BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The candidates for mayor are divided over whether the City Council should rezone land that would make way for a shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue.
Mike Cahill said he supports the rezoning, Euplio “Rick” Marciano said he is against it, and Wes Slate said he has not decided. One of the three candidates will be eliminated in the Sept. 24 preliminary election.
The controversial issue drew more than 100 residents to a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday. The proposal has high stakes because it will impact the future of the Brimbal Avenue interchange project that Mayor Bill Scanlon has touted as the most important economic development opportunity in the city in years.
Scanlon, who is not running for re-election, said the rezoning is needed in order to build a new connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue on land now owned by a private developer, CEA Group. If the land is not rezoned and the connector road is not built, Scanlon said the entire Brimbal Avenue project could not go forward.
The project, to be done in two phases, would open up land on both sides of Route 128 to development and generate up to 7,500 regional jobs and $8 million in annual tax revenue for the city, Scanlon said.
Cahill said he supports the zoning change because of the positive impact that the Brimbal Avenue project would have on the city.
“I think it’s an incredibly important part of Beverly being able to provide the high level of services that people need and want from their community,” Cahill said.
“That said, there’s a lot to digest for all of us. There are a lot of concerns that neighbors have. I think it’s important that we listen and work through those concerns and do everything possible to mitigate those concerns.”
The rezoning must be approved by the City Council. Slate, the Ward 2 city councilor, said he is waiting until the end of the public hearing on the proposal and for a recommendation from the Planning Board before making his decision. The public hearing is scheduled to continue on Sept. 16.
“I’m anxious to hear the rest of the story,” Slate said. “The public comments are important, but the Planning Board will come back with a recommendation, and I’m going to pay real close attention to what they have to say. They deal with this kind of stuff all the time. Until then I think it’s smart to keep an open mind.”
Slate said he considers the Brimbal Avenue project a “positive development” for the city because of the tax revenue it would generate.
“The way the city has been able to do schools, roads and drainage projects has been to a large extent based on new growth,” he said. “This is one of the only places in the city that has potential for that.
“As a city we can say we don’t want that, but if we do, we have to accept the fact that we’re not going to be able to do some of the things we want to do.”
Marciano said he opposes the shopping plaza because of the increased traffic it would bring to an already congested area.
“The North Beverly area — it’s a nightmare up there,” he said. “If it’s going to add more cars, it’s not going to improve anything.”
Marciano said he is also skeptical about the promises that the Brimbal Avenue project will lead to more jobs and tax revenue.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.