For all of the recent debate over the proposed redevelopment of Brimbal Avenue, the issue now comes down to a citywide vote on a relatively minor zoning issue. Even if voters Saturday overturn the City Council’s vote supporting the project, there’s a good chance the plan could move ahead in some form anyway.
That doesn’t mean voters don’t have a chance to make a statement. They should vote “Yes” Saturday, giving city leaders the options they need to make sure the best-possible version of the project moves forward. A “Yes” vote would also demonstrate a commitment to economic development that would preserve and hopefully improve the quality of life for citizens in all of the city’s neighborhoods.
The vote has been framed as a decision on the entire project. It is not.
Voters are being asked if they agree with a City Council vote to rezone a 3.6-acre piece of land on Brimbal. The change would allow a land swap between the state and developer Steven Cohen’s CEA Group, which would then apply for a special permit from the Planning Board to build a $20 million shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue.
Part of that development includes $5.2 million in state-funded traffic improvements to the connector road between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue. The land swap would move the connector road in such a way that benefits the CEA project.
A second phase of roadwork, expected to cost $20 million, would include a bridge over the highway, opening commercially zoned land on Dunham Road to development.
Much has been made of the fact that some aspects of the first part of the plan have changed. The state now appears to prefer building the new connector road in place, instead over the old dump about 400 feet away. CEA has offered to pay to shore up its land to keep the original plan in place.