NORTH ANDOVER — Tuesday’s meeting of the Planning Board featured a concession by James Keefe, a principal at Trinity Financial developers.

“We get the fact that suburbs don’t want to be cities,” he said, before revealing significant changes to his firm’s proposed redevelopment of Royal Crest Estates.

Keefe’s comment acknowledged ongoing criticisms about the size and scope of their designs, which Trinity representatives have been discussing with groups in town for several years.

“I think for a long time people have seen this as a big, monolithic project, and we haven’t been thoughtful enough about breaking it down into components that people can better understand and appreciate,” Keefe said.

Royal Crest Estates consists of 588, two- and three-bedroom apartments built in the early 1970s on 77 acres along Route 114.

Trinity plans to transform this development by replacing all the existing residences with retail and business spaces, along with a mixture of affordable and market rate housing, a hotel, and dorms for students at Merrimack College.

While these general aims haven’t changed, Trinity’s new plans offer significant modifications to the dimensions and designs of their buildings, as well as to how and where they are situated on the property.

In response to criticisms that its buildings are too tall, and would loom over abutting homes, Trinity’s new plans have adopted height limitations, with the exception of one building near the center green that will feature a clock or bell tower.

“There were a few buildings in the previous schemes that were five stories tall,” said John Martin, architect for the project.

“We have eliminated all five-story buildings, and we are preparing an all four-story or less scheme.”

Trinity has also adjusted the way its buildings are situated along Route 114, where people have objected that they would have an overwhelming presence.

The new plans call for setting them 70 feet back from the property line, which is 80 feet from the curb line, Martin said. Currently, the plans include some setbacks as short as 35 feet.

Setbacks for the dorms in the western section have also been increased to 146 feet from the property line.

Widening these distances has the added impact of allowing a number of mature trees to remain as a visual buffer between the buildings and the road.

“Another thing that you will see is that the buildings don’t have a uniform attitude toward 114,” Martin said. “Some of them have their long sides against 114, some of them have been turned to show their short sides against 114, to increase the variety, to break down the scale, to diminish the sense of a wall of buildings behind the trees.”

In another major adjustment to the plans, the development has been divided into four districts, or neighborhoods, which Martin said will each feature a different architectural style drawn from New England traditions.

“We think it’s a little bit more coherent than any scheme that we’ve proposed to you before, and we think it’s a little more generous in terms of its open space and its soft edges, and we thinks it’s a little bit more in scale with the neighborhoods,” Martin said.

Trinity vice president Mike Lozano reminded the board that this was the second time that Trinity had made significant reductions in their plan. The first time was last August, when they eliminated 332 out of 1,641 residential units from their original plans.

This time, Lozano said, their new vision was made possible in part by reducing the college dorm by 176 out of 1,000 beds, and by eliminating 15,000 square feet of office space, along with taking out one town house.

“At your next meeting, you’ll see more detailed architectural designs, and more detailed drawings,” he said.

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