SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 17, 2013

Crowd brims over

Large turnout forces Brimbal hearing change

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The controversial project intended to improve traffic on Brimbal Avenue ran into a bottleneck of another kind last night.

So many people showed up for a public hearing at City Hall that the City Council was forced to postpone the hearing until Thursday and move it to a larger venue, Beverly High School.

More than 200 people turned out for the meeting, filling the benches and standing along the back and side walls inside council chambers on the third floor. That still left about 30 to 40 people stranded in the hallway, unable to hear what was going on.

City Council President Paul Guanci recessed the hearing after Brimbal Avenue resident Matt Kelsch spoke up and asked if there was any way to make room for the people in the hallway.

At the suggestion of Mayor Bill Scanlon, extra chairs were brought into the room. But after 20 minutes, the council and the Planning Board, who were holding a joint meeting, both voted to recess the hearing and continue it Thursday at 7 p.m. in Beverly High School.

It was an unprecedented move in recent memory for a public hearing to be postponed due to such a large crowd. Some residents applauded when the change was announced, but others were upset that city officials didn’t have the foresight to schedule the meeting at a larger venue in the first place.

Two weeks ago, more than 100 people turned out for the first phase of the public hearing and were standing against the walls. Peabody Avenue resident Mary Rodrick told councilors at that meeting that it should have been held at a larger location.

“The last meeting was standing-room only, and the council made no attempt to move the meeting,” Kelsch said. “It’s disappointing for us to see the citizenry treated like this. A lot of people work and have families. It gives them a short schedule to try to get them back here.”

City Councilor Jim Latter, who made the motion to move the meeting, said councilors couldn’t have anticipated such a large turnout.

“I’ve been on the council four years, and I’ve never had to move a meeting,” he said.

Residents have galvanized over the last few weeks over the proposed project, which calls for several changes to the Route 128 interchanges in the area. Scanlon has touted the project as a way to clear up traffic congestion in the Brimbal Avenue area while also opening up land to development that would lead to jobs and tax revenue.

The City Council is considering only a part of the project that would rezone a parcel of land on Brimbal Avenue, across from the Vittori-Rocci Post, that would allow for construction of a $20 million shopping plaza.

Several residents spoke out against the plan two weeks ago, saying it would add more traffic to an already congested area.

Rod Emery, a traffic engineer, had begun a presentation on the project last night when councilors decided to stop the meeting.

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