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Split Decision:50/50 Night for Reimagining Broadway as Council Wrestles with Legalities

Split Decision:50/50 Night for Reimagining Broadway as Council Wrestles with Legalities

There’s still time to reimagine Broadway.

Or at least a few stretches of the $5 million traffic project city officials have been working on for close to two years.

Monday night, the City Council delivered a split decision on the Reimagining Broadway downtown traffic proposal following a presentation by Alexander Train, the city’s assistant director of planning and director.

The most controversial aspect of the project, converting the section of Broadway from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square from a one-way street to a two-way street with increased smart traffic signalization at several intersections, was sent back to the Traffic and Parking Commission for revision.

Councillors also opposed, by a narrow margin, the plans for the improvement of the Bellingham Square portion of the project. However, the Council did give its okay to two portions of the proposal tied to Fay and Chelsea Squares themselves.

The debate over Reimagining Broadway included several short recesses as Councillors debated in smaller groups the legality of how the vote was proceeding, and what a split vote would mean for the overall project. City officials kicked off Reimagining Broadway in the beginning of 2017 as a way to improve the downtown streets for motorists, pedestrians, and public transit.

During one of the breaks, a call was made to the City’s legal counsel to make sure the Council could legally split the vote on Reimagining Broadway into four sections, according to District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia. However, legal counsel drew the line at, and the majority of the councillors agreed, that amendments to the four sections beyond what was presented to the Council were not legally in order.

By the end of the evening, there was still some concern as to what the Council had accomplished.

“I just want to be clear on what the Council voted on,” said District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown as Council President Damali Vidot gaveled the two-hour meeting to a close.

“I’m not diminishing the hard work of the City staff, but I am asking that they go back to the drawing board and come back with options A, B, and C,” said Vidot, who voted ‘no’ on each section of the proposal.

Vidot also said she was uncomfortable passing the Reimagining Broadway plan through piecemeal without knowing what that would mean for the project as a whole.

“I don’t know what it means to approve one part and deny another,” she said.

Going back to the drawing board would provide a better opportunity to reach out to Chelsea’s citizens, Vidot said.

“Let’s reach out and do a better job,” she said. “We can do better, let’s go back to the drawing board.”

But Garcia said the time has come to put the plans in motion, especially when it comes to the safety of her constituents.

“I am excited to bring change to Broadway and hopeful of the possibilities it can create in the downtown,” said Garcia. “But one of the key messages we keep forgetting is safety.”

Garcia pointed to the addition of a traffic signal in front of a senior and handicapped housing building at 272 Broadway as one of the safety benefits of the project.

“That is a dangerous intersection,” she said. “When I ran for election in 2015, I promised to try to make is safer for them. Today, what we are being presented with is a concept. What we are voting on today is not set in stone.”

During his presentation, Train stressed that the Council was only giving its okay on conceptual plans.

“There will be more engineering and design details in preparation for construction,” he said. That process would also include more opportunity for public input, as well as plans on how the project would be phased over time to minimize construction impacts for local businesses and residents.

ONE WAY OR TWO?

The most heated debate on the nuts and bolts of Reimagining Broadway itself was easily the proposal to convert Broadway from a one-way to a two-way street from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square.

Train presented two versions of the plan.

The one recommended to the Council called for 11-½ foot travel lanes in each direction with sidewalks and parking on each side of the street. The second proposal included just a single travel lane with the sidewalks and parking along with a dedicated bicycle lane.

Several councillors, including Vidot, said they were concerned that converting to a two-way street would make Broadway more, not less, dangerous for pedestrians and motorists.

There was also a difference of opinion among councillors, and long-time Chelsea residents, Leo Robinson and Giovanni Recupero, who couldn’t even come to a consensus on whether the road was safe when it was a two-way street in the 1960s.

Robinson, who supported the two-way proposal, said he grew up on Broadway and there was a good flow of traffic on the street at that time.

But Recupero said going back to the past would only make a bad situation worse.

“My constituents do not want it and say it is crazy with traffic already,” he said. “It didn’t work then and I don’t think it will work now.”

Some of the legal wrangling during the evening centered on Councillor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda attempting to strike out some of the language in the proposal, essentially keeping Broadway one-way, but including the traffic lights and other improvements for the road as presented by Train.

“I do not want to support a two-way Broadway, but the residents need and deserve the traffic lights,” said Avellaneda.

But after the call to the city solicitor, the Council voted that Avellaneda’s move to strike language from the initial proposal was the same as an amendment to the proposal.

The two sections of Reimagining Broadway will now go back to the Traffic and Parking Commission for revision before being brought back to the City Council.

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Hearing Continued for Rincon Latino Restaurant

Hearing Continued for Rincon Latino Restaurant

It’s the case of the cases of Corona going in and out of Rincon Latino Restaurant.

Following a histrionic licensing commission hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 25 that saw the lawyer for the restaurant’s owners compare the proceedings to those in Russia and referred to the hearing to “a lynching,” the commission continued the hearing until its next meeting next month.

As the last hearing on a busy commission agenda, everything started calmly enough, as the commission heard a police report from officer Augustus Cassuci detailing two incidents he witnessed just outside the Washington Avenue Restaurant on June 22 and 23.

The officer stated that on Friday, June 22, he was passing by 373 Washington Avenue when he saw about 10 people crossing the street, with one carrying a case of Corona beer. The next day, Cassuci said he saw a customer carrying a case of Corona into the restaurant.

Where the hearing raised the ire of attorney John Dodge, who was representing the restaurant, was when Cassuci raised a number of issues at Rincon Latino Restaurant that were not included in the two-paragraph police report.

“On several occasions, there have appeared to be intoxicated patrons in front of the laundromat next door blocking the sidewalk,” said the officer. “Male parties have also been seen urinating on the sidewalk.”

Additionally, police Captain Keith Houghton said the restaurant often appears to surpass its occupancy limit of 17 customers and the curtains of the establishment have been closed, in violation of the law.

Police officials also showed the commission a photo taken from the restaurant’s security camera that they said showed the establishment as being over capacity.

“How am I supposed to represent (the restaurant) when all I have is a two-paragraph police report?” asked Dodge, who asked that the hearing be continued to the commission’s next meeting since evidence was introduced that he had not previously seen.

Dodge said the allegations leveled by the police had nothing to do with the original report of customers taking out or bringing in cases of beer.

“I don’t know what evidence is being presented,” he said. “We were not provided with any photos or any video, and Officer Cassuci is now testifying to public intoxication, urinating on the sidewalks, and closed curtains.”

Licensing Commission Chairman James Guido said a public hearing does not follow the same process as a court hearing and that the information being provided during the hearing was due process.

“Maybe due process in Russia, in America we are given the evidence before a hearing,” said Dodge.

Commission member Roseann Bongiovanni asked for calm, and suggested the commission continue the hearing for one month. The commission approved the continuance, as well as a request that the restaurant provide video of peak hours during the past several weekends to help determine if there has been overcrowding or other issues at the restaurant.

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Community Preservation Committee Talks Future Money for Residents

Community Preservation Committee Talks Future Money for Residents

A recent Chelsea Community Workshop on the Community Preservation Act (CPA) witnessed a vibrant community come out to speak about future investments they want to see in their respective neighborhoods, and the newly-established Community Preservation Committee (CPC) said they are there to help residents accomplish those goals.

Taking place in the main room of Chelsea’s senior center, residents poured in at on Sept. 27, and listen to local committee members present the growing potential of tax revenues collected as part of the CPA, which was passed in Nov. 2016 by Chelsea voters. To date, there has yet to be any projects designated for development by CPA funds.

Jennifer Goldson, founder and Managing Director for JM Goldson, presented the main purpose of the community workshop. Goldson presented the most viable options to the community and get them the most for their money’s worth, while also collecting their opinions on the matter to engage the community’s wants directly.

“We have to prioritize how we use that money and be smart about it,” Goldson said.

Goldson said an estimated $1.46 million has been collected from taxpayers for the CPA in 2017-18, and is available for future investment possibilities.

The CPA, which was passed with 66.5 percent of the vote, allows Chelsea to have direct control over tax revenue collected through residential and commercial properties at a rate of 1.5 percent, which is also matched by state government assistance. This new tax revenue requires a 10 percent commitment to three categories: historic preservation, community housing, along with open space and outdoor recreation programs.

Totaling 30 percent for these three mandatory categories, the CPC presented varying ideas to the community about how they’d best like to allot the remaining 70 percent.

“As time goes on the priorities of our communities change,” Jose Iraheta, chair of the CPC  stated as he greeted the crowd in both English and Spanish, adding “We really need your help to pick between the three brackets.”

Iraheta addressed those in attendance coming in by asking them to tally a total of seven points into the three categories presented for allocating the appropriate tax funds for Chelsea to choose from. Residents walked up to tally their choices with the overwhelming majority of these votes going to community housing funding.

Voting for specific returns in the community proved popular amongst those in attendance, with Goldson conducting a series of small polls to gauge what the public felt was most necessary to invest in from each of the three categories.  Additionally, Goldson also asked everyone in attendance to write down their ideas on the paper table covers in order to later collect them and determine which ideas were most eligible.

Presented in a matrix of potential possibilities Goldson displayed a few of the options residents could choose to focus on, including: new housing, home ownership programs, preferences for low-income families, stewardship of historic buildings, creating community gardens or waterfront access, improving existing parks, and preservation of natural resources.

Bea Cravatta, director of Chelsea’s Recreation and Cultural Affairs division, collected information about the demographics of the meeting through a 10 question poll.

“Great turnout today, a good mix of ages, profound interest, and collaboration has been the most exciting thing for me to see,” Cravatta said.

During the last half hour, residents were allowed to take the microphone to represent each table they were sitting at.

Some residents, like former City Councillor Matthew Frank, raised valid concerns.

“Instead of creating new open space, we need to clean up what we already have,” Frank stated in reference to existing open space problems the City already has on the Harbor Walk and other locations.

The CPC must present any and all ideas before City Council for approval after creating a Community Development Plan. The City Council retains the power to approve, deny or lower the allotted funds for project ideas.

The CPC will convene again in November at a date to be announced, and will present their viable future investment options in December.

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Schools Look to Restore Some Positions with Additional State Money

Schools Look to Restore Some Positions with Additional State Money

Chelsea School officials are looking for one last vote from the City Council in order to restore several cut positions from the existing School Department Budget, this after getting nearly $1 million in additional funds from the state recently.

Supt. Mary Bourque said it was nice to get the additional monies, but she didn’t want anyone to think that it has ended the funding problems in the Chelsea schools.

“We were actually not ‘held harmless’ because that fund was only funded at 56 percent,” she said. “We should have received $1.1 million if we were really held harmless. I’m thankful, but they are still not addressing the funding gap. We’ve applied a very small Band-Aid to a large wound…I don’t want the community to think we fixed this. This is $900,000, but we had a $3.2 million budget gap.”

Supt. Mary Bourque said a combination of additional monies came in in September from State Legislature appropriations for English Language Learners and for the “hold harmless” fund to help districts with uncounted low-income students.

Bourque said Chelsea was able to get $630,000 for ELL students, and another $296,000 for the “hold harmless” account. That equaled $926,000 that they were able to appropriate to restore “painful” cuts made during last spring’s budget process.

Bourque said with the ELL money they were able to bring back two crossing guards, restore one yellow bus route, a special education teacher at the Clark Avenue Middle, a special education paraprofessional and intervention tutors.

Meanwhile, she said the “hold harmless” monies will be used to, among other things, restore a full-time librarian that will operate at Chelsea High School 75 percent of the time, and the Mary C. Burke Complex 25 percent of the time.

The librarian cut was controversial because it accompanied cuts in the previous years to librarians at the elementary school. The restoration allows a librarian presence at both the high school and elementary school once again.

“The reason we split the time is because two years ago we cut the elementary librarian completely and we’ve gone a full year without a librarian down there,” she said. “I’m all for the digital technology piece, but I also feel you instill the love of reading in children when you put a book in their hands. The 25 percent at the Complex isn’t enough for me and I want more time there going down the road.”

The School Committee has approved the acceptance of the additional monies, and the Council has had one reading on the issue. They are expected to vote on it at their Oct. 15 meeting.

MCAS results at Chelsea High reflect high dropout rate from surge of unaccompanied minors

The School Department has received the public rollout of the MCAS results for the district and the schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent of districts statewide, with Chelsea High School particularly cited for having a high dropout rate.

Supt. Mary Bourque said five of the district’s schools did well, with two flatlining and Chelsea High declining.

The results have qualified the district as one of 59 statewide that are required to have state assistance.

Bourque said the dropout rate hasn’t been a major issue at CHS in the past, but she said the change comes as a result of the unaccompanied minor surge that happened about four years ago. The dropout rate is a four-year look at the students starting and graduating.

“The kids we’re getting now are from the major surge we had four years ago and that’s the reason we’re seeing the graduation rate issue,” she said. “You don’t feel that for four years down the road. However, we’re going to continue to feel it.”

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Licensing Board Approves Permits for Function Hall at Old Polish American

Licensing Board Approves Permits for Function Hall at Old Polish American

A new function hall is slated to open at the site of the former Polish American Veterans Hall at 35 Fourth Street.

At its most recent meeting, the licensing commission approved restaurant and entertainment licenses for the proposed hall.

The applicant, Emiliana Fiesta, LLC, also applied for a wine and beer license, but will have to wait until there is an available license in the city. However, one-day liquor licenses can be granted for the weddings, birthday parties, and other functions planned for the facility.

The Polish American hall had a capacity of over 500 occupants for the two floors of the building. But based on concerns voiced by police officials, the licensing commission approved the restaurant license with a capacity of 250 occupants, limiting the functions to one level of the building, while the basement level can only be used for storage and kitchen purposes. The owners will also install licenses at all entrances on both floors of the building.

Even with the limitations on use, police Captain Keith Houghton said he was wary that the use of the building could tip from being a function hall to operating as a full-blown night club.

“This is going to be a challenge,” said Houghton, who also requested that the opaque outside of the building be replaced with clear windows and that a floor plan be provided to police and the licensing committee.

Broadway resident Paul Goodhue said he also had concerns about the proposal.

“I’ve watched the police clean up that corner of Fourth and Broadway,” he said. “You’re going to be opening up a can of worms if that ends up being a nightclub.”

Commission member Roseann Bongiovanni said she understood the concerns of the police and neighbors.

“We do not want this to turn into a nightclub, that’s not an appropriate function,” she said.

But with the proper conditions in place, Bongiovanni said the new owners of the building should have the chance to give the function hall a go.

“They bought (the building) with the same use,” Bongiovanni said. “I feel like we should give them a shot.”

Licensing Commission Chairman James Guido also stipulated that live bands can perform during functions only and that for functions of over 100 people, a police detail should be requested.

The approved hours for the function hall are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays.

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DiDomenico Secures $50,000 for CONNECT in Chelsea

DiDomenico Secures $50,000 for CONNECT in Chelsea

Sen. Sal DiDomenico recently announced that his amendment providing $50,000 for CONNECT in the city of Chelsea was included in the final Fiscal Year 2019 budget. As Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate, DiDomenico was able to secure a number of amendments for his district in the Senate version of the budget, including this $50,000 for CONNECT. After filing this amendment in the Senate budget, he worked to advocate for it’s inclusion in the final version of the budget.

CONNECT helps people achieve sustainable living wage jobs and financial health and well-being by partnering with local agencies to provide essential skills, knowledge and social capital in one central and supportive location.

“CONNECT does great work for our community, and I am very proud to support them through the work that I do in the Senate,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico. “I know that this additional funding will go a long way towards aiding their ability to empower individuals and help our residents achieve economic stability and financial well-being.”

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New Friends

New Friends

Chelsea resident Fredy Martinez shows off a new-found friend, Cain, a baby squirrel he nursed back to health while walking through Bellingham Square last Friday afternoon. Martinez said the squirrel has become very calm and is in great health after several weeks of touch-and-go.

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Graham Readies Another Great Walk for Living on Admiral’s Hill

Graham Readies Another Great Walk for Living on Admiral’s Hill

The ALS Walk for Living on Admiral’s Hill, run by the Leonard Florence Center for Living (LFCFL), will host its 10th

In its milestone 10th year, the Leonard Florence ALS Walk for Living on Admiral’s Hill is being coordinated by Maura Graham, who came to the LFCFL in January. She said they are in the middle of crunch time for the Sept. 30 walk, but are excited how things are coming together. The walk is expected to attract residents of all ages, including several high school students from Chelsea, Everett and Malden Catholic.

annual walk this coming Sept. 30, and new Director Maura Graham said she is ready for another great event.

“This is my first year as walk director, but I’ve had the good fortune of having the previous walk director sty on to consult and help me,” said Graham. “Now we have 10 years of walks and so we have some history under our belts and it comes together really well. It’s huge for us. It’s our only fundraise at Leonard Florence and 100 percent of the proceeds go towards resident care.”

The Walk for Living benefits ALS and MS patients at the LFCFL, and helps them to be able to do unique activities. It is the only fundraiser for the home, which exclusively cares for those with ALS and MS. As an example, last year several residents with ALS were able to use proceeds from the walk to go to Disney World in Florida.

The walk is a family activity, and Graham said they have a lot of fun things to do in addition to the walk for families and young adults.

Matt Siegel of Kiss 108 will once again be the emcee of the event, this being his fourth year of participating in the walk.

In addition, Phyllis and Alan Bolotin of Swampscott have been named the Walk for Living Ambassadors this year.

“They have been very good to the Leonard Florence over the years and they have graciously accepted the roles of Walk Ambassadors,” said Graham. “They’ve been wonderful and have a huge team coming.”

Also coming will be hundreds of students.

One of the unique things about the Walk for Living is the fact that high school students from Chelsea High, Everett High and Malden Catholic participate and learn about ALS. Many eventually befriend the residents and gain an understanding of what it is to live with ALS or MS.

“Everett, Chelsea and Malden Catholic will all be participating and will have a big group,” said Graham. “Malden Catholic will be bringing a large group because they are honoring Brother Joe (Comber), who lives here at the Leonard Florence. The fact that so many young people participate is wonderful and shows a great sense of unity with the residents here and the community. It is multi-generational.”

Another aspect of the walk is that many of the residents who are benefitting from the fundraising participate side-by-side with the fundraisers. Many even bring their own teams.

“It is a rare thing to be able to walk side-by-side with the people you’re helping,” she said. “It’s a sense of camaraderie.”

Graham came to the LFCFL in January and previously worked in public relations and marketing for the Cambridge Office of Tourism and the Harvard Square Business Association.

“The minute I walked in to the Leonard Florence, I felt it was a great fit,” she said.

Graham lives in Melrose and has two young children.

To sign up for the Walk for Living, go to WalkForLiving.org. Registrations are also accepted the day of the event. Registration is $20 and kids 12 and under are free. Students are $10.

The event begins at 10 a.m. on Sept. 30, 165 Captain’s Row.

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