SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

February 10, 2014

Our view: Brimbal project moves forward, with lessons learned

Voters in Beverly made it clear Saturday: The city should move forward with plans to improve traffic in the Brimbal Avenue area and help spur development along one of its last commercially zoned corridors.

On the surface, it was a narrow victory: 3,978 citizens voted in favor of the measure, and 3,744 were opposed.

In reality, it wasn’t that close. Those fighting the plans needed 20 percent of registered voters to vote to overturn a City Council vote approving a land swap with developer Steven Cohen. That means 5,121 people would have had to vote “no” to defeat the rezoning. Not only did opponents fall short of that goal, they lost the vote outright, failing to convince folks in other parts of the city that the development was a bad idea. And there was every indication plans for a new shopping plaza and traffic improvements would go ahead regardless of the outcome of the vote.

Sunset Drive resident William Reilly told reporter Paul Leighton he voted “yes” because the project is in the best interest of the city.

“I don’t have a problem with that area being developed,” he said. “It’s going to be developed anyway.”

Opponents of the plan did score a different kind of victory, one that will also benefit the entire city: It will be a long time before a similar project, no matter the benefits, is rolled out in such a ham-handed fashion.

“We would’ve liked the results to be different, but our primary goal was to give folks the opportunity to vote,” said Dan DeAngelis of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association. “I was encouraged by the fact that so many people turned out on so important an issue to the city as a whole.”

Residents were asked to weigh in on whether they agreed with a City Council vote to rezone a 3.6-acre piece of land on Brimbal. That 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.

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