BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The state awarded a $5 million grant to the city yesterday for phase one of the Brimbal Avenue interchange project. But whether the project actually takes place is still up to voters.
The Patrick administration announced the grant as part of its MassWorks Program, which is designed to pay for infrastructure improvements that will lead to economic development.
The project would build a new connector road between Brimbal Avenue and Sohier Road, allowing for construction of a $20 million shopping plaza between the two roads. It would also widen a section of Brimbal Avenue and install roundabouts and traffic lights.
But the project cannot go ahead unless voters uphold a decision by the City Council and Planning Board to rezone a parcel of land where the plaza would be built.
Mayor Bill Scanlon yesterday called the awarding of the grant “terrific news.” He said the election will be a vote on “whether to accept the $5 million grant, which will pay for needed roadway safety improvements while also saving motorists time and encouraging job creation.”
“I’m very pleased,” he said. “It’s been a long, hard effort. I really think this project is going to be good for pretty much everybody, even the people who seem to be against it.”
Residents opposed to the project gathered nearly 3,600 signatures to force a special election on Feb. 8 on the rezoning decision. That decision changed the zoning of a small piece of land so that a developer would be able to build a shopping plaza with a special permit from the Planning Board.
Scanlon said the project would not be able to proceed if the rezoning is overturned.
Opponents say the project will increase traffic on Brimbal Avenue with the addition of the shopping plaza, which would include a Whole Foods Market.
“All this does is let this developer put a shopping center in the middle of a residential area,” said Dan DeAngelis of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association. “It’s going to increase congestion in the area. This is money that could be spent doing what everybody felt was going to be done, get the traffic off Brimbal Avenue.”
The Feb. 8 special election will be held at Beverly High School.
Yesterday’s announcement by the state included a total of $79 million in grants for 33 projects throughout the state. They ranged from $61,815 for road paving in Hadley to $11 million to redevelop a city block in Brockton.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.