, Salem, MA

February 1, 2014

Letter: Voting 'Yes' on Brimbal Avenue

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

It strikes me as ironic that most of the objections to the Brimbal Avenue proposal repeatedly come down to how development will affect the driving patterns of those who already exclusively drive (not cycle or walk) along this street. Nowhere do I see lobbying for more public transit (buses, e.g.) or other alternative transportation infrastructure that could connect Beverly’s far-flung parts effectively, even though this would help lessen the need for everyone to drive everywhere all the time.

It’s also a fact that we all live on land that itself was once a “new” development, and that the development of our current neighborhoods included the destruction of greenfields and the building of arterial roads. It’s disingenuous for neighbors to think that after they signed mortgage papers, development just stops. Or that Beverly can afford not to change with the times.

Beverly has changed many times over the past centuries. I think we need to understand that Beverly is a formerly industrial (small) city, which is now once again re-urbanizing. Since it is a city, it also has its own suburbs — with all the tensions that brings. For example, a city needs money to provide services (including social services); this can’t be wished away. And we have an urban and industrial history that’s very different from some of our more bucolic neighbors. Beverly had independent shoe manufacturing businesses; it had a massive factory (USM) that manufactured the machines for making those shoes, which employed thousands and was a gateway for hardworking immigrants who contributed to the city’s ethnic diversity; it had munitions and armaments manufacturing during World War II and beyond; and it had all the usual businesses that carried over from before the Industrial Age (including waterfront occupations). In the later 20th century we lost the bulk of that industrial base (which incidentally helped push the city into a tailspin that resulted in junk bond status). And in the 20th century we also sprawled into the far-flung neighborhoods that sprang up on “virgin” territory to the north of downtown. Now that we’re re-urbanizing (trends indicate that people want to live in walkable, higher-density, and amenity-rich places), we really should develop in those places already zoned for it, and we should think about making our downtown more attractive for residential and commercial development.

Brimbal Avenue abuts land that’s already zoned for commercial and industrial use. According to statements by former Mayor Bill Scanlon, only 1/7th of Beverly’s total land mass is zoned this way. The Brimbal Avenue land is fully one-third of that one-seventh. So, imagine you had, say, $300,000 to invest, but you decided to let one-third of that ($100,000) sit under your mattress where it brings in nothing. We can look at the Brimbal Avenue land as part of Beverly’s overall strategic investment, or we can stuff it under a mattress because a segment of the populace objects to having their drive down Brimbal impeded by additional traffic.

Is this proposal perfect? Is it impossible to criticize? Not at all. But for all the above reasons, I’m voting “Yes” on Feb. 8.

Yule Heibel