SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 4, 2013

Opponents mount petition drive

Group cites conflict of interest in plaza proposal

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The grass-roots movement against the proposal to build a shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue is moving forward on several fronts.

Residents have mounted a petition drive that could ultimately let voters decide the issue in a special election. They’ve also filed a conflict-of-interest complaint against state Rep. Jerry Parisella over his role in the project, as well as a public records request seeking information from the state and the city.

In the meantime, Parisella and state Sen. Joan Lovely have filed a bill to approve a land swap between the state and the shopping plaza developer.

The petition asks the City Council to reconsider its vote to rezone the land where the shopping plaza would be built. If the council does not change its vote, the question would be put to voters in a special election.

The North Beverly Neighborhood Association, which is spearheading the petition drive, said it has gathered almost half of the estimated 3,000 signatures required to put the question on the ballot.

“I think it’s going really well,” Brimbal Hills Drive resident Cathy Burack said. “It’s interesting to be out and have people come up to me and ask to sign the petition. I take that as evidence that there’s a really high degree of support and interest.”

Residents need to gather signatures from 12 percent of the city’s registered voters. The city had 25,300 registered voters as of last month’s preliminary election.

By law, the signatures must be submitted by Nov. 12.

Burack and Dan DeAngelis of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association said they have filed complaints with the State Ethics Commission over Parisella’s role in seeking funding for the Brimbal Avenue project and supporting the land swap.

The complaint questions whether Parisella should be involved because he worked as an attorney for Alexander & Femino, the Beverly law firm that represents shopping plaza developer CEA Group.

Parisella said he resigned from the firm on Oct. 18. He had worked there for 13 years.

“I felt it was important not to have even an appearance of a conflict of interest, so I left the firm,” he said.

Parisella is co-sponsor of a bill filed by Lovely that would allow the state and CEA Group to swap parcels of land on Brimbal Avenue.

The exchange would allow the state to start a $5 million project designed to improve traffic flow and safety around the Brimbal Avenue/Route 128 interchange. The City Council approved the land swap by an 8-0 vote on June 10. The swap must now be approved by the state Legislature.

“If a shopping plaza does go in there, let’s try to get the resources to improve Brimbal Avenue and the interchanges so we can rectify an already-difficult traffic situation,” Parisella said.

A hearing on the land swap bill is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the State House.

The public records request filed by the neighborhood group seeks all records related to the “design, funding, permitting and construction” of the Brimbal Avenue project dating back to 2005.

The request asks for any communications between the state Department of Transportation with the city, Parisella, Lovely, CEA Group, Northridge Homes, and the state Executive Office of Administration and Finance.

The entire Brimbal Avenue project is a $25 million proposal to revamp the interchanges around Brimbal Avenue and Route 128 in order to improve traffic flow and safety and also open up land for development on both sides of the highway.

The city has applied for $5 million in state funding for the first phase of the project. That work cannot begin unless the land swap takes place.

Public hearings on the project and shopping plaza drew hundreds of people. Many residents have said the shopping plaza, which would be anchored by a Whole Foods store, would make traffic worse and diminish the quality of life in the neighborhoods around Brimbal Avenue.

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