, Newburyport, MA

November 5, 2010

Shopping center deal reached; abutters decry secrecy

Angeljean Chiaramida
Staff writer

— SEABROOK — The Seabrook Planning Board last night unanimously approved a half-million square-foot shopping center on Route 1 hammered out in a back-room deal that would end the Supreme Court challenge the board launched against the mall’s Ohio developer to keep the project out of town.

Telling abutters and Route 1 businessmen Arleigh Green, of Seabrook Truck Center, and Michael L. Kettenbach, of the Demoulas Supermarkets, Inc., they could offer no comments, Planning Board Chairman Don Hawkins suspended the public portion on the meeting and retired into a non-public, executive session with Planning Board attorney Walter Mitchell, who briefed those present on the deal struck over months of non-public negotiations. Included in the meeting were Town Manager Barry Brenner and Selectman Aboul Khan.

However, Green and Kettenbach left the meeting condemning its secrecy, insisting such a memo should have been released to abutters and the public through a public hearing process, which allowed a “full vetting” of the new agreement.

After about a hour, Hawkins reconvened the public portion of the meeting, but again allowed no opportunity for public comment. He briefly explained the Route 107 and Route 1 road improvements and funding mechanisms the deal brings. He then took a pre-written motion to approve the memorandum of understanding offered by Planning Board member John Kelley. Seconded by member Bette Thibodeau, the motion drew ‘yes’ votes from the remaining members at the meeting, Bob Fowler and Selectman Bob Moore.

According to Hawkins’ brief discussion of  what the memo holds, the deal struck last night with shopping center mogul Developers Diversified Realty of Ohio, the town and the state Department of Transportation commits millions of dollars in road improvements divided between the three entitities. The money will be used to add two lanes to the Route 107 bridge over Interstate 95 and add a lane to Route 1, running south from the Route 1/107 intersection to Lowe’s.

However, Hawkins refused to answer a question about the timetable for DOT’s road improvements. Instead he said the deal as written solves traffic congestions concerns on the bridge over 95 and on Route 1.

For further details, see tomorrow’s Daily News of Newburyport.