, Salem, MA

February 4, 2014

Letter: Managing change in Beverly

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozlement. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozlement has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you’ve given a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

— Carl Sagan, “Science as a Candle in the Dark”

For the past six years, I’ve attempted to have the city repair my sidewalk. Each time I call, I’m told that “…you’re on the list.” I’ve never seen the list. No one, I believe, has ever seen the list. To me and others, the list resides in a place far, far away in a place where secret lists are kept. A place known only to God and the head of the city’s Department of Public Works.

It’s hard to imagine that a simple sidewalk repair decision could be so complicated especially when compared to the process of changing the zoning rules on Brimbal Avenue to facilitate the construction of Steven Cohen’s new strip mall.

Just minutes after its last public hearing on the controversial Brimbal Avenue zoning changes concluded, the Beverly City Council scurried to convene, vote and approve those zoning changes, ignoring the pleas made by North Beverly residents regarding increased traffic flow. The engineering, it turns out, was weak because the site plan had not taken into account the requirements for building a new connector road over an existing landfill. This alone jeopardizes any action on the planned connector road and provides some insight of how poorly thought out Beverly’s overall plan may be. The councilors once again held steadfast to the previous mayor’s decision to rush through his plans to accommodate the construction of Mr. Cohen’s strip mall, which would involve a state land swap to accommodate not only the strip mall itself, but plans to build an expanded “anchor” tenant — Whole Foods. The expanded supermarket was the basis for the North Beverly residents’ uproar over increased traffic flow.

Whole Foods Market signed a lease for this space shortly after the council approved the zoning changes.

My new favorite Beverly politician is Beverly City Council President Paul Guanci. Mr. Guanci has voted in lockstep with the previous mayor on nearly every vote taken by the council with one glaring exception: the last vote to change the controversial Brimbal Avenue zoning rules. He was admittedly concerned that the increased traffic in the area was a problem not only for the North Beverly residents but for the terminus points of Brimbal Avenue in North Beverly and at Montserrat Station. He voted against the zoning changes.

At last, a reasonable assessment.

In voting against the zoning changes, Mr. Guanci registered his opposition for increasing Brimbal Avenue traffic and continued his loyalty to the then-current mayor. He was reasonably assured the re-zoning measure would pass regardless of how he voted. The referendum tally is another question.

Alas, Mr. Cohen has warned Beverly voters that, should they vote against the Brimbal Avenue re-zoning in the special referendum election on Feb. 8 his Whole Foods Market anchor store would be doomed.

Not building a Whole Foods means less traffic on Brimbal Avenue.

While on the subject of bamboozles, I could never figure out how Mr. Cohen’s strip mall relates in any way to changing Brimbal Avenue access to Route 128. By what process do Route 128 access changes and the building of a commercial strip mall become part of the same discussion in which the city now becomes a partner?

Remember when the cornerstone of our Democracy was:

“Government of the People

By the People

For the People”

That cornerstone now reads more like

“Government of the Corporation

By the Corporation

For the Corporation”

How did our friends and neighbors in North Beverly get thrown under the bus by the city’s past and present elected and appointed officials? How did their needs and hopes and expectations get trampled upon? How were they left out of any reasonable access to the planning process? These are not unreasonable Beverly citizens. They are our neighbors, our friends, our fellow citizens. They were treated horribly in this whole affair. We were all treated horribly in this whole affair and the one hope and expectation that we all desire is for the new administration to heed the lessons to be learned here and manage change better than the previous administration.

How our North Beverly neighbors have been treated is or should be a warning to each of us. Beverly needs to change how it governs. One day you could awaken to find a natural gas fracking site is being proposed next door to you that has been in the planning stage for the past 18 months without any public discussion … then what?

Are we being told the truth or are we being bamboozled?

I strongly urge all of us to get off the couch and vote “No” in the upcoming referendum on Feb. 8th at Beverly High School. Follow the crowds.

Vote “No” to assert your disdain for the way Beverly has managed the change process not only for our North Beverly neighbors but for all of its citizens.

Now ... about my sidewalk repair.

William Cormier