We have certainly heard a lot of interesting, and conflicting, information and views on the proposed Brimbal Avenue rezoning. At the risk of adding to the confusion, I thought I would add the perspective of a former elected official who had to deal with a similar issue 19 years ago.
I was the president of the City Council when the site of the old USM foundry on Elliott Street was proposed to be rezoned to allow for a sale and eventual commercial reuse. A loud, vocal group of Ryal Side and other residents, along with some downtown merchants, decried the plan as the death knell of Ryal Side as a neighborhood that would also eventually kill downtown businesses. The site was known to be contaminated with industrial waste. After multiple public hearings and more than 20 hours of public testimony, which was overwhelmingly against the rezoning, the required amount of signatures was collected, and the rezoning, which the City Council had approved twice, went before the voters of Beverly. The results were a surprise only to the vocal minority who, I believe, had their self-interests in mind over the greater good of our city. Nearly 65 percent of the voters were in favor of the rezoning; even a majority of voters from Ryal Side voted affirmatively. It quite simply made sense for the city, and an overwhelming majority of the voters got it.
Nineteen years later, let’s look at what that rezoning has brought to the city and see if there are comparisons to Brimbal Avenue. The rezoning on Elliott Street unlocked the development potential of the parcel across the street, which propelled Beverly to unprecedented economic prosperity for the next 20 years. The Ryal Side neighborhood today is as vibrant a neighborhood as it was 20 years ago, with home values helped by having a new elementary school that was made possible, in part, by the rezoning of Elliott Street. The site, on both sides of Elliott Street, was environmentally cleaned using private funds. And our downtown is home to more first-rate eating, entertainment, small business and cultural enterprises than at any other time in the city’s long history. There certainly is more traffic, but it is appropriately and, most importantly, safely managed through the roadway and traffic improvements that all began with the rezoning. The traffic today is no worse than it was 50 years ago, when nearly 5,000 workers descended on “The Shoe” every day to earn a living.
Now, on to Brimbal Avenue. The city has voted, twice, in favor of the rezoning. Most of the property in question is already zoned to allow for commercial development. Development will occur on this site regardless of the rezoning vote of Feb. 8. If the rezoning passes, the infrastructure improvements will eventually allow for the appropriate development of additional commercial property that will bring more tax revenues into the city than even the Cummings Center does today. If it is not approved, that development is not likely to occur, and the city will miss out on millions of dollars of new, badly needed revenue growth. If the rezoning is approved, the state will contribute $5.2 million in road and traffic improvements to deal with an already problematic area. If the rezoning does not pass, the state contributes nothing for improvements, commercial development proceeds, and the city will have to figure out how to pay for improvements on its own. Either way, there will be more traffic. I have lived about 1 mile from the proposed rezoning site for almost 30 years and experience firsthand the increased traffic with my daily use of Brimbal Avenue. I would rather have the state involved, and paying for a more substantial, proactive traffic mitigation plan, than let the inevitable commercial development to advance relying solely on the city’s resources to solve the traffic problems.
So, there are a lot of similarities between the Elliot Street rezoning of 19 years ago and the rezoning of Brimbal Avenue. Actually, one more thing has not changed. The citizens’ constant yearning for better schools, their demand for excellent city services and first-rate facilities, and a desire to live in a city that appropriately balances quality of life of its citizens with the need to pay for that quality. This is why I think the Brimbal Avenue rezoning makes sense for the citizens, all the citizens, of Beverly, and I strongly urge them to vote “yes” on Feb. 8.
Bruce F. Nardella is the former president of the Beverly City Council.