SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 29, 2014

Column: I will vote ‘yes’ on Feb. 8

Michael Cahill
The Salem News

---- — On Saturday, Feb. 8, Beverly voters will vote on whether to uphold or overturn the City Council’s 2013 decision to rezone the state owned land at Exit 19 North (between Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue).

This rezoning would make possible a land swap between the state and the adjacent landowner, the CEA Group, facilitating the construction of a new access road on the CEA Group’s land.

I greatly respect the citizens who engaged in the democratic process of organizing the petition drive that placed this question on the ballot. You have shown that you care deeply about both our neighborhoods and our city’s future decisions regarding appropriate development throughout the Brimbal Avenue/Dunham Road/Route 128 corridor. All opinions on this issue are valid, and I ask voters to be respectful of each other and of our democratic process in the coming days.

We are in the midst of a serious-minded, spirited debate. As Beverly’s mayor, I understand how increasingly confusing this issue has become, so l want to tell you what I know about this project. Based upon what I know, I believe a “Yes” vote is the right one for our city.

Whatever the outcome of this election, I look forward to working with all interested people to ensure this multi-phased project is done right — in a way that will improve traffic safety, promote appropriate and needed economic development, and ensure that our neighborhoods continue to thrive.

Since taking office on Jan. 6, I have spent more time working on this issue than any other— working with state and city officials, neighbors, and the developer. In doing so, I have identified two main issues that need clarification:

Where will the road improvements be made? The week before I took office, I was made aware that the state’s Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had expressed concern with building the new access road on the land currently owned by the CEA Group. Specifically, state officials questioned the structural integrity of building the road on the former landfill and now strongly believe that significant amounts of fill would have to be removed from the site at a high cost in order to build the road. As a result, the DOT directed the city’s engineer (Jacobs Engineering) to present an alternate design that would build the road within the footprint of the existing access road connecting Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue. Jacobs has done so. MassDOT engineers have reviewed this very preliminary design and believe it to be viable. However, this is a very early review, and we can’t yet be certain of its viability.

At the same time, the CEA Group has offered to fund the cost of ensuring the structural integrity of the new access road if a solution can be identified that the state will accept and the CEA Group will legally commit to fund. MassDOT and my administration have made clear that neither the state nor the city would bear these costs, and only if the CEA Group commits to funding would this design of the road be buildable.

In other words, there are now two possible designs for the new access road in play (build within existing road footprint or on CEA Group property), and neither one is assured yet of being buildable.

Will the city receive the $5 million state MassWorks grant to build the road? Much has been said and written about the $5 million Mass Works grant awarded to the city by the state Department of Housing and Economic Development. Please know this. The grant was awarded to the city because state officials believe this infrastructure project will facilitate and lead to significant new economic growth throughout the corridor (which includes Sohier Road, Tozer Road, Beverly Hospital, Dunham Road, Brimbal Avenue and Otis Road). This grant does not depend on any one specific parcel of land being developed a certain way — i.e., the grant award does not depend on the CEA Group developing on one parcel versus another, nor whether its development would include a Whole Foods market or not.

However, our receipt of the $5 million grant funds does depend on two things:

— We propose a buildable road to the state — if MassDOT will not approve our road design, the Department of Housing and Economic Development will not give us the money.

— The road improvements (taken together with Phase ll) will lead to significant new economic growth throughout the corridor.

Since we have two road designs and both need to be further explored to determine their viability or “buildability” — in order to keep both options alive and available to the city, I cannot agree with the assertion that a “No” vote is best for our city. Beverly needs the traffic safety improvements and economic development this project can bring, and we need to keep our options open regarding which possible road design to present to the state.

I believe that the “yes” vote is in the best interests of Beverly. I will vote “yes” on Feb. 8, and I urge the citizens of Beverly to join me.

With either road design, there will be more opportunity for public input — I encourage you to stay informed and engaged. Further, both my administration and my colleagues on the City Council are committed to transparency and to work with all interested parties to make this project work for us all.

The Brimbal Avenue project presents our city with a great opportunity, as well as real responsibility to our city’s future. We need to attract the economic growth that will bring high-quality jobs to Beverly and revenues to fund our schools, public safety, and all the services our citizens expect and need from the city. We also need to protect the character of our neighborhoods. I am determined that we will succeed on all counts, and that our city, as well as our residents, will benefit for years to come.

One note: l have not authorized any group to list my name or to publish statements attributed to me on their website. However, since I am a public figure and since no one has misrepresented my statements, it is within their rights to do so.

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Michael P. Cahill is mayor of the city of Beverly.