SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 4, 2014

Column: Project would change the character of a neighborhood

Paul M. Guanci and Donald M. Martin
The Salem News

---- — Over the past few months, much has been said and written about the upcoming special election on whether to support the City Council’s vote to rezone a parcel of land on Brimbal Avenue in Beverly to allow for the construction of Phase I of the overpass project.

While there are valid arguments on both sides of this debate, we are opposed to the rezoning for a number of reasons.

The most troubling aspect of the proposed rezoning and subsequent “land swap” will be the construction of a Whole Foods. Regardless of what any traffic engineer may say, this will lead to a significant increase in traffic on Brimbal Avenue. Shoppers will come from surrounding communities to take advantage of this new supermarket. Regardless of which direction they may travel from, they will all access this store from Brimbal Avenue. Brimbal Avenue simply won’t be able to handle the increase in traffic that will surely arise with the construction of this site.

Another concern is the potential to “cut off” North Beverly from the downtown area. If traffic on Brimbal Avenue becomes as bad as Route 1A, residents simply won’t attempt to make the drive to the downtown area. This will negatively impact all the hard work that Beverly Main Streets has done to make Downtown Beverly a shopping and dining destination. For all those residents clamoring for a downtown market, a shopping plaza with a Whole Foods will effectively make that possibility much more difficult.

More important is the impact on the residents of Brimbal Avenue. Thousands of additional cars traveling down Brimbal Avenue each day to this location will no doubt have a disastrous impact on the quality of life for these residents, some of whom have lived on this street for more than 50 years. To say the impact will be minimal is just not being honest with these homeowners and every resident of our city. Except for this small area around the Vittori-Rocci Post, Brimbal Avenue is completely residential. The construction of the proposed Phase I will forever change the character of this area.

Over the past few weeks, a new Phase I design has been made public. This design would use the existing footprint for the on/off ramps and wouldn’t require a “land swap” or rezoning of any land. This would allow the developer to build on the land he presently owns, while at the same time giving the residents of this area some comfort that any development will be smaller, resulting in less traffic traveling through their neighborhoods each day. Our efforts should be focused on this option only.

As elected officials, our first priority must be to protect the neighborhoods. No neighborhood should be sacrificed for additional revenues or to favor a particular developer. We have one chance to get this decision right. Let’s not make the same mistakes previous generations made on Route 1A.

As the two longest serving members of the City Council, we strongly urge a “No” vote on Saturday and to work toward a design that won’t be as ambitious and will have the least impact on the residents of this area.

Paul M. Guanci is president of the Beverly City Council, and Donald G. Martin is Ward 5 city councilor.