You Call That a Park?

bank building

A public plaza would replace the former drive-thru lanes at 364 Main St. (Photo by J. Simms)

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Planning Board questions proposed ‘public benefit’

Members of the Beacon Planning Board on Tuesday (June 8) said they want to avoid the mistakes of the past in their review of a four-story development proposal for 364 Main St.

The project that would transform the former Citizens Bank building into 27 apartments and nearly 8,000 square feet of retail sits two doors away from 344 Main St., a project that in 2017 was a lightning rod for discontent.

The latest proposal was submitted by O’Donnell Construction Corp., which is led by the same developer who initiated and sold the 344 Main St. project. 

“It’s pretty clear to the public that that’s something we don’t ever want to do again,” said Planning Board Member Kevin Byrne. 

Because 364 Main is not within or adjacent to a structure in the historic district, the Planning Board, rather than the City Council, will decide whether to grant O’Donnell the special-use permit required to build a fourth floor on Main Street. However, a planning consultant hired by the city, John Clarke, noted that the adjacent Salvation Army building at 372 Main will soon be nominated for inclusion in the historic district. If added, the decision on the special-use permit for 364 Main St. would shift to the council.

Architect Aryeh Siegel said the façade of the proposed building would be constructed with gray brick to mimic elements of historic buildings on Main Street. The plan is to merge two lots, creating, like 344 Main, a block-long development with 16 parking spaces behind the building. Those spaces had been leased to Bernard Kohn, who purchased 344 Main St. in 2017, but defaulted on the parking lease, project attorney Taylor Palmer said. The new project would also use spaces in an adjacent lot on Eliza Street.

The 364 Main proposal would include a 24-foot-wide public plaza that, at nearly 3,000 square feet, is larger than the public park approved last month as part of another four-story project at 416-420 Main St. Local law requires a public benefit of some kind before the city will issue the permit to build a fourth floor on Main Street. (Even with the public benefit, any new four-story project on Main must also recess the fourth floor to minimize its appearance.)

Palmer said the plaza, which would be constructed in the former bank’s drive-thru lanes on the west side of the building, would “enhance the feel for Main Street.” 

Planning Board members expressed doubts. Len Warner said that, overall, the proposal feels similar to 344 Main, which was a “catalyst for a lot of feedback from the public that wasn’t positive.” He said he felt the plaza, on renderings submitted to the city, looks “buried” within the property. “Anything we approve should be a real showcase design,” he said.

The park may not receive sufficient sun in the proposed layout, Clarke said, while Byrne was blunter: “Usually when you block off alleyways, those become places for public urination. They’re not public parks. It would be an indefensible space. It’s not something you would ever design as a public park.” 

Warner suggested the developer move the plaza to the other side of building and look into an arrangement with the Salvation Army, which has a large front lawn. As proposed, he said, “to dead-end at a parking lot, that doesn’t work at all.”

3 thoughts on “You Call That a Park?

  1. “You Call That a Park?” Obviously they do. Here we go again, with the same what-ifs. If the project footprint doesn’t suit the site, reinterpret the laws or grant special-use permits.

    Beacon residents are watching in dismay as this scenario plays out with the same players, legal arsenal and recycled parking spaces. The applicant’s team comes prepared for public pushback. The last time a major pushback faced this section of Main Street, the developer flipped it to a different owner and the result was the 344 Main St. monstrosity. Beacon cannot sustain and does not need bookends of big-box buildings that don’t fit cohesively into its historic streetscapes.

    The application letter submitted by the developer of 364 Main St. stated that the proposal is not part of the Historic District Landmark Overlay. Maybe not yet. They want to rush this project through. Why? Because the city is in the process of adding the adjacent Salvation Army building at 372 Main St. to the historic district. It’s interesting that the law firm representing the developer is also representing the Salvation Army, which is asking that its building not be placed in the historic district.

    Fourth floors are supposed to be the exception to the rule in return for “significant” public benefit. This proposal offers nothing to Beacon residents, wooing us with another sham green-space park like the other four-story application before the Planning Board located a few blocks down Main Street — a useless strip of land generally referred to in the building trade as standard landscape and hardscaping.

    This proposal offers no public benefit; no additional office space; no affordable housing; no ground-level parking garage; and no required full on-site parking, again using public parking for paying tenants. This project’s parking will be a burden in the surrounding areas.

    Don’t forget this parcel was originally purchased to address the parking issues of 344 Main St. Now it’s to be built out as another generic big-box apartment building. Maybe this project could work out a solution for a real public park since these neighboring parcels have the same legal representation.

    Residents need to speak out in opposition of these types of status-quo development projects and make them scale it back. Elected officials must be held accountable.

  2. A parking lot by any other name is still a parking lot and not a park. Sixteen spaces for 27 apartments? Eight thousand square feet of retail with no parking for employees and customers? The building itself is not an unattractive architectural concept but it is far too large for Main Street and far too large for the Beacon we know and love. Please, say no. [via Facebook]

  3. It’s as if developers have completely turned a deaf ear to Beacon constituents these past few years. I hope the Planning Board and council members have not. [via Facebook]