Still time to be heard on Brimbal Avenue proposal

North Beverly Neighborhood Association member Jennifer Morris Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 11:55 pm Salem Evening News To the editor: Regarding the Brimbal Avenue project, residents throughout the city seem to think the North Beverly Neighborhood Association and the “No” voters “won.” However, it is important that people understand that we are still facing largely the same development plan that so many strongly objected to last fall/winter. Yes there will be no land swap (fortunately), so the city will not acquire the former landfill and build a road on it. That in turn means CEA can only build a smaller plaza. While that is great, the premise of the project remains the same. We are still getting the same style road “improvements” — two roundabouts, a new set of lights and four lanes in areas. They will just be shifted over. They are still out of scale for the area and a severe overreaction to a bad left-hand turn. We are still getting a retail plaza — it will just be on the smaller landfill site. And importantly, despite what the developer previously stated, the plaza will still include Whole Foods, which will draw immense traffic seven days a week at all hours.

planning board hearing october21

200 residents turned out at Oct 21 Planning Board meeting. Photo: David Le, Salem News Staff

The latest traffic studies (from the developer) show that previous estimates of the impact of the plaza were severely underestimated. The plaza is projected to generate an additional 4,500 vehicle trips on weekdays and 6,400 trips on Saturdays, with 55 percent of those trips traveling local roads and Brimbal Avenue rather than the highway. That level of traffic will not only significantly deteriorate our quality of life, it also jeopardizes the operation of the road improvements that the state is spending $5 million in taxpayer money to make. Further, the road improvements do not address the problems on both ends of Brimbal, and so those current backups will grow considerably with the addition of the traffic from the proposed plaza. As traffic already backs up from Dodge Street close to Route 128 at times, with the addition of the plaza, traffic will back up into the brand new roundabouts. The result will be disastrous. Then add the Music Theatre and the new Cummings office buildings on Dunham Road… Traveling on Brimbal Avenue, an important local road that connects different sections of the city, will be unbearable. All because the developer is insistent on including a large regional grocery store, the largest traffic generator of any land use, 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 and within a half mile of Beverly Hospital and Beverly High School. Virtually anything else built on the site would have less of a negative impact. This means that we are still in the same situation as last fall: facing development projects that will drastically change the character neighborhoods and the ease of travel through the city. While the road plans are set and moving forward, there is still time to impact the plaza proposal. The plaza requires a special permit. Special permits must meet six criteria, including not adversely affecting the character of adjoining uses, and not having an undue impact on traffic or property values. We hope the Planning Board makes the correct assessment that this proposal does not meet the criteria. To that end, there will be another public hearing regarding the proposed plaza on Nov. 18, 7pm (place TBD). I encourage everyone with concerns about the plaza to attend and speak. This is not a “North Beverly issue.” This project is going to have severe and widespread impacts across the city of Beverly as motorists look to avoid the newly introduced roadblock. Don’t sit idly by as it happens. Express your thoughts before all the decisions are made.

Beverly has submitted MassWorks application for Phase II

The City is currently seeking $2 million to fund the cost of surveying, design/engineering and permitting for Phase II of the Exit 19/ Brimbal Avenue project. The scope of the infrastructure project will include widening and extending Otis Road and construction of an overpass over Route 128. The new overpass would lead to potential roundabout north of Route 128 in the
Dunham Rd. area.  City of Beverly-MassWorks application-Phase 2-2014

Important Planning Board Meeting October 21


The Planning Board has scheduled a Public Hearing on Tuesday, October 21st at 7:00 pm at the Senior Center,  90 Colon St. The CEA Group has asked for a special permit which would allow them to build a  shopping plaza on Brimbal Ave.  At this hearing, residents will be given an opportunity to share our concerns about the proposal and express how the project will impact our neighborhoods.

As you may have read in the Oct 9 headline of the Salem News, “New Study Doubles Traffic Impact of Brimbal Plaza”, the proposed shopping center will bring a dramatic increase in cars to the North Beverly and Montserrat neighborhoods.  According to a new traffic study, an additional 408 vehicle trips per hour  every weekday afternoon, or a total of 6,530 trips daily, are anticipated.  On weekends, the retail plaza will bring an additional 573 trips per hour for a total of 9,430 trips every Saturday. These new numbers, provided by the developer’s own traffic consultant, provide a glimpse into the impact on residential neighborhoods if the developer, CEA Group, is granted a special permit by the Planning Board, to build a destination grocery store on the former landfill on Brimbal Ave.

When the CEA Group first presented this proposal to the Planning Board last year, Mayor Scanlon insisted that only 10 % of the traffic going to this new shopping center would travel on Brimbal Ave. and that 90% of the traffic would enter and exit via the highway.  However, according to this new analysis,  55% of this traffic will travel along Brimbal Ave. and local neighborhood roads to arrive at this plaza, . This will dramatically alter the character of our neighborhood and further  diminish the quality of life for those of us who live near the proposed shopping center.

A closer look at the traffic study reveals the following:  There will be  6,400 new vehicle trips on  Brimbal Ave. every Saturday.   The majority of these vehicles will travel on Brimbal Ave, Dodge St,  Essex St,  Colon St. and Herrick St. in order to arrive at the shopping plaza.  If the Planning Board grants the developer the special permit for the shopping center,  a dramatic increase in traffic onto neighborhood streets and side streets would result as drivers look for alternate routes.

On school days, over 4,500 new vehicle trips will occur on Brimbal Ave every afternoon in order to arrive at this destination grocery store. This will be in addition to the traffic already on Brimbal Ave that  routinely stalls due to backups on Route 128 or to delays at the MBTA crossings at North Beverly and Montserrat.  When the additional traffic to be generated by the anticipated expansion of the Cummings Property on Dunham Rd is factored in, as well as the hundreds of vehicles traveling to the North Shore Music Theater,  gridlock will become a regular occurrence.

Let your voice be heard!  Please plan to attend the Public Hearing on  October 21, and encourage your neighbors to attend as well.

See the current plans here.

CEA Shares Plan for Shopping Center

In a meeting hosted by the Mayor and Ward 5 Councilor Martin, members of the Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee and interested neighbors were informed about the current plans for the development of the landfill.  The plan (see above) contains the original Whole Foods (one audience member asked why we needed to go through the election if this was always going to be built – good question), a 2-story office building and space for other tenants occupying space less than 5,000 sq feet.  Two restaurants are included – one a small sit down (4,500 sq ft) and the other  a take out with no drive through (2,800 sq ft.).

The architects for this project are the same who designed Market Street in Lynnfield.  The office building contains a one story underground parking garage for employees, and there are 395 additional parking spaces above ground.  The Whole Foods is the only building with a rear loading dock for deliveries, all others will receive goods through the front of the building.

CEA will be applying for permits in Mid-September and the first public hearing should be in October.  CEA hopes to finish the permitting process by the end of the calendar year.  Construction is anticipated to take approximately two years.

There are still a number of unanswered questions (e.g. exact plans for remediating the dump site) and steps to take (e.g., high Planning Board and DOT involvement).  We will let you know about all opportunities for public involvement as they occur.


MassDOT Rejects CEA Group’s Plan for the Brimbal Avenue Interchange Project

Mayor Cahill informed NBNA tonight, Friday, May 9 that MassDOT has rejected CEA Group’s plan to move the connector road at the Brimbal Avenue Interchange. Instead the City will pursue MassDOT’s recommendation to improve the existing connector road.

The supporting documents can be found in the Documents section: the memo from MassDOT to Mayor Cahill, Mayor Cahill’s response to MassDOT, and a press release.

Letter to MassDOT on the History of the Brimbal Avenue Interchange

On Friday, February 21, the white paper shown below was sent to several officials at MassDOT: Gautam Sen, the engineer on the project; Ulysses Jacks, the general counsel; Paul Stedman, Acting Head for Area 4; and Patricia Leavenworth, District Manager for Area. It was also sent to Mayor Cahill and his Chief of Staff, Kevin Harutunian.

Because of the special election result, the decision to move the connector road or not will be determined by negotiations between MassDOT and CEA Group, the developer promoting the land swap. A recent Boston Globe article made us concerned that the real facts about the land Beverly will receive from CEA Group, if the swap goes forward, would not be presented to MassDOT or would be misrepresented by parties that favor the swap. So the white paper below is NBNA’s attempt to make MassDOT aware of this parcel’s long and troubled history, and is part of the due diligence that should be undertaken before purchasing or swapping for the land.

You will see that, all along, since as early as 1971, there has been interest in developing this land but development has not occurred because of the poor soil conditions; and that from then until 2013, the ability to develop the land has been consistently predicated on removing the landfill and replacing it with granular soil, or keeping buildings at the roadway edge of the land where the landfill is most shallow. Furthermore, environmental concerns about the site are justified by studies conducted in 2013, despite the waiver provided by MEPA, which was granted under the assumption that the landfill would be removed. Finally, we are concerned about how the developer presents information, in a manner that creates confusion, and that this strategy will be used with MassDOT.


A NBNA White Paper: History of Settlement Issues and Engineering Responses, 140 Brimbal Ave., No. 1, February 2014
By Amy Martyn on behalf of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association

This White Paper has been prepared to inform our recommendation that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) stop the landswap between the Commonwealth and CEA Group. We have information about the environmental and settlement issues relating to the land in question, as well as deep concern about the developer’s opposition to the findings of the city’s engineers.

It has come to our recent attention that Mr. Cohen, of CEA Group, has retained no fewer than five independent engineering and architectural firms to refute the findings of Jacobs Engineering (employed by the City of Beverly) and MassDOT with regards to the compressibility of the landfill material at 140 Brimbal Avenue, which is the primary determinant of the feasibility of locating a connector road on that property. In a February 16, 2014 Boston Globe article “New Team Hired to Redesign Road,” in response to DOT’s Acting District Highway Director Paul Stedman’s assertion that the only viable option is the complete excavation and removal of all the landfill material, Mr. Cohen states that “excavating all of the landfill is not one of those options [that he is exploring].” Furthermore, Mr. Cohen is clear in his stance that it is his cost alone that drives his position, since excavation is projected to cost up to $5 million and he is willing to offer only $700K towards readying the land he owns for the new connector road. Cohen seems convinced that of the team of engineers he has assembled, one of them will find an engineering solution that will minimize his own financial responsibility for remediating land he has owned for ten years, and on which he has never built anything. We are concerned that in an effort to make a timely decision about the location of the connector road, valuable historical information about the landfill may be overlooked. This letter is a history of the documented [i] issues with the site and its capacity to support a connector road.

Land Settlement Issues

In 2004, the Archdiocese of Boston conducted a 21E on the property prior to its sale to Cohen/CEA Group. The 21E indicated that there was significant concern over the compressibility of the landfill in three different feasibility studies: a proposed Stop & Shop (1971), a Registry of Motor Vehicles building (1976), and a medical/office facility (1980). Each study cites issues with building foundations and paved areas (parking lots and access roads). In the 1971 Stop & Shop study, the land was “considered unsuitable for supporting foundations or floor slabs” and recommended the use of deep footing with piers or total excavation and replacement with fill material. The 1976 Motor Vehicles building study was conducted by Haley & Aldrich (who were, coincidentally, also Mr. Cohen’s engineers prior to his retention of several other firms). At that time, Haley & Aldrich believed that construction of the building was “technically feasible” as long as it was constructed within one hundred feet of Brimbal Avenue (emphasis added), and that building could be accomplished without premium foundation costs because in that area of the parcel the rubbish fill is only between two to six feet deep, whereas the fill increases to greater than twenty feet in the southwest portion. This study concurs with the earlier Stop & Shop study, that the land is “not suitable for support of the proposed building superstructure or floor slab” and that because the thickness of the fill varies across the parcel, it would be best to locate the building as close as possible to Brimbal Ave, and that even if this location was chosen for the building, settlement would remain an issue for the parking lot. In fact, Haley & Aldrich’s recommendation was to provide a gravel lot, because a paved parking lot would require “a continual maintenance program” and frequent repair due to the cracking from settlement. Again, this study suggests excavating the fill, replacing it with granular fill, and constructing individual slab footings. Haley & Aldrich went on to conduct yet another study in 1980, this time for a medical/office building, whose primary problem was the parking lot that was designed above the deepest part of the landfill and settlement of up to a foot was anticipated. Based on these studies, it is clear that any commercial endeavor at 140 Brimbal Avenue will require extensive and expensive geotechnical work, which Mr. Cohen surely knows, as the Mayor’s office obtained the 21E from him directly when it was requested by the Brimbal Avenue Advisory Committee in January of 2014.

Environmental Issues

Though the 21E does not report significant contamination or environmental concerns, the 2007 Environmental Assessment Services report reads more skeptically regarding these issues. Shortly after CEA Group acquired the landfill from the Archdiocese, the City of Beverly contracted with LFR Environmental Consulting to provide an Environmental Assessment Services report in preparation for the reconstruction of the 128 interchange at Exit 19, at that time one large project that has since become Phase 1 (the new connector road) and Phase 2 (the overpass) due to lack of funding for one large standalone project. LFR conducted preliminary assessments on all the properties over 193 acres impacted by the project, including the property at 140 Brimbal Avenue . Because of its past use as a municipal landfill, LFR identified the property as a “site of concern” and went on to perform a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment (ESA). The purpose of the ESA was to identify recognized environmental conditions (RECs) which are defined as “the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on a property under conditions that indicate an existing release, a past release, or the material threat of a release of any hazardous substances or petroleum products into structures on the property or into the ground, groundwater, or surface water of the property.” LFR found that the presence of contaminants at low levels and historic reports of drums on the property (an aerial photograph from 1955 shows drums stockpiled within the area of the former landfill, which a 1989 letter from DEQE confirms) constituted a threat to groundwater and soil quality on the 140 Brimbal Ave property owned by CEA Group. Most concerning was the lack of information available about the property, and this absence of hard data alongside the history of the property, was noted by the report as a cause for serious concern. Though it was not noted in this report, it is important to acknowledge that the landfill, prior to its purchase by the Archdiocese in 1967, was owned by Varian, whose disposal practices from 1950‐1995, including industrial solvents and degreasers contaminated soil, groundwater, and surface water at 150 Sohier Road is within 1⁄2 mile from this property. Clean‐up at that site is ongoing.

The EAS report also notes that Mr. Cohen was planning development on the landfill as early as 2008, and by his own admission was ready to do so when then Mayor Scanlon approached him about the land‐swap in early 2013. In July 2013, anticipating relocating the connector road from its current location, the city’s engineers (Jacobs) took borings samples of the soil at the proposed new location on Cohen’s property and analyzed them. Several of the soil samples indicated the presence of contaminants that would likely require disposal as hazardous waste. The lead levels at boring site HB‐5, PCBs and VOCs at boring site HB‐6, and VOCs, lead and benzene at boring site HB‐7, and lead at SSB‐4B would all trigger a Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) analysis to determine disposal of the soil as hazardous waste. Subsequently when Jacobs submitted its storm water drainage plan to the Beverly Conservation Commission in November 2013, the engineers acknowledged that 15,000 cubic yards of soil would have to be removed from the landfill just to install the new drainage system. Furthermore, in the MEPA waiver request that the city completed in order to avoid conducting a costly and time‐consuming Environmental Impact Report, in response to concerns about settlement, the city’s engineers assured MEPA that the landfill would be excavated to the bedrock level, and the waiver was granted in late August 2013.

CEA’s Misleading Communications

Clearly, relocating the connector road is a massive and costly undertaking, with no apparent limit to time and expense. As Beverly residents and taxpayers, we do not want to be on the hook for that kind of uncertainty. Tax revenue and economic development will happen without the landswap. Beverly gets state funded road improvements without exceeding the $5 million MassWorks grant and Mr. Cohen is free to develop his current parcel. Everybody could win, though CEA’s public communication has been misleading with regard to this shared outcome.

As questions and documents like the ones referenced above surfaced about the contamination of the landfill and its structural integrity, and as the rezoning of the access road made its way toward a contentious special election, Mr. Cohen rebutted every statement from City Hall with misinformation and confabulation, which served to confuse and mislead the public. For example, in September 2013, at one of the City Council and Planning Board’s public hearings about the rezoning that would trigger the landswap, residents arrived to find anonymous flyers that the then Beverly City Planner acknowledged as coming from CEA Group. The flyer argued in favor of rezoning, stating that Whole Foods and its attendant traffic would occur regardless of the zoning decision and that the rezoning was only necessary to secure the funding for the road improvements. Further, the flyer stated outright that without the rezoning the city would lose state money for the improvement of the interchange at Exit 19, though at that time the city had not even submitted its application to MassWorks. This misinformation was compelling enough at the time that then members of the City Council cited those reasons when voting in favor of rezoning. Those “real facts” cited by the flyer turned out to be false.

To further confuse the issue, in January 2014 as the movement against the City Council’s vote to rezone gained traction , Mr. Cohen wrote a letter to the editor of the Salem News (“Brimbal Avenue project is better for Beverly”, January 17, 2014) reversing his earlier statement and said that if the rezoning didn’t pass, “Whole Foods will no longer be part of the CEA development” in spite of having already signed a lease with Whole Foods months before, and in the same week a citizen petition challenging the City Council vote to rezone the state property was submitted to the Beverly City Clerk. If Mr. Cohen was truthful in his most recent statement that Whole Foods would not be built without the swap, then he stands more to lose than the city does should the land swap not occur.

In the same January Salem News letter Cohen argues that his motives are environmental and that it was this “‘green’ agenda that motivated CEA to purchase and develop this site in the first place” despite the fact that he received permission from DEP to close the landfill in 2009 and never acted on it. And in direct contradiction of Beverly’s engineers, Cohen states “under no circumstances will any landfill material be removed from this site.” Around the time Cohen wrote that letter, an organization called Better For Beverly formed, to promote the “yes” vote in the special election that challenged the City Council’s vote to rezone. Cohen placed two large orange signs on either side of his landfill urging voters to “Let the STATE FIX THIS ROAD” and to “Vote Yes” on February 8, the date of the special election, again suggesting that voting against the swap would disallow the use of MassWorks money for necessary road improvements. The Steering Committee for Better For Beverly is comprised of city councilors, former city officials, residents, and most notably, Tom Alexander, the attorney for CEA Group. A week after Mayor Cahill announced publicly that the MassWorks money could still be used to build a new connector road without the landswap, the Better For Beverly group continued to send out mailings and take out advertisements “informing” voters that the city would lose the MassWorks money if they voted against the rezoning/landswap. They did not take down the misleading “Let the STATE FIX THIS ROAD” signs; in fact, one of them is still there today. A week before the special election, as MassDOT’s concerns about the landfill became public, Mr. Cohen wrote another letter to the editor of the Salem News (“Answering environmental information”, February 1, 2014) explaining that CEA is bringing in their own experts because “the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) does not have great experience with these specialized issues” and says that even though MassDOT requested an alternative design using the existing footprint, “there is no question among the project engineers that this would be an inferior design.” For some years now, we have viewed CEA as a potential neighbor with whom we would collaborate to ensure both the economic success of his development and the thriving of our close‐knit neighborhoods. However, it begins to look as if Cohen’s approach, rather than to collaborate, is to use threats and innuendo to steamroll the residents and city government that have worked so hard to accommodate his interests. After doing research, we find we have reason to feel unsettled [ii]. Cohen is using a repertoire of messaging and funding strategies that he used to block a Roxbury neighborhood project in pursuing this one.

The city and taxpayers of Beverly have little to gain by granting Mr. Cohen the latitude he asks for in relocating the access road to his polluted land. Over and over again he has stated that he can cut corners, spend a minimal amount of money, and that MassDOT will approve his plan, leaving him with clean land to develop and the city with a sinking road. Let us build our new road in its current location, stay under budget, and enjoy the economic growth allowed by Mr. Cohen’s development on his current parcel with a newer, safer road.

i Data and findings referenced here are from the 2004 21E, a 2007 EAS, and the borings sample analysis from 2013.

ii “David Project opposition emails released”, Karin Friedemann, World View News Service, see also this related document and this one; Massachusetts Superior Court Civil Action No 05‐4637‐F.