SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 10, 2014

Brimbal vote hits snag

Beverly: Change to one polling place needs special state legislation

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The Secretary of State’s office says Beverly needs emergency state legislation to hold next month’s Brimbal Avenue special election at a single polling place rather than at its usual six locations.

A spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office said state law prohibits cities with multiple polling sites from using one location without special legislation from the state Legislature.

State Rep. Jerry Parisella of Beverly said he will file the legislation this week and hopes to have it signed by Gov. Deval Patrick by next week.

“It’s carrying out the wishes of the City Council to have it at one location,” Parisella said.

The City Council voted last month to set the election for Saturday, Feb. 8, at Beverly High School, which will be less expensive than opening the city’s six polling locations.

North Beverly Neighborhood Association member Dan DeAngelis, who spoke against the single location at the City Council meeting, said the council should not have voted for it if it is not allowed by state law.

“Everyone should be able to vote at their home precincts,” DeAngelis said. “It’s the middle of February and it’s going to be difficult to get people out for a vote. Anything that prevents people from showing up to vote is not a good thing.”

The North Beverly Neighborhood Association gathered more than 3,500 signatures to force the election. Voters will decide whether to overturn the City Council’s decision to rezone a parcel of land on Brimbal Avenue that could allow for construction of a $20 million shopping plaza.

Brian McNiff, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, said it is not unprecedented for a city to seek special legislation to change to a single polling location for a special election. He said Woburn did the same thing in 2002.

Parisella said the legislation can be approved by a voice vote in informal sessions of the House and Senate. Patrick will then have 10 days to sign it.

The law requires the city to notify residents by mail of the changes in polling locations, post notifications at the regular polling places and publish notices in local newspapers.

“The goal is to ensure that people are aware of the new polling location to get maximum participation,” Parisella said.

The rezoning approved by the City Council would allow construction of a shopping plaza with a special permit from the city’s Planning Board.

Neighbors say the plaza, which would include a Whole Foods Market, would create traffic problems and affect the quality of life for residents along Brimbal Avenue and in the North Beverly and Montserrat neighborhoods.

The special election will affect whether the state can proceed with the $5.2 million Brimbal Avenue project. The project, which includes building a new connector road from Route 128 to Brimbal Avenue, is intended to improve traffic flow in the area and create jobs through new development.

It cannot begin unless the rezoning measure is upheld by voters, because it is contingent on a land swap between the state and shopping plaza developer CEA Group.

Parisella resigned from his job at Alexander & Femino, the Beverly firm that represents CEA Group, in October after the North Beverly Neighborhood Association filed complaints with the State Ethics Commission over his role in seeking state funding for the Brimbal Avenue project and filing legislation for the land swap.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.