The developer of a proposed shopping plaza that would include a Whole Foods Market on Brimbal Avenue in North Beverly is planning to submit his own engineering plans to the state Department of Transportation after a private architectural firm estimated that constructing a road essential to the project might run as high as $5 million over budget.
At issue is a new road that would connect Sohier Road and Brimbal Avenue. The road, which the city of Beverly received a $5 million state MassWorks grant to build, would replace a nearby existing connector road and allow for a land swap between the state and the CEA Group, which owns about 7 acres off Brimbal Avenue.
Earlier this month, Beverly voters approved a zoning change that would allow CEA to build a $20 million, 70,000-square-foot shopping center on the site. If built, officials say, the Whole Foods grocery would employ about 150 people and the site would generate $300,000 in new taxes for Beverly annually.
But even before the vote, the state questioned the structural integrity of the proposed connector road, which would be built on a former landfill.
In a Jan. 6 letter to Mayor Mike Cahill, the Department of Transportation recommended the landfill material beneath the proposed connector road be removed.
“The complete removal and replacement of the underlying landfill materials appears to be the only option that satisfactorily addresses the service life environment and permitting concerns; however, it has the highest cost,” wrote Paul Stedman, an acting district highway director with the transportation department. “The estimated additional design and construction costs greatly exceed the MassWorks grant funding currently available to the city.”
In his letter, Stedman recommended that an alternate design be created to replace the existing connector road, which would include turnabouts on Sohier and Brimbal. On Jan. 13, Beverly’s consultant, Jacobs Engineering Group, submitted a proposal to redesign the connector road in its existing location for $4.4 million.
Cahill had said previously that Jacobs had estimated that removing all of the fill below the proposed new road could cost as much as $5 million.
Cahill, who supported the shopping plaza proposal and zoning change, said in an interview last week he is now awaiting CEA’s revamped proposal to build the new road, and the state’s decision on whether it is acceptable. “We want to build the best road for the city, both for traffic safety and capacity and efficiency of moving traffic, on the day we would open it and 20 years later,” said Cahill.
Steve Cohen, CEA’s owner, bought the property from the Archdiocese of Boston in 2005 and has been working on developing it since. Since learning of the state’s concerns about the structural integrity of the proposed new road, Cohen has hired an architect and five engineering firms to create a new design that he hopes will satisfy the state. He plans to submit the design within a month.
“We’re willing to spend a lot of money and as much money as it takes to make it happen and it’s going to happen,” said Cohen, who added that he would be willing to spend as much as $700,000 in excess of the $5 million in state funds already committed to the new road.
Cohen said he’s confident that his engineering firms would come up with a road design that will pass muster with the state. “When you have less than perfect soil, there are many, many different engineering solutions, many different approaches,” said Cohen. “The question here is what approach do you use? Excavating all of the landfill is not one of those options.”
Cohen said if the state agrees to move forward with the new road, it could be completed by late spring in 2015. He said a new plaza could be built and ready to open in 2016.
Cahill said traffic would improve in the area if either road is built and bring more development to the area. “This road will help facilitate more economic investment in the area,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation took a wait-and-see attitude about the new plan.
“If MassDOT can help facilitate a project that creates economic opportunities, we will certainly consider what is being proposed. But as discussed, there are concerns about the long-term durability of a realigned connector road that is being proposed on an old landfill,” said Michael Verseckes in an e-mail. “Those concerns include the potential settlement of the earth, which would reduce the expected service life of a new road, and any additional environmental issues resulting from construction on soil containing contaminants.”Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.
com. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.