Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mayor Cahill’s Statement on the Brimbal Avenue Interchange

We want to share two documents from the Mayor’s office on the Brimbal Avenue interchange. The first document is Mayor Cahill’s statement endorsing a YES vote and explaining how the original and only plan for the interchange has had to adapt to the reality of the condition of the “soil” at the dump. In other words, we now have a Plan B, which would leave the connector road where it is.

The second document is a description of Plan B by Jacobs Engineering to MassDOT, complete with traffic study results and a budget. Hopefully the traffic study took into account a major regional grocery store at the shopping center that will be built after phase 1 roadway construction.

Some have claimed that Plan A, the original plan to move the connector road, is “superior” to plan B. Not true. Plan B requires less change but still accommodates long-term development as pointed out on the first page of the memo from Jacobs Engineering to MassDOT. Plan B handles traffic just as well as Plan A. Plan B is less risky because it uses the existing connector road, which we know for a fact is not sinking. Plan B keeps those highway-like traffic features (roundabouts) closer to the highway where they belong.

“Neither the rezoning nor the special election would be necessary if the connector road cannot be built on the landfill.” Salem News, January 29, 2014, page 3

It is becoming increasingly clear, almost crystal clear now, that the only reason to go with Plan A is so the developer can build the shopping plaza that they want to build. MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering have soured on plan A and are supporting plan B. The Mayor’s statement shows all this is literally just for the developer. If the developer were not involved there would be no question that there would be no land swap, and we would make road improvements on the existing footprint, following plan B. If MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering think plan B is the better plan, that is what we should do. MassDOT, Jacobs Engineering, and City Hall seem to be distancing themselves from Plan A and stating, in effect, “Look, developer, if you will take full financial responsibility for the success of Plan A, then we might go ahead. But otherwise…” We shouldn’t let the developer determine what plan we pursue.

Before voting on February 8, ask yourself, “What does plan A accomplish? Who benefits from plan A?” Does this look like “smart” development to you?

Remember to Vote NO on February 8!

Plan B

The “Plan B” drawing from Jacobs Engineering. Click to view the full-size image.

The Fly on the Wall in City Hall…

NBNA hired an attorney to acquire some files and documents from City Hall through the Freedom of Information Act. We were particularly interested in correspondence among City Hall, CEA Group, and Jacobs Engineering. Here are some highlights from one document, which we have made public. Note this correspondence is recent, it’s not even one year old.

“We have essentially been promised Phase One financing if we can effect the land swap… The community and neighbors are all supportive.” Mayor Scanlon to Jeffrey Simon, Assistant Secretary for Real Estate and Asset Development, March 11, 2013, page 12

“MAPC has focused on redevelopment on Beverly’s downtown and has sought to identify improvements other than the interchange.” Eric Bourassa, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, at a meeting with Jacobs Engineering, April 12, 2013, page 24

“Just checking in with regards to Cohen meeting yesterday… Did Cohen back off their proposed configuration of the rotary?” Denise Deschamps, Beverly’s Economic Development Planner, to Rod Emery, April 25, 2013, page 34. Followed by “He wants me to adapt our roundabout scheme to match his site design.” Emery to Deschamps, April 25, 2013, page 34.

“The Cohen Project. We are spending a fair amount of time solving their access and traffic issues. I just received their site layout this morning and will attempt to adjust once again. I realize they are an important element of Phase 1 design, but would only point at this time that we I [sic] am spending some resources that I feel should be on their dime.” Rod Emery of Jacobs Engineering to Mayor Scanlon, April 29, 2013, page 36

To read more about the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and their views on smart development in Beverly, see this post.

Of course, now we know that Phase 1 funding is not tied to the land swap. As reported in a Salem News article yesterday, Mayor Cahill has confirmed that funding is in place as long as the City can propose a buildable road to MassDOT. For a long time we had only a Plan A. Now suddenly we have a Plan B, leaving the connector road where it is and adding traffic improvements to each of its ends. Either plan could go forward under the same funding. Like the MAPC official, we are concerned about diminishing the focus on developing downtown Beverly. We have always been concerned about how phase 1 and especially the phase 2 development will affect our iconic, one-of-a-kind businesses that make Beverly what it is. Those revenue projections, how much of that is simple redistribution of spending from our landmark shops to big-box stores? Will these iconic Beverly businesses survive? Hope so. And as you can see, City Hall has been mighty accommodating to the developer. Are we being asked to approve a zoning change so the developer can build a $20M shopping plaza that he couldn’t build on the land he bought?

Are you sure this project is for you, Beverly?

Breaking News: New Connector Road on Shaky Ground

We did mention a couple days ago that we learned a lot about the Brimbal Avenue interchange plans last week. Rod Emery, the consultant from Jacobs Engineering hired by the city to design the interchange, met with members of the Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee. Our notes from that meeting are here.

We learned that the land currently owned by CEA Group, which CEA Group wants to swap for state-owned land, is so crumbly that MassDOT doubts they can design a stable road over that land. We also learned the traffic study numbers are bogus, since they did not take into account that proposed shopping center would have a regional grocery store as a tenant. Funny thing is we pointed this out during the public hearings in September: that you don’t seem to understand the nature of that old dump, that a major grocery chain will attract much more traffic and that must be included in the modeling, that there must be a Plan B. Note you can use old-fashioned common sense to arrive at the conclusion that something is wrong with these ideas. Would you build your home on a decades-old, unregulated landfill without a thorough environmental study giving the site a pristine clean bill of health? Do you really believe a large shopping center will bring only 30 cars per hour at peak traffic times to Brimbal Avenue? Is there only one way to bring smart development and traffic improvements to the Brimbal Avenue interchange? Of course not!

Moving along, Mayor Cahill has now issued a statement making clear that MassDOT is having trouble with the concept of moving the connector road. The terrain is too spongy. MassDOT won’t spend taxpayer funds to build a road that sinks. A Plan B would be to leave the connector road where it is now and add traffic improvements to each end of it. Mayor Cahill makes clear that everyone will go along with moving the connector road only if CEA Group takes full responsibility for all costs associated with making the land CEA Group now owns suitable for a roadway—less spongy.

The irony of all this is that it really isn’t news. The condition of the land currently owned by CEA Group was thoroughly discussed at a joint City Council-Planning Board meeting on December 15, 2008. The minutes of the meeting are here. We highlighted the parts we feel are most interesting. But note this passage:

Bob Griffin with Griffin Engineering says this site has gentle topography but the difficult part about developing this site is the fact that this was a waste dump with a stream running though the middle of it and at some points the waste is about 25 feet deep and it is different at other points. He states that the waste material is very heterogeneous but it varies in thickness density and will not settle consistently throughout the site. He states that there are regulatory bodies in place to enforce the standards for the development of this site. He cites the Jordan’s Furniture and Home Depot in Reading as examples which were built on a landfill with the buildings on piles with gas monitoring and gas venting facilities in some of the buildings.

To put that “25 feet deep” number is perspective, that’s a two-story building.

So again people, why are we moving the connector road? Increasingly this looks like the only reason is so CEA Group can build a larger shopping center, because their land after the swap will be larger than their currently owned land. It’s not the best site for the connector road, according to MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering. Phase 1 roadways will not connect to phase 2 roadways, with the land swap or without it. More and more this looks like a development project disguised as a traffic improvement project. If the connector road cannot be built on the site of the dump and needs to stay where it is, why do we need the swap? Let’s Vote NO! Let CEA Group keep the dump site they bought in 2005 and build the original project made up of office space and a little retail. Ask yourself before you decide how to vote, “Why is Phase 1 necessary? Does it create more problems than it solves?”

Remember to Vote NO on February 8!

Support for the NO Vote

Three City Councilors agree with us. The measure adopted by the City Council to rezone land at the Brimbal Avenue interchange should be defeated by voting NO on February 8.

Here is what Don Martin, the ward 5 councilor, had to say about the project in a Boston Globe article published on January 5.

“It’s too ambitious,” said City Councilor Don Martin, whose Ward 5 includes both the commercial-industrial property in the project’s second phase and the North Beverly neighborhoods he feels would be affected by the first phase. “It’s inviting too much traffic into an already congested area.”

He said that North Beverly already deals with heavy traffic on Route 1A from the fire station almost all the way into Wenham, and near the Laurel-Dodge’s Row intersection close to the train station. Both are near the Brimbal Avenue neighborhood.

While the plan might bring financial benefits to the city, the negative impact on neighbors might lead to a decline in property values, he said.

“There are other ways to generate revenue, other than destroying neighborhoods,” Martin said. “The neighborhoods have to come first.”

Paul Guanci, the at-large councilor and City Council President, posted this comment on Facebook/Montserrat Neighborhood Group on January 22.

I stated my position in the fall when Councilor Martin and I voted against the zoning change. Traffic created and not being comfortable with the design were my constituent reasons for opposition. My personal/professional reasons for opposing is in my opinion it makes getting to and from North Beverly that much more difficult if not impossible. While I do not post on the page often I share all of your concerns.

Matt St. Hilaire, the newly elected at-large councilor, also posted a statement on January 21.

I’m voting “No” in the upcoming Special Election on February 8th.

I’ve been very disappointed in the process that has led to this vote, including the unprecedented decision to hold the Special Election on a Saturday in February at a single polling location.

The Brimbal Avenue project is complicated and Beverly’s citizens were not informed of the details and have not had an opportunity to be included in the discussion. The fact that there is still no official website or Facebook Page where a resident of Beverly can go to get all the relevant accurate information related to this project is unfathomable. The people of Beverly deserve better.

Development will happen along Brimbal Ave. regardless of the outcome on February 8th. I’m voting “No” to send a message that the people of Beverly demand transparency in their local government and to ensure that residents have a seat at the table in future decisions.

These city councilors see the same issues we see: a traffic plan that creates more problems than it solves, a negative impact on quality of life, a project that is out of scale for the area, separation of North Beverly from the city by traffic congestion on both Enon Street and Brimbal Avenue, and the lack of public process. There are at least 8 Reasons to Vote NO on February 8. All you need is one!

News from the Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee

The Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee was established by the City Council in November 2013. Its goal is “…to meet monthly during the reconstruction of Brimbal Avenue, both Phase 1 and Phase 2, to receive updates on the project and to keep the residents of this area updated and informed.” The committee met last Thursday with Rod Emery of Jacobs Engineering, the consultant hired by the city to design the Brimbal Avenue interchange. The notes from that meeting are shown below, prepared by committee member Jen Morris.

The gist of this is: (1) We have phase 1 because phase 2 is too large and expensive, so better some development than none. NBNA questions, “Is this smart?” (2) Building on a multi-decade, unregulated landfill is full of trouble, which is common sense. Said trouble just now raising its ugly head, apparently. The MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering do not agree with the developer on how to address several problems. Even Mayor Cahill is uncertain over who pays for what. Regulatory permitting is escalating. (3) Traffic signal, or no traffic signal. Who knows? It seems to depend on who you ask and when you ask. Pedestrian safety and bike lane features will probably not be what you were expecting. (4) Current traffic study numbers are underestimates. Did not take into consideration grocery store versus general retail store, which makes a big difference. Did not take into consideration messy intersections already at both ends of Brimbal Avenue. (5) And the big shocker to some: Phase 1 is not really necessary. From a traffic flow standpoint, there is little improvement to moving the connector road with roundabouts 0.1 mile to the south. Installing roundabouts on the existing connector road would provide nearly the same traffic benefits. At one point it was hoped that phase 1 roadways would directly connect to phase 2 roadways. But not now. So, again, why phase 1?

Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee Notes
From the meeting on Thursday, January 23, 2014
Jen Morris

The Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee members are: residents Dan DeAngelis, Molly Benson, Matt Kelsch, Judy Martin, Jen Morris, and Arlene Schlegel; Don Martin, the Ward 5 City Councilor; Denise Deschamps, Beverly’s Economic Development Planner; and a representative from the Beverly City Engineer’s office.

Special guest for meeting: Rod Emery of Jacobs Engineering, the City’s consultant for the roadway design.

City Officials in attendance: Mayor Mike Cahill; Paul Guanci, City Councilor At-large; David Lang, Ward 1 City Councilor; Don Martin, Ward 5 City Councilor; Matt St. Hillaire, City Councilor At-large; Jason Silva, City Councilor At-large.

History of the plan as told by Rod Emery

  1. In 2009 an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) was sent to the state for review and comments. There was no funding and the project sat for a couple years. The original plan used the existing connector road and was one project. The original project was a $20 million plan. They were not able to get the project on the TIP program.
  2. Secretary of Economic Development Bialecki said that money would be available for phased improvements. Mayor Scanlon asked what was possible to accomplish with $5 million. $5 million gave us the Phase 1 plan. The Phase 1 plan was created over one year ago. Mayor Scanlon believed that commercial businesses in the area would be willing to develop with improvements made to the interchange area.
  3. MEPA was approached for a Phase 1 waiver to help expedite the process.
  4. City knew there were plans from Cohen and began speaking with him about land swap.
  5. The original Phase 1 plan would have brought access to Route 128 by building a connector road on the Sunoco station property directly connecting to the Brimbal roundabout. It was stopped because there were wetlands in the area and a possible vernal pool and MassDOT did not want to deal with that. (Lang stated that the Conservation Commission was never approached about this idea.)
  6. Bialecki was told that there were 4 possible businesses in the area that would expand with a Phase 1 project: CPI, Cell Signaling Technology, Beverly Hospital and the new shopping plaza.
  7. In 2012 new traffic studies were conducted. They added regional growth at 0.5% a year for 7 years and new projected traffic from the 4 projects. The traffic numbers were created using general retail numbers and not a grocery store. (Grocery plans were not known at the time). The traffic numbers would increase for grocery.
  8. Trip estimates used peak evening times which do not account for North Shore Music Theatre traffic. DOT looks at NSMT as a special event so those numbers do not have to be considered.
  9. 25% plans were submitted in August 2013. They had comments and needed an approved right of way plan. There has been discussion back and forth on the design and changes and therefore a public hearing has not been scheduled yet.
  10. CEA Group already had an order from DEP on how to proceed so the city was using their information.
  11. CEA has two companies working for them: Tetratech for the site plan and Hadley and Aldrich for the landfill.
  12. The state would own the roadway at the end of the project. The city would be building the road.
  13. Emery reiterated the benefits of roundabouts over signals (less queuing with roundabouts) and emphasized that roundabouts are safe.

The landfill is problematic for building a road

  1. MassDOT does not want to deal with the landfill. Their assessment is that the land is not strong enough for the road and it would cost significantly more than the current $5 million budget to prepare the landfill for the road. Due to the landfill nature of the property, there is a settlement problem in that the land is subject to sinking as the landfill materials decompose.
  2. According to MassDOT and Jacobs Engineering soil will absolutely need to be removed from the landfill site. (Some will likely need to be handled as hazardous waste.) DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) wants 15,000 cubic yards removed to create basin for drainage system. Soil would also need to be removed to shore up land to support the road. (TBD whether it is 2 feet, 4 feet, or the whole thing that would need to be removed.) DEP also said that anything excavated will need to be taken off site. (The landfill has 4-5 feet of clean fill on the surface right now.)
  3. CEA has stated that they feel they can pound the existing soil down and place fill over it. MassDOT and Jacobs disagree.
  4. MassDOT and Jacobs say there will need to be expensive geotechnical solutions to address the settlement problem of the soil, such as geopiers.
  5. The $5 million MassWorks budget does not include the costs of removing soil or providing the extra supports necessary to prepare the land for the road.
  6. If the land swap goes through, according to Cahill it is TBD who pays for landfill costs, what counts as landfill costs (e.g. soil removal and geotech support for road), and what the legal commitment/agreement would be. The aim is for the developer to pay for these costs.
  7. The landfill land we would get from the developer would not actually be cleaned up, it would merely be prepped to be able to handle a road. While some soil will be removed for the purposes of the road, there will be no formal remediation or capping of the landfill for environmental reasons.
  8. To build the road on the landfill will require a Landfill Permit for a major modification. (CEA previously received a landfill permit for a minor modification, but that would not be applicable to the road plan.) This permitting process will take time, will require the testing of soil, and there could be additional conditions that would need to be met to move forward with the road.
  9. The Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee has still not received several environmental testing results (a 21E from 2004; Jacobs 2009 EIR; results from CEA’s quarterly testing). (Lang emphasized the need to get those reports.)

Pedestrian safety is a concern

  1. Emery confirmed that the current plan has a signal at Herrick St. but said that could be removed if funds become an issue.
  2. Emery confirmed that there will be NO signals for pedestrians to cross the street. The crosswalks are planned at the roundabouts, so pedestrians will have to cross 4 lanes of roundabout traffic without a pedestrian signal. As of now, to cross halfway and wait to cross the other half, pedestrians will only have lane stripping to protect them in the middle (that is, no raised pedestrian island in the middle).
  3. The state has no policy for multiple lane roundabouts with bike and pedestrian crossings. Still discussing whether islands should be added on pedestrians crossing so they have a place to stand in the middle of the street.
  4. Emery said the bike lanes will really be the road shoulders and it is unlikely that any bike symbols will be painted on the ground.

There are issues with the traffic study

  1. The traffic study was based on “general retail”. We now know the development would include a major grocery store, and “grocery” is a much larger trip generator than retail and commercial development. Putting that into the study would increase the number of vehicles forecasted.
  2. The traffic study did not take into consideration traffic from the North Shore Music Theater, which would combine with shopping center traffic after 6 p.m. during events.

The Phase 1 plan we have been presented is NOT the only alternative that would work for the area

  1. Emery confirmed that the connector road does not need to be moved. Traffic and safety improvements can be made in its current location, on the existing footprint.
  2. The main reasoning behind moving the connector road was an initial plan for the road between Brimbal and the Phase 2 off-ramp to directly connect to the Brimbal roundabout (where Sunoco is now—the plan was to “take” Sunoco by eminent domain), and then diagonally connect to the Phase 2 rotary at the top of Otis Road. However, MassDOT shut that plan down because it would require the road between Brimbal and Otis to go directly through wetlands. So the alternative was to have Phase 2 connect to Brimbal by using the full length of Otis Road, and having a traffic signal at the intersection of Otis and Brimbal. Since the plan no longer connects Phase 1 and Phase 2 at the Brimbal roundabout, there is no real reason to move the connector road. Emery said that MassDot likes the added queuing length, but that it is not necessary. Emery said the main reason for sticking with moving the connector road was the land swap with CEA.
  3. Emery also noted that he personally liked a signal at the Brimbal/Connector road intersection, since the rotary raises challenges for the Sunoco station and the gasoline deliveries. However, MassDOT pushed for a roundabout there.
  4. Emery did not deny that the City could have pursued Phase 2 first.

It is clear that the whole city needs to be better informed before any decision is made.