BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The first phase of Mayor Bill Scanlon’s long-sought plan to revamp Brimbal Avenue ran into strong opposition last night at City Hall.
An overflow crowd of more than 100 people took up all the seats in City Council chambers and stood along the back wall to listen to a proposal that would allow for the development of a shopping plaza.
Many residents spoke out against the idea, saying it would increase traffic on an already busy road and adversely impact their quality of life.
“I think North Beverly has more than their share of development,” Walnut Avenue resident Michael Wogan said as the crowd broke out in applause. “Why should we be subject to all the traffic?”
The meeting was a joint public hearing by the City Council and Planning Board to consider a request to change the zoning on a section of Brimbal Avenue across from Vittori-Rocci Post.
If approved, the zoning change would allow a developer to build a proposed $20 million shopping plaza on land that is now owned in part by the state.
Scanlon favors the zoning change because he said the state needs land now owned by the developer, CEA Group, in order to build a new connector road designed to ease traffic problems from Route 128 to Brimbal Avenue.
If the change goes through, the state and CEA Group would swap land, allowing the state to build the new road and CEA Group to build a shopping plaza.
The plaza, to be called North Shore Commons, would have a 35,000-square-foot anchor store, three restaurants, a bank, and retail and medical space.
Scanlon said the development would not significantly increase traffic on Brimbal Avenue because many people would access the plaza directly from Route 128. That suggestion drew laughs from the crowd at one point.
David Foss said people would travel down Brimbal Avenue and Essex Street to get to the plaza, especially if it has a Whole Foods store, which Scanlon said is a possibility.
“It’s difficult to understand how adding more cars is going to reduce traffic,” Foss said.
“You can’t say traffic is not going to increase,” Brimbal Avenue resident Matthew Kelsch added.
The new connector road and shopping plaza are part of the first phase of the larger Brimbal Avenue project that would include building a bridge over Route 128.
Scanlon said the overall project has the potential to create up to 7,500 jobs and generate an extra $8 million per year in tax revenue for the city by opening up land to development.
“If we get this kind of money, we could (build a new) police station, we could pave the streets,” Scanlon said. “This is a critical step.”
The connector road would be moved about 400 feet, an effort to prevent cars from backing up onto Route 128 during peak traffic times, including during North Shore Music Theatre shows. Roundabouts, which are smaller versions of rotaries, would be installed at the intersection of the connector road with Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue, eliminating dangerous left-hand turns.
The project would cost about $5 million, which would be paid for by the state.
Scanlon, who said he has been working on the Brimbal Avenue project for more than a decade, got up several times to counter points made by residents and said he would stay after the meeting to answer any questions. At one point, he said there was “a lot of misunderstanding” about the project.
“I really believe this is in the best interest of virtually every citizen,” he said.
Peabody Avenue resident Mary Rodrick said the city should hold a public meeting on the entire Brimbal Avenue project, not just on a single aspect like the zoning change.
Neither the City Council nor the Planning Board took action on the proposed zoning change. The public hearing is scheduled to continue on Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. at City Hall.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.