We need to carefully think through the arguments being offered in support of the rezoning and the overall Brimbal Avenue/Exit 19 interchange project, because they are problematic. For example:
Argument 1: This project (Phase One and Phase Two) is essential to Beverly’s economic growth; without it Beverly will become stagnant.
Counter 1: There are an abundance of growth opportunities in the city as it currently exists: the waterfront, downtown, Tozier Road (for example, vacant Appleseeds buildings), plenty of vacancies in existing plazas, etc. To believe that clear-cutting forest and filling wetlands in a predominantly residential area to build a sprawling development is the only way for Beverly to move forward is short-sighted and demonstrates a lack of vision and creativity. There are limited resources available to pursue economic development projects, and the city would be better served by spending those resources on the waterfront and continued revitalization of the downtown, which the citizens of Beverly overwhelmingly support. Further, we do not need to look far to find examples that prove we do not need to sell our souls to sprawling over-development to continue to do well — just look at Ipswich, Newburyport, Manchester, Lexington, etc. Let’s pursue smart growth that maintains and improves the quality of life of Beverly citizens.
Argument 2: CEA will build its plaza no matter what — they can build right now on their current land.
Counter 2: CEA has owned that land for eight years now and has done nothing. Their current land is the site of a former dump and will likely require expensive environmental remediation to move forward, which the company may not be prepared to do. Importantly, CEA needs a special permit to build on its current land. It would be incredibly irresponsible for the Planning Board to approve that permit without requiring CEA to fund measures to mitigate the traffic that the project will create. It is standard practice to require developers to pay to offset the negative impacts of their projects. Somehow, under the current Phase One proposal, CEA is making out like a bandit: getting more land in the land swap, trading hazardous land for clean land and not having to pay for any real traffic mitigation beyond, perhaps, a signal at the plaza access points. Why in the world are we giving the developers such a sweet deal? Regardless, if CEA builds on their current land it would need to be a smaller project, and if the Planning Board does its job correctly, there is no way we should end up in the situation with the plaza but no traffic mitigation.
Argument 3: Phase One represents important “traffic improvements.”
Counter 3: Phase One is completely out of scale for the area and a severe overreaction to a bad left-hand turn. In reality, it is a design focused on how to address the traffic problems that both Phase One and Phase Two developments are going to create. People need to understand just how bad driving through that cluster of signals and roundabouts will be on a daily basis. Think of Route 1A and Elliot Street. Can people think of a single example where this level of intervention has been implemented (so many signals in such a small — and residential — area) and it has in reality improved traffic?
Argument 4: Phase One will improve safety.
Counter 4: Whose safety are they talking about? Drivers? A limited number of signals with left-hand turns could address driver safety. What about residents and pedestrians? How many people feel safe walking along Enon Street on Route 1A? I certainly do not, and that is what Brimbal Avenue will become. Turning Brimbal Avenue into a busier road with more cars, four lanes in areas, roundabouts that pedestrians are supposed to cross, and so many signals that impatient drivers will zip past crosswalks will make the road significantly LESS safe for residents and pedestrians.
Argument 5: There is no way to do Phase Two without Phase One.
Counter 5: This cannot be true. Let’s brainstorm, use collective and collaborative thinking and come up with ways that Phase Two can proceed without the need for Phase One. For example, Phase Two could be only accessible from the highway and simply not connect to Brimbal Avenue.
Argument 6: If we do not do the rezoning and land swap, we lose $5 million from the state.
Counter 6: Just because we can get state money, doesn’t mean we should use it do a bad project. This project is obviously bad for residents of the area. However, it will also negatively affect anyone in Beverly who uses Brimbal Avenue to connect between North Beverly (or our northern neighbors) and downtown, Cove or Centerville. It will also cause spillover traffic in other parts of the city as people adjust their daily driving routes to avoid the new nightmare that Brimbal Avenue will become. Having state money available is not a sufficient reason to pursue a project.
For these reasons, and many more, I encourage city leaders to put this on pause. We need to step back and think more critically about the project and its implications. I truly believe that if we take the time to think carefully, collectively and creatively, we can come up with better solutions for everyone.
Jennifer Morris, a research scientist for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a Beverly resident.