In a 6 to 3 vote the Planning Board granted CEA a special permit that would allow for a Whole Foods and other retail establishments to be built on the landfill. More details to follow on the specifics of the decision. In the meantime choice comments from some of the six included “common sense is not legitimate”, “increased traffic is a good thing” and “people in Northridge should just close their windows” (in response to the impact this will have on them. More details to follow. In the meantime, this is what the 6 chose to ignore (published on Sat, 3/14):
To the editor of the Salem News:
On March 17 the Beverly Planning Board will vote on whether or not to grant a special permit that would allow the construction of the proposed North Shore Crossing retail plaza on Brimbal Avenue. In 2005 the Planning Board looked at the same question of whether this parcel of land should be rezoned from “IR” to “CG” to allow for retail development, and unanimously voted “no,” saying:
— “the rezoning would not provide a use that is necessary or desirable in the community;”
— “By allowing retail uses along Brimbal Avenue, the additional stores would draw investment from other retail areas in the city;”
— “it is not consistent with the Master Plan because the City wants to maintain the integrity of its IR Districts”
— “Traffic is so problematic with the Norwood Pond Industrial area. It is not a peak traffic issue, but an issue caused by an overall far more intensive use”
— “The decision should not be influenced by who the owner is or by the anticipated tax revenue.”
— “This use would have an extremely adverse impact on traffic and safety.”
Since 2005, traffic in the area has worsened, making a retail plaza in that location even more problematic than in the past. The current proposal is far more retail- and traffic-intensive than anything that was on the table in the past, also making it more problematic. Also, in recent years the city has renewed its commitment to revive downtown Beverly as the commercial center of the city, making a sprawl development that draws away from downtown more problematic. All these things suggest that it should be even more likely for the Planning Board to vote no now than it was in 2005. The new connector road project is simply not sufficient to justify a yes vote. The roadway project only addresses the level of service at the intersections directly adjacent to the plaza. Every other intersection within about a mile radius will be made worse, especially in the areas that have the largest effect on neighbors. The Planning Board needs to stick with the planning principles that drove the 2005 decision, and vote no on March 17.A project must meet ALL six of the special permit criteria in order for the Planning Board to approve a special permit request. The six special permit criteria are purposely designed to set high standards for non-by-right projects and to protect the local area surrounding the project. Tax revenue, jobs and alleged city-wide benefits are not appropriate considerations for a special permit. The North Shore Crossing proposal clearly fails to meet several of the criteria.
First, the specific site is not an appropriate location for the proposed use, and the character of adjoining uses will be adversely affected. The proposal is for a large regional grocery store, one of the largest traffic generators of any land use, and other retail, in an inappropriate location — between two vibrant neighborhoods, on a street that is home to two elementary schools, a day care facility, a nursing home, an ambulance service, within a half mile of Beverly Hospital and Beverly High School, and bookended by two train stations. This is NOT about Whole Foods. It doesn’t matter if it is Whole Foods or Market Basket or Target or Walmart. What matters is that a high-traffic generating project being squeezed into this inappropriate location would adversely affect surrounding residential neighborhoods.
As neighbors, we do not expect that nothing will ever be built on the site. However, we do expect our city and Planning Board to ensure that impacts are minimized and that whatever is built will maintain the integrity of our neighborhoods. The Planning Board can do that by denying the special permit and promoting a by-right development that would have a substantially lower impact. A by-right plan would fit better with the site, would still bring in tax revenue, would not negate the road improvements, and would have less of an impact on the neighborhood (perhaps similar traffic at weekday peaks, but virtually NO traffic on weekends, and the absence of retail traffic on weekends would be significantly better for our quality of life).
Second, property values in the district will be adversely affected by such a use. There are a number of published scientific studies proving that both traffic volumes and traffic noise have an undeniable negative impact on residential property values. As a result of the increased traffic, this project would decrease property values of all of the homes along Brimbal and Budleigh Avenues. The alleged “Whole Foods Effect” (the claim that Whole Foods increases property values) simply does not apply to this context. This is not an up-and-coming dense urban area that would benefit from the addition of a neighborhood grocery store that most customers would walk to. This is a suburban area where virtually every customer would drive and the surrounding neighborhoods would be negatively impacted by the increased traffic. Further, North Beverly already houses three of the city’s four grocery stores.
Third, undue traffic, nuisance, and unreasonable hazard will result from this project. The expected traffic generation is inconsistent with the residential nature of the immediate area, and vastly disproportionate to the plaza’s size of about 66,000 square feet. The area simply cannot handle the additional trips. The increased traffic this proposal will create will result in traffic backups, increased difficulty for emergency vehicles, increased emissions of local air pollutants and greenhouse gases, increased noise pollution, decreased safety on side streets due to more cut through traffic, and decreased ease of travel to other parts of the city. In addition, the curb cut onto the connector road required for the project would clearly jeopardize the operation and safety of the adjacent $5 million roadway project.
Also, why should we expect a different result here than what we have seen at Route 62 in Danvers and Route 1A and Ellliot Street in Beverly, where traffic studies and peer reviews did not predict the traffic nightmares that resulted? When the reality differs so greatly from the model outcomes, we must question and reassess the models, best practices, and assumptions and balance them with what we see in the real world. This is particularly important here, where the adjacent new road configuration of two roundabouts in a row is uncommon, and driver error is sure to play a significant role.
Even taking the traffic study numbers as correct, the Planning Board still must make a judgment as to whether it amounts to “undue” traffic or not. In making this judgment, it would be irresponsible to simply look at “level of service” at the roundabouts next to the plaza since every other intersection within about a mile radius would be made worse by this project. Also, because each end of Brimbal Avenue is already so bad, we should not be approving projects that are going to make them worse. It would be extremely myopic and irresponsible to just consider the marginal impact of this project in isolation of the context. If the city takes such a view, every project would be approved because their isolated impact is claimed to be “modest”, and the result would be traffic gridlock. We need to consider the cumulative effect of all of the traffic we are adding and acknowledge that the area is simply incapable of handling all of it.
Ultimately, whether or not the roadway configurations can “handle” the traffic from the plaza is an entirely different question than whether or not the traffic is “undue”. While the new road may be able to “handle” the traffic (at least during the 7-year time frame of the traffic study), the important point is that this one 66,000 sqft project would bring with it excessive traffic, eating up much of the capacity of the new road such that it will be unable to handle future by-right development or support further growth. It is “undue” for one small project to consume so much of the capacity of $5 million dollars in road improvements.
Finally, there are valid objections from abutters, particularly residents at Northridge.
I am disheartened that city leadership seems willing to sacrificing an entire section of Beverly for less than 0.3 percent — or 1/400th — of the city budget. I trust the Planning Board will be more deliberate and will put neighborhoods ahead of developers, as the special permit criteria require. As the current proposal fails to meet several of the special permit criteria, I trust the board to deny the special permit.