Neighbors have said defeating the rezoning at the polls would allow time to come up with a more appropriate traffic project with more public input.
Cohen has been mostly silent about the controversy since he spoke at a public hearing at the high school in September. He said he finally agreed to an interview after listening to what he called “inaccurate and misleading” information spread by the North Beverly Neighborhood Association.
Cohen said it is not true that taxpayers will have to pay to clean up the former landfill that is part of the land swap. Cohen said he has agreed to pay for any environmental costs associated with the land.
“I still own most of the landfill (even with the land swap),” he said. “To the extent that environmental issues cause them to go over budget, I’m responsible.”
Dan DeAngelis of the North Beverly Neighborhood Association said he was under the impression that taxpayers would have to pay for any environmental cleanup. When informed of Cohen’s assertion that he would pay, DeAngelis said, “That’s news, and it’s generous, I guess. It’s not anything that I was aware of.”
Cohen said he has spent four years working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to test and clean up the land. He said he bought the land in 2005 in part because he wanted to be involved in cleaning up a former landfill.
“I was really motivated to do something that was ‘green,’ to improve the environment,” he said. “This seemed like a great way to do that.”
Cohen said a Whole Foods Market would not work on his current land, which is about 1 acre smaller than the land he would obtain in the swap. He said anchor stores like Whole Foods pay lower rent because they attract other retail stores to a shopping plaza.