, Salem, MA

September 11, 2013

Our view: Brimbal Avenue project deserves support

The Salem News

---- — North Beverly residents say they were blindsided by new details of Mayor Bill Scanlon’s plan to dramatically reshape Brimbal Avenue in an effort to attract more development to 500 acres of land on both sides of Route 128.

Those residents have a point — Beverly officials could have done a much better job keeping people informed and up to date with a project that has been in the works for the better part of a decade. But that oversight can and should be corrected, and it shouldn’t scuttle the prospects of a development that can bring an infusion of jobs and tax revenue to the city.

It is important to separate the furor over the rollout of the plan from the project itself.

The City Council and the Planning Board met in joint session last week to consider changing the zoning of a section of the busy roadway across from the the Vittori-Rocci Post (the public hearing will continue Monday night). That would clear the way for the state to build a new connector road to ease traffic problems from Route 128 to Brimbal Avenue. The developer, CEA Group, would also build a $20 million shopping plaza on land that is currently owned, at least in part, by the state.

The move is one part of a larger plan that has been in the works for years. Many residents, however, knew little about proposed Brimbal Avenue traffic changes before reading a story about the issue in The Salem News. More than 100 people showed up at last week’s joint meeting, most to speak out against the plan, voice concerns about traffic and complain they weren’t informed of the impending changes. At one point during the meeting, Scanlon said there was “a lot of misunderstanding” about the project.

Much of the blame for that rests with Scanlon. Yes, the project has been in the works for 10 years, so its existence shouldn’t come as a surprise to a moderately informed citizen. However, updates on the plan, along with specific details like traffic projections for Brimbal Avenue, have been few and far between. There have been essentially no public meetings or forums where residents could learn about the proposal, ask questions and make the kind of suggestions that can lead to a better project.

That is a shame because this is a very strong plan that deserves public support.

The $25 million project, which would be done in two phases, would create a series of new interchanges between the highway and surrounding roads, along with a bridge over Route 128 from Brimbal Avenue to Dunham Road. The work would open access to undeveloped land around the highway, making it more enticing for landowners to develop their property or expand on site. And let’s be clear — this is land, including the site of the old city dump, that is zoned for development.

The first phase of the project calls for a Brimbal Avenue shopping plaza with a 35,000-square-foot anchor store, three restaurants, a bank and retail and medical space.

At last week’s meeting, Scanlon said the overall project could create 7,500 jobs and generate another $8 million in tax revenue for the city.

“If we get this kind of money, we could (build a new) police station, we could pave the streets,” he said. “This is a critical step.”

It is also a step the city has taken before. Those residents enjoying — justifiably — the city’s new, state-of-the-art high school know it was paid for in large part by tax revenues generated by the redeveloped Shoe, now the still-growing Cummings Center. Smart development pays off in better schools, a stronger infrastructure and a stable tax base.

The Brimbal Avenue project is smart development, and deserves the support of the City Council, the Planning Board and the city at large.