smart-growth districts that have been established under the state law include two each in Marblehead and Reading, and one each in Amesbury, Chelsea, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynnfield, North Andover, and North Reading.