By Bethany Bray
---- — BEVERLY — The North Beverly Neighborhood Association delivered a petition with 4,422 signatures to City Hall yesterday, asking the City Council to reconsider its vote to rezone land on Brimbal Avenue.
At issue is a multimillion-dollar project planned to improve traffic flow and safety around the Brimbal Avenue/Route 128 interchange and fuel new development, including a proposed shopping center that has drawn strong neighborhood opposition.
The neighborhood association, concerned about increased traffic and the project’s impact on the area, collected 495 pages of signatures over the past two weeks and submitted them yesterday morning.
The petition asks the City Council to reconsider its rezoning vote, which paved the way for the project’s first phase, pending state approval.
If the council won’t change its vote, the issue would be put to Beverly residents via a ballot question in an upcoming election.
“We wanted to hit the pause button on this and let the whole city have an understanding on what’s involved,” said Dan DeAngelis, a Brimbal Avenue resident and member of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association.
“We feel that this particular issue, even though it sounds like a simple zoning change, (would be) a very large traffic enhancement for Brimbal Avenue. Its not the kind of thing that should be simply decided without the whole city deciding the impact that it’s going to have.”
DeAngelis said “dozens” of volunteers collected signatures from every ward and precinct in Beverly, knocking on doors and standing in front of shops. Residents were supportive, he said; some even reached out to the neighborhood association asking to sign the petition.
“Even people that weren’t fully in agreement with us, they felt it was important that the city had a chance to vote,” DeAngelis said. “We needed to get 12 percent of city voters, and the number we have is well in excess of that.”
Mayor Bill Scanlon, who has championed the Brimbal Avenue project for years, said he welcomes the chance to put the issue to voters.
“I don’t think you can equate the number of signatures with real interest. ... The real point is that most people will sign something if you ask them to,” Scanlon said yesterday.
“... The silent majority is just that. I’m in favor of putting (this) on the ballot, because I feel it’s good for nearly everyone in Beverly.”
Scanlon penned a guest column on the issue, which is running on The Salem News opinion page today.
The petition does not guarantee there will be a special election, however.
The City Clerk’s office confirmed yesterday that they had received 495 pages of signatures, all of which need to be certified as Beverly residents and registered voters. If the petition is found to have a sufficient number of certified signatures, it will be sent to the City Council.
Last week, Scanlon, city officials and residents went to the Statehouse in Boston to testify on a related bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Jerry Parisella and state Sen. Joan Lovely. The bill would allow the state and private developer to swap parcels of land needed to start the $5 million project. The swap must be approved by the state Legislature for construction to begin.
No action was taken at last week’s Statehouse hearing.
Beverly’s City Council approved the land swap by an 8-0 vote on June 10. The swap would enable the state to move the Route 128 interchange and a developer to build a shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue.
Last week, Whole Foods Market confirmed it has signed a lease to open a store as part of the North Shore Commons Shopping Center proposed for Brimbal Avenue.
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.
DeAngelis argued that the project will have a “considerable” effect on traffic in a residential area near several schools, including Beverly High School.
“It isn’t just a matter of more cars on the street I happen to live on,” he said. “It will choke one of the remaining ways to get from North Beverly to the downtown, much like the way we have with Route 1A. ... The scope of this project will dramatically change Brimbal Avenue, and we feel everyone should have a chance to weigh in.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.