BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The planned location of a new Brimbal Avenue connector road is now in doubt due to concerns about the “structural integrity” of building a road on a former landfill, Mayor Mike Cahill said yesterday.
The concerns have led engineers to develop an alternative design to build a new road on the site of the current connector road, he said.
Cahill revealed the potential key change in the project, while at the same time urging residents to vote “yes” in the Feb. 8 special election at Beverly High School.
A “yes” vote would uphold a City Council decision to rezone a parcel of land on Brimbal Avenue, paving the way for a developer to build a $20 million shopping plaza with a Whole Foods Market.
The rezoning would trigger a swap of adjacent parcels of land between the state and the developer, CEA Group. The swap would allow the city to build a new connector road on the landfill site and CEA Group to build the plaza on the site of the current road.
Neither the rezoning nor the special election would be necessary if the connector road cannot be built on the landfill. But Cahill said residents should still vote “yes” to keep the city’s options open.
“It’s very important that we continue to work with both potential designs,” he said.
Engineers have said moving the connector road — the road that connects Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue at Exit 19 off Route 128 — is a key to the project. It would allow more room for traffic that backs up onto the highway.
But Cahill said yesterday that state officials have concerns about the “structural integrity” of building a road on the former landfill and that neither the state nor the city will spend the money to remove the unstable material from the site.
CEA Group has offered to pay those costs, but the two sides are far apart on the price, Cahill said.
Cahill said Jacobs Engineering, the company hired by the city to design the project, has estimated the cost of the landfill work at anywhere from $800,000 to $5 million, while CEA Group’s engineers have put the price at $500,000.
“CEA said they will pay for it, but they’re not going to pay $5 million,” Cahill said. “Can they find a meeting of the minds? If they do, this option (moving the connector road) remains viable.”
Steven Cohen, president of CEA Group, could not be reached for comment.
Cahill said engineers have come up with an alternative plan to build a new road on the site of the current connector road, but the design is preliminary, and “we can’t yet be certain of its viability.”
Dan DeAngelis of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association said the news about the connector road confirms the group’s position against the swap for the landfill site.
“It goes back to what we’ve been saying all along, that there are other ways to do this,” he said. “We believe the land swap is wrong.”
DeAngelis said his group prefers that CEA Group build on its current land. Cohen has said a development on his current land would include a mix of office and retail without Whole Foods, as opposed to a retail-only plaza with a Whole Foods on the land he would obtain in a land swap.
DeAngelis said a mix of office and retail would mean less traffic. “It would make more sense for the neighborhood,” he said.
Cahill said building the road on its current footprint would be less expensive — $4.4 million versus $5 million. DeAngelis said the savings could be used to increase pedestrian and bike safety in the project area.
The revelation about the stability of the connector road adds another element to an already confusing issue facing voters with the Feb. 8 ballot question.
Proponents of a “yes” vote have said a “no” vote will cause the city to lose the $5 million state grant it has been awarded to do the interchange project. Cahill said that is “not accurate.”
Cahill said officials in the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which awarded the grant, believe the road improvements will spark economic development and have said the grant money is not dependent on any one project.
Cahill said the city will receive the $5 million as long as it can propose a “buildable road,” whether it is on CEA Group’s land or the state’s land.
The new connector road, wherever it is located, would have roundabouts on both ends that would be designed to eliminate difficult left-hand turns from Route 128 onto the connector road at exit 19 and from the connector road onto Brimbal Avenue. The project would also include widening a section of Brimbal Avenue.
Neighbors opposed to the project say the shopping plaza will create too much additional traffic and that the road redesign lacked public input. Proponents say the redesign will improve traffic flow and trigger economic development that will benefit the city.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.