, Salem, MA


January 23, 2014

Our view: 20 percent rule a fair standard for Beverly

Beverly voters got it right in 1995 when they approved a new charter that contained a provision making it more difficult for small groups of citizens to dominate city policy through referendum.

That rule, which requires 20 percent of the city’s registered voters to overturn a measure through a ballot question, will come into play Feb. 8, when citizens will be asked to weigh in on the future of Brimbal Avenue.

On that day, voters will be asked if they agree with the City Council’s decision to rezone a 3.6-acre piece of land on Brimbal. The change would allow a land swap between the state and a developer, paving the way for the developer to apply for a special permit from the Planning Board to build a $20 million shopping plaza. The development, which would be home to a Whole Foods Market, would trigger $5.2 million in traffic changes that include moving the Sohier Road/Brimbal Avenue connector road and building roundabouts at both ends of the road.

The plan, which has been in the works for the better part of a decade, has drawn recent opposition from neighborhood residents, who say the project is too large for the area and would cause a traffic nightmare.

While those opponents were able to gather enough signatures to bring the measure before voters next month, the next step in the process is more daunting: More than 5,000 people will have to vote “no” on Feb. 8 to overturn the City Council’s decision.

While that is a very high bar, it is that way for a reason, said Charles Grimes, who served as chairman of the Charter Commission in 1995.

Commission members, he said, wanted to make sure that decisions by an elected council couldn’t be overturned by a small group of opponents.

“You could have 500 people go to the polls out of an electorate of 25,000,” Grimes told reporter Paul Leighton. “We need to have a clear statement by enough of the population to know this is not some fluke.”

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