BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Despite the passionate opposition of residents, the city’s Planning Board voted unanimously early yesterday morning to recommend that the City Council approve a controversial rezoning proposal on Brimbal Avenue.
The vote took place about 12:30 a.m. at the end of a more-than-five-hour public hearing at the high school.
The rezoning, if approved by the City Council, will allow a developer to submit plans for a shopping plaza across the street from the Vittori-Rocci Post.
More than 200 people attended the meeting and dozens spoke out late into the night against the rezoning, citing concerns about increased traffic and a decline in quality of life.
Planning Board Vice Chairman John Thomson said he understood residents’ concern. But, with the rezoning tied to a proposed two-phased Route 128 interchange project, he said the board needed to take “the longer view.”
“My basic reason was this is good for the city,” Thomson said. “We’ve got a deficient interchange there. This is a chance to fix that and move the ball forward with respect to Phase 2 as well.”
If the rezoning goes through, it will allow the state and a private developer to swap adjacent parcels of land on Brimbal Avenue. The state would use the developer’s land to build a new connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue, while the developer would use the state’s land to build the shopping plaza.
The developer, CEA Group, said it plans to bring in a Whole Foods Market as the feature store of the proposed 70,000-square-foot plaza.
Residents said the plaza, especially with a popular Whole Foods, would inundate the already busy Brimbal Avenue with even more traffic. There has been so much opposition that the public hearing on Monday had to be recessed and moved to the high school on Thursday because City Hall was too small to accommodate the crowd.
Thomson said the traffic issues, as well as other concerns, would be addressed by the Planning Board when and if the shopping plaza plans come before them.
“There was a lot of commentary focused on a project that isn’t even in front of us yet,” he said. “We know it’s coming, there’s no secret about that. But nothing’s been decided on it. There will be a full opportunity to vet all issues if and when they propose it to us.”
The Planning Board’s recommendation will be sent to the City Council, which has the final say on whether the rezoning is approved.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.