SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 19, 2013

'Quality of life' concerns

Brimbal Avenue neighbors worry about impact of project

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The papers are spread across a table in the kitchen of Dan DeAngelis’ home on Brimbal Avenue, where he has lived for 33 years.

There are maps and drawings, a thick environmental file, applications for state funding, letters from the mayor — the accumulated record of what is known as the Brimbal Avenue interchange project.

DeAngelis, 57, is among the groundswell of residents who are speaking out against the plans. So many people showed up at Monday night’s public hearing on the project at City Hall that city councilors had to recess the meeting and move it to tonight at 7 in the larger Beverly High School auditorium.

While Mayor Bill Scanlon has touted the project as a way to spur major economic development, DeAngelis and others say it will increase traffic on an already busy road and seriously impact their neighborhood.

“The delicate balance of development and quality of life seems to be tipping to the development side,” DeAngelis said. “People came to Beverly because of the type of town that it was. It’s slowly going to become the type of town we won’t recognize anymore.”

The proposed project is a complicated plan that involves building a series of new interchanges to improve traffic flow in the Brimbal Avenue/Route 128 area. It would also widen a section of Brimbal Avenue, place traffic signals and roundabouts at various locations, and add sidewalks and bike paths.

Scanlon says the work will not only improve traffic flow and safety, but will open up acres of land to development along Route 128 that will generate regional jobs and tax revenue for the city.

Scanlon, who is not running for re-election and will leave office in January, said he has been working on the project for nearly a decade. But DeAngelis and other residents say they were mostly unaware of the scope and details until recently.

In the last few weeks, residents have been spreading informational pamphlets and meeting notices door-to-door throughout the Brimbal Avenue and Montserrat neighborhoods and communicating through the Montserrat Neighborhood Facebook page.

DeAngelis said residents plan to ask the City Council to put the matter on hold so there can be a citywide public meeting to discuss the entire project, not just the narrow rezoning proposal that is before the council.

DeAngelis said there has been a “lack of transparency” on the project that has created a “sense of inevitability” among some residents that it will proceed no matter what residents say.

Brimbal Avenue resident Matt Kelsch said he didn’t know anything about the project until surveyors placed flags in his yard in anticipation of widening the road near Herrick Street Extension.

“At no point did (Scanlon) sit down with residents and say, ‘What can we do to make this work?’” DeAngelis said.

Asked about what he’s done to inform the public about the project, Scanlon noted that The Salem News has written several stories about it and that he’s had lots of conversations with residents.

“Anybody who’s ever called to talk about it, I’ve talked to them,” he said.

DeAngelis has also challenged Scanlon on the issue of how much the project would increase traffic on Brimbal Avenue, particularly a $20 million shopping plaza that would be built as a result of the first phase of the project.

In a letter addressed to residents, Scanlon said a traffic study has determined the plaza would generate an increase of 30 vehicle trips per hour during afternoon peak times and eight trips per hour during morning peak times.

DeAngelis said he is skeptical of those numbers, especially if the plaza includes a Whole Foods Market, which Scanlon has mentioned as a possibility.

DeAngelis said that many residents are not necessarily opposed to parts of the second phase of the project, which includes building a bridge over Route 128 between Brimbal Avenue and Dunham Road and would open up land to development.

But he said much of the Phase One work is unnecessary and would severely impact Brimbal Avenue, which connects two residential neighborhoods that include two elementary schools.

“I’m not convinced we can’t get some development and still make this a livable place,” he said.

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