SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 10, 2013

Second vote on downtown change brings same result

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — City councilors took a second bite of the bump-out last night, and it tasted just the same.

More than two dozen people representing various downtown businesses and their clients appeared before the City Council to support a change in the ongoing downtown renovation of Main Street, a change that would add two parking spaces to the plan.

Yes, they already voted for this once, last month, passing it 6-4. Mayor Ted Bettencourt even appeared at that time to support the change. But Councilor Dave Gravel subsequently asked for a “reconsideration,” in simple terms a revote. He cited safety concerns raised by the change.

That change might not seem like much, shrinking a bump-out from 60 to 20 feet, but it was enough to worry four councilors that it would alter a carefully plotted traffic pattern designed to make the downtown safer for drivers and pedestrians.

Under the rules, a reconsideration allows for no debate. While the mayor was absent this time, the presence of the small-businesspeople, led by downtown real estate developer Arthur Gordon, might have had an impact on the council.

This time, it passed 7-4.

“No one changed their vote,” noted a pleased Councilor Arthur Athas, whose ward encompasses the downtown. As to the spectators, he added, “They had a petition with 200 names on it.”

“Some of these people are in this building for the first time,” a smiling Gordon said. “Hopefully, that’s the start of something.”

Asked what brought out so many, Chris Chmiel of the Peabody Vacuum Center said, “This was over the parking situation.”

While the downtown renovation is designed to make the area more attractive for shoppers, it also includes several bump-outs, sections of sidewalk extending into the street and designed to channel what had been four lanes of traffic into two.

A byproduct of that is the loss of parking spaces.

For Chmiel, Gordon said, that’s been a major problem. “A lot of people go to him with their vacuums.” And if they’ve been forced to park some distance away, “They have to lug them there.”

Both men acknowledged the safety concerns. On the very date that the downtown plan was adopted in September 2011, Gordon pointed out, a pedestrian was killed crossing the street. At the same time, neither believes that this change will create any safety problems.