BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — City councilors are poised to take one of their most significant votes in recent years tonight.
The City Council is scheduled to consider a proposal to rezone a piece of land on Brimbal Avenue, a move that could trigger the building of a $20 million shopping plaza by a private developer and a $25 million traffic and development project by the state and city.
Tonight’s City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., has been moved to the Beverly High School auditorium to accommodate an expected large crowd.
Ward 5 Councilor Don Martin, whose ward includes much of the area in question, said he will vote against the rezoning but expects the council to pass it. The measure requires six votes, out of the nine councilors, to pass.
“Unless something happens between (yesterday) and (tonight), I see it passing,” Martin said.
The issue has galvanized Brimbal Avenue residents, as well as those in North Beverly and Montserrat, who say the plaza, which would be anchored by a Whole Foods Market, will increase traffic on an already busy road.
Mayor Bill Scanlon has touted the rezoning as necessary for the city to gain a $5 million state grant to improve traffic and safety by building a new connector road, widening a section of Brimbal Avenue, and installing roundabouts and traffic signals.
That would be followed by a $20 million second phase that would include building a bridge over Route 128 to connect Brimbal Avenue and Dunham Road. Scanlon said new development made possible by the changes would bring in much-needed tax revenue for the city and would also take traffic off Brimbal Avenue.
Martin said he does not object to the overpass but agrees with residents who say the combination of a shopping plaza, roundabouts and traffic signals on Brimbal Avenue will make traffic worse.
“I’m not a traffic expert, but common sense will tell you it won’t work,” Martin said. “We do need traffic improvements in the area, but the question is what are those improvements. So far, we’ve been given one option, take it or leave it.”
Martin has submitted an order to the City Council requesting the formation of a Brimbal Avenue Citizen Advisory Committee that would meet monthly and be given updates on the project.
“Brimbal Avenue residents just want a seat at the table,” he said. “This is their neighborhood. They don’t want to be brushed off.”
Martin has also asked for a study by the city’s Parking and Traffic Commission of the Dodge and Laurel streets intersection at the end of Brimbal Avenue in North Beverly. Residents at last month’s public hearing were upset to learn that the intersection was not included in the traffic study for the Brimbal Avenue project.
“That’s as bad an intersection as there is in the city,” Martin said.
Ward 6 Councilor Brett Schetzsle has also submitted an order that would prevent drive-through restaurants from being built in “overlay” districts such as the one on Brimbal Avenue.
“It’s just one less thing that will bring transient traffic in the area and cause traffic backups,” Schetzsle said.
Schetzsle said he is “leaning very strongly” toward supporting the rezoning proposal. He said the City Council has already supported the project by voting to endorse a land swap between the state and the developer to enable the project to proceed.
“The traffic and safety improvements that will come with it are not insignificant,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.