BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — The last time the City Council voted on the Brimbal Avenue project, a crowd of nearly 200 showed up to urge a “no” vote.
Last night’s replay wasn’t nearly as dramatic. Councilors took the same vote all over again as about 20 residents sat silently in protest at City Hall.
The 7-2 vote officially changes the zoning to allow retail development on a 21/2-acre parcel of land on Brimbal Avenue where a developer plans to build a $20 million shopping plaza with a Whole Foods Market.
The vote was necessary because any change to the city’s zoning law requires the City Council to vote twice. It was considered a formality and was taken with no discussion by councilors.
About 20 residents showed up to observe the vote, with some holding signs that read “City Councilors, vote no to re-zone” and “Don’t turn Brimbal into 1A.”
“We were there just to let the mayor and the City Council know that we’re not going away,” said Dan DeAngelis of the Brimbal Avenue Neighborhood Association. “It’s our intention to keep an eye on this project and to work very closely with them going forward.”
As they did in the first vote on Oct. 7, councilors Paul Guanci and Don Martin voted against the rezoning, with the other seven all in favor.
The rezoning drew large crowds to previous meetings and heated objections from many residents because it is seen as the first step in a major transformation of the area around Brimbal Avenue and Route 128.
The zoning change will not only allow developer CEA Group to apply for a special permit to build the shopping plaza. It will also trigger a land swap between CEA and the state that will allow the state to start a $5 million project designed to alleviate traffic problems in the area.
Some residents, however, say the shopping plaza will only add to the traffic woes and that the road redesigns won’t work. The state project includes adding roundabouts and traffic signals and moving the Route 128/Brimbal Avenue connector road.
All of those changes are supposed to be followed by a second phase, at an estimated cost of $20 million, that would include building a bridge over Route 128 to connect Brimbal Avenue with Dunham Road.
Mayor Bill Scanlon has said that would take traffic off Brimbal Avenue and also open up land on both sides of the highway for development that would generate tax revenue for the city.
Before work on the first phase can begin, the state Legislature must approve the land exchange between the state and the developer. The state must also approve the city’s application for $5 million in state funding for the traffic work.
The city’s Planning Board must approve the plaza project. Construction would not begin until the road work is complete.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.