SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

January 15, 2014

Developer: No rezoning, no Whole Foods

Landowner says he would build plaza without grocery store

BEVERLY — The developer of a proposed shopping plaza on Brimbal Avenue said yesterday that the plaza will still be built if voters overturn a rezoning measure in next month’s special election, but it won’t include a Whole Foods Market.

CEA Group President Steven Cohen said defeating the rezoning would negate a land swap between him and the state and force him to build on a smaller, adjacent piece of land where having a Whole Foods Market as a tenant would be too costly for him.

“We need the plaza to be bigger to make it economically feasible,” he said.

Cohen made his comments yesterday in his first interview in advance of a Feb. 8 special election that will determine whether a $5.2 million road improvement project can proceed.

Cohen has an agreement with the state to swap adjacent parcels of land that would enable the state to move the Route 128 connector road as part of the project. Cohen would then build a $20 million shopping plaza on the land now owned by the state.

The land swap and road project will not go ahead, however, if voters overturn a decision by the City Council to rezone the state-owned parcel to allow for retail uses.

Cohen said yesterday he wants voters to understand that a ‘no’ vote means they will still get a shopping plaza and the accompanying traffic, but without the state-funded road improvements and without a Whole Foods Market.

“The development is happening anyway. The traffic is coming anyway,” he said.

Residents opposed to the rezoning gathered more than 3,500 signatures to force a special election on Feb. 8 at Beverly High School. A ‘no’ vote would overturn the rezoning.

Opponents say the road project is out of scale for the area, and the shopping plaza would create too much traffic on already busy Brimbal Avenue. The project includes moving the Route 128 connector road and installing roundabouts on both ends to eliminate the existing left-hand turns, which the state says rank “F” in terms of safety.

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