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.