A mixed-use development plan for the corner of Cabot and Vestry streets in Beverly is drawing opposition from neighbors who say the three-story building would add to safety concerns in the area.
The proposal from Holloran Development LLC of Salem includes a roughly 15,000-square-foot building, with two commercial storefronts on the first floor on Cabot Street, and 13 apartments on the two floors above.
The site has been vacant since the Tompkins Furniture building burned down in 1973 .
At a planning board meeting on Tuesday night dotted with angry outbursts and people speaking out of turn, area residents vehemently opposed the development for a number of reasons, including the size of the building, additional traffic it would bring to the area, and parking concerns.
But safety stood out above all.
‘I want to know, how can they assure the safety of our neighborhood, and are they going to bring back the people that get burned in a fire.’
“Emergency access is virtually impossible at this point, and that is our biggest concern," said Pamela Liberge, a resident of Vestry Street.
The planning board will take up the proposal again at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the Senior Center.
The issue with neighbors is the size of Vestry Street — which they say impedes the ability of fire trucks and emergency workers to quickly and safely navigate down the small, dead-end road — and the fact that it has no sidewalks.
Elizabeth Veliaj lives at 144 Cabot St., but the entrance to her home — which is actually behind the Cielito Lindo restaurant — is on Vestry Street.
She recounted for the board her experience a few months back when her husband, Bujar, had a heart attack and emergency workers could not get down the street, requiring her to instead “drag him out" to them on Cabot Street.
Residents fear that a development of this size would only exacerbate such existing issues.
“If fire trucks can't get around there, and then there's more cars there that are going to park in front of my house . . . I want to know, how can they assure the safety of our neighborhood, and are they going to bring back the people that get burned in a fire," asked Dale Acciavatti, a resident of Elm Street.
“Do they have the ability to bring them back? Because the fire truck can't get around there and it takes 10 minutes to find the person whose car is blocking and is illegally parked, which happens right now.”
Thomas Alexander, the Beverly-based attorney representing Holloran, submitted to planning board members a letter of support from Beverly Main Streets, a nonprofit, volunteer-led organization focused on revitalizing the downtown area.
“This project has the potential to greatly revive this end of Cabot Street,’’ Alexander said. “We recognize that there are some folks who live in the area that have a problem with this . . . but I do want to remind you that this is a central commercial zone, and that there is a good amount of support in the area for it.”
Richard Dinkin, chairman of the planning board, assured neighboring residents that preexisting conditions, such as the size of Vestry Street and the lack of sidewalks, are not the responsibility of the developer to address, but will certainly be considered in the board's decision.
Part of the safety issue for residents is parking. Many residents feel that the one parking space per unit that the developer plans to provide in an adjacent lot is not enough. Of the 13 units proposed, 12 are two-bedrooms.
But a city ordinance allows the developer to count public lots within a certain distance as resident parking in their plan, in essence making it another preexisting condition that is not up for debate with the planning board.