BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — A proposed land swap with the state would allow a private developer to build a $20 million shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue with stores, restaurants, a bank and medical offices.
The plaza, to be called North Shore Commons, would have about twice as much commercial space as the Commodore Plaza in North Beverly.
The plans are included in the city’s 2012 application for state funding for the Brimbal Avenue interchange project. The private developer, Steven Cohen of CEA Group of Cambridge, wrote a letter in support of the city’s funding request, saying his company is ready to start construction “at the earliest possible date” once the land swap takes place.
The shopping plaza would be the first development as a result of the Brimbal Avenue project, which is intended not only to improve traffic flow from Route 128 to local roads but to spark major economic development in the area.
The city has applied for a $5 million state grant to construct the first phase of the project, which includes replacing the connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue to alleviate traffic that sometimes backs up onto Route 128.
The new connector road would be built on land now owned by CEA Group. The state and CEA Group have proposed swapping parcels of land that would enable the state to build the road and would give the developer a larger plot of land on which to build the shopping center.
The state-owned land that would go to the developer is now cut off from development by the present connector road. Mayor Bill Scanlon said the land swap would be about equal for both sides.
Cohen did not return calls for comment on North Shore Commons. But the city’s application for state funding for the interchange project said the plaza will include a 35,000-square-foot anchor store, three restaurants, a regional bank, and retail, medical and office space.
“The prominent retailers of this project will provide a unique shopping experience for which there is great unmet demand on the North Shore,” the city’s application said.
In his letter, Cohen said his anchor tenant and lender are in place. He said he expects the development to create 294 full-time jobs and 160 part-time jobs, as well as construction jobs.
The plaza would include 77,500 square feet of commercial space. By comparison, the North Beverly Plaza has 197,000 square feet of commercial space, while the Commodore Plaza has 41,718.
Cohen planned to build a smaller plaza in 2005 on the land he currently owns but was denied a zoning change by the city’s Planning Board. In 2009, the City Council voted to rezone the area to allow for “mixed-use” development such as shopping plazas.
Scanlon said the Planning Board turned down the project in 2005 over concerns about vehicles getting in and out of the site. He said that problem would be “entirely solved” by the connector road project.
The site of the plaza is a former landfill. The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit in 2009 allowing the project to go forward, which the application said would “facilitate the cleanup and reuse of this former landfill.”
The City Council voted this month to support the land exchange between the state and CEA Group. The swap must be approved by the state Legislature.
If the land swap goes through, Scanlon said the city hopes to begin construction on the new connector road in the fall. The road would be built about 500 feet from the present connector to prevent vehicles from stacking up onto Route 128 and would likely include a traffic signal to ease what is now a difficult left turn onto Brimbal Avenue. Data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows that five locations in the Brimbal Avenue area have crash rates that exceed state averages.
The city’s application said that tax revenue generated by North Shore Commons would help pay for the second phase of the Brimbal Avenue project, a $20 million undertaking that involves building a bridge over Route 128.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.