BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — With the memory of an intense public hearing still fresh in their minds, city councilors are preparing once again to take up the controversial Brimbal Avenue project.
City Council President Paul Guanci said the council’s legal affairs committee is scheduled to discuss the matter during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 7.
Guanci said the council is considering whether to hold that meeting in the Beverly High School auditorium as it did two weeks ago to accommodate a large crowd.
“We may want to move it to the high school,” he said.
That hearing on Sept. 19 drew more than 300 people to the high school, with the majority of the public speaking out against a proposal to rezone a 21/2-acre parcel of land on Brimbal Avenue.
The rezoning would allow a developer to submit plans for a $20 million shopping plaza anchored by a Whole Foods Market. Residents say the plaza would increase traffic to an unacceptable level and impact residents along Brimbal Avenue, as well as the North Beverly and Montserrat neighborhoods at both ends.
Many residents, who have criticized what they say has been a lack of transparency on the part of city officials, have been tracking the council’s next move closely.
The City Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Oct. 1 at City Hall to vote on a proposed solar farm next to Beverly Airport. Guanci said the council will accept the Planning Board’s recent recommendation in favor of the Brimbal rezoning and refer it to the legal affairs committee but will not discuss it or vote on it.
Guanci said the legal affairs committee will discuss the matter on Oct. 7.
“Whether they vote on it or not, we’ll see,” he said.
The proposed rezoning is part of a plan to build a new connector between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue and to add roundabouts, traffic signals, sidewalks and bike lanes in the area. The city has applied for a $5 million state grant to pay for the project.
Mayor Bill Scanlon said the work is necessary to improve traffic safety and boost economic development in the area. He said the work cannot take place without the rezoning, which would allow the state and developer CEA Group to swap parcels of land and enable the connector road to be moved farther from Route 128.
The project would be the first phase of a two-phase project to reshape the Brimbal Avenue/Route 128 interchange system.
Scanlon said the traffic improvements would open up land on both sides of the highway to development and create jobs and tax revenue.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.