SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 19, 2013

Residents again blast project

Brimbal Avenue shopping plaza draws strong opposition

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — Residents who were demanding a full airing of the Brimbal Avenue project got their fill last night.

In a public hearing that lasted more than four-and-a-half hours, dozens of speakers stepped to the microphone to express overwhelming opposition to a proposed zoning change that could pave the way for a $20 million shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue.

Nearly every resident who spoke said the increased traffic from the plaza, which the developer confirmed last night would include a Whole Foods Market, would impair the quality of life for residents on and near an already busy roadway.

“We don’t need another shopping plaza,” Nelson Avenue resident Vicki Cozzolino said to applause from the audience. “My daughter won’t ride her bike in Beverly because the traffic is so bad.”

The meeting was a continuation of a hearing that started on Monday night at City Hall but had to be moved when the large crowd that turned out could not fit into City Council chambers.

More than 200 people showed up again last night in the more spacious high school auditorium to ask questions and express their opinions on the project.

The project, scheduled to be accomplished in two phases, would create a series of new interchanges in the Route 128/Brimbal Avenue area in an effort to both improve traffic safety and create economic development.

For the first phase to begin, the City Council must approve a zoning change that could allow a developer to build a shopping plaza across from the Vittori-Rocci Post. If the change is approved, the developer has agreed to a land swap that would allow the state to move the connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue, a move that officials say is needed to prevent cars from backing up onto Route 128.

Most residents strongly disputed the traffic models presented by Rod Emery, a traffic engineer who has helped to design the project. When Emery said the shopping plaza would generate only an extra 30 vehicle trips during a peak afternoon hour, many in the crowd broke out in laughter.

Budleigh Avenue resident Jennifer Holak said the traffic models don’t take into account that the plaza will have a Whole Foods Market.

“That completely changes the dynamic,” she said.

Some residents said they wanted the traffic problems in the area addressed, but not with the accompanying development.

The developer, CEA Group, distributed a flier at the meeting touting the benefits of the proposed traffic improvements and saying that the shopping plaza will be built on the land it currently owns if the zoning change for the land swap is not approved.

“This zoning petition is not about the Whole Foods Market,” the flier said. “That will go forward in any event.”

Residents had many questions about various aspects of the project, from the use of roundabouts and traffic signals to funding sources and the land swap with the developer.

Some speakers complained about what they called a lack of transparency about the project on the part of Mayor Bill Scanlon and the city.

In addition to Emery, Scanlon and City Planning Director Tina Cassidy also fielded questions from the audience. The meeting was contentious at some points, with City Council President Paul Guanci admonishing the crowd for laughing at Emery’s traffic figures and Planning Board Chairman Richard Dinkin chastising one resident for his commentary.

Steve Cohen of CEA Group, who had not spoken at recent meetings, answered a question about possible contamination of his land, which was once a city landfill.

Cohen said tests conducted by the company and by the state showed that there are “no hazardous wastes to speak of.”

The meeting continued past The Salem News’ 11 p.m. deadline. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the zoning change at a later date.

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