City Manager Tom Ambrosino has requested the Council to fund the demolition of the burnt-out home at 80 Warren Ave. that was the site of a domestic shooting incident and raging fire in May 22, 2017.
The home has sat in its burnt out condition for more than a year, mostly due to tie-ups in the court system due to a dispute by the owner and the insurance company. In that time, neighbors have had to see it as a reminder day in and day out of the chaos that ensued on that spring night.
Now, Ambrosino is asking for a supplemental appropriation from the Stabilization Fund in the amount of $25,000 to demolish the home. The owner, he said, doesn’t have the funds to tear down the home. So, the City will tear it down, secure it, and then seek to be reimbursed at a later date.
“I think it’s a great idea and long overdue,” said Councillor Leo Robinson, who lives on Warren Avenue. “I think it will mean a lot to the neighbors to not have to look at it every day and remember what happened there.”
On May 22, 2017, a man in the home shot at his 10-year-old daughter and wife, chasing them to a neighbor’s home where they sought shelter. After that, police were alerted and the man barricaded himself in the home. He then set a massive fire in the home and began shooting at police and firefighters. Police did shoot the man and the fire consumed the structure.
There was a massive police and fire presence at the scene.
The Council is expected to address the request on Monday, Sept. 24.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the City Council he believes it might be time to start a discussion about charging everyone a trash fee in the coming years as costs continue to rise for rubbish collection and recycling.
This came at the same time that he announced water and sewer rates would increase by 7.95 percent this year and the existing trash fee would climb 10 percent over last year.
Currently, trash fees are only charged to properties that are not owner-occupied. However, Ambrosino said it might be time to change all that.
“This new trash fee represents an increase of 10 percent,” he said. “Residential owners will pay an additional $32.88 annually as a result of this increase. I recognize that annual increases of 10 percent are painful, but even with this increase we will not cover the cost of our trash system with our fees. I have mentioned for some time that the City should consider changes to our current rate structure for Solid Waste Disposal. Specifically, I suggest we start the discussion of at least some nominal fee for owner occupied units. Otherwise, 10-plus percent increases will be the norm for the foreseeable future.”
The trash rate will increase to $30.09 monthly for residential property and $141.96 monthly for commercial units in mixed buildings.
Meanwhile, for water and sewer rates – which affect every homeowner – the combined rate increase will be 7.95 percent over last year. The average water user can assume a bill of $1,776 annual for water and sewer charges.
The water rate alone will go up 6 percent, and the sewer rate alone will go up 9 percent. Together, they arrive at the combined rate increase of 7.95 percent for residential users.
For Tier 1 users, the combined rate is $14.80 per hundred cubic feet.
The rates went into effect on July 1, but a Monday’s Council meeting Councillor Bob Bishop was quick to criticize.
“The water and sewer rates in Chelsea are too high,” he said. “I think we should be doing everything we can to hold the line or decrease these rates every year. Other cities and towns aren’t charging the rates we charge…It seems to be a feeding trough at the water and sewer department. I don’t like it.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would love to have a new contract and return to Chelsea so he can continue the work he started more than three years ago.
The announcement came on the eve of the beginning of his annual evaluation by a committee of the City Council – a process that will start Aug. 27.
Ambrosino is under contract for four years, and his contract runs out in July 2019, but the Council is required to notify him by January if they want him to return.
He’s hoping they do.
“I do hope they ask me to come back,” he said. “I have a great interest in continuing my work here. I love this city and love being City Manager here…The people here are wonderful. The challenges are interesting and it’s a vibrant and dynamic city with an exciting future ahead of it. I can’t think of a better place to be City Manager or CEO.”
Ambrosino signed his contract on July 20, 2015 in a four-year deal. Upon coming into the position, one of his first goals was to begin revamping the downtown business district, which was something that former City Manager Jay Ash had defined as a next focal point before he left.
Ambrosino said he feels like he only just started that work, and while a lot of planning and groundwork is complete, he’d like to see things completed.
“I feel like I’ve just started here, particularly with the downtown and our waterfront,” he said. “There’s a lot I’d like to see through to completion. When I was mayor in Revere, most of what I did there didn’t come to be until my last term in office and my last year there. It takes a long time to put your mark on a city.”
He is particularly impressed with the collaboration between the community and stakeholders like MGH, North Suffolk, Roca, the Collaborative, GreenRoots and so many more.
“I really feel that’s unique here and the City is lucky to have organizations like it does,” he said. “These are really tremendous community-based groups.”
All of that comes right alongside the upcoming City Manager evaluation process.
That has run a little slowly this time around. Though it is supposed to start in April, the Council appointed a committee but hasn’t had meetings yet. They will kick that off on Aug. 27, Council President Damali Vidot said.
The Committee is made up of Councillors Vidot, Judith Garcia, Bob Bishop, Leo Robinson, and Calvin Brown. They will evaluate Ambrosino on at least 11 points of his performance over the last year.
“It’s been tricky with our summer recess, but I’m confident we’ll have it wrapped up by October,” said Vidot.
She said a sticking point for her in any upcoming contract talks with Ambrosino – and in his evaluation – will be his residency.
Ambrosino said he cannot relocate to Chelsea due to personal circumstances that existed before he took the City Manager job.
Vidot said she feels strongly that the City Manager should live in Chelsea, but she also said that the previous Council didn’t require him to live here, so it wouldn’t be right to enforce it now.
“However, that shouldn’t be the norm moving forward,” she said.
The good news for Chelsea residents is that the $5 million redesign of the Broadway business district is moving forward, and a final decision will be made by the City Council about its exact components next month.
And if the vision and innovativeness that City Manager Tom Ambrosino fostered in all parts of Revere can be matched here, then Chelsea residents can expect a Broadway and Bellingham Square bustling with activity and commerce.
But a big question about “The New Broadway” remains: Should the six city blocks from Williams Street to City Hall Avenue be a one-way street (as it exists now and has for many decades) or a two-way street?
The Chelsea Traffic Commission hosted a public meeting Tuesday night at City Hall to hear residents’ opinions about the potential change of Broadway to a two-way street. The Commission is scheduled to vote on the matter at its next meeting before the Council casts the final vote about the entire redesign project, including the traffic plan.
Alexander Train, Chelsea’s assistant director of the department of planning and development, gave a thorough presentation of the re-imagined Broadway project that will totally transform the business district’s intersections, sidewalks, bicycle paths, tree pits, and physical appearance.
“We’ve completed the planning and development portion of the process and we’re now approaching the Traffic Commission to vote and adopt and enact the plan,” said Train. “Their vote will be relayed to City Council, who has the authority to approve or reject their decision.”
Police Chief Brian Kyes spoke in favor of a two-way Broadway, saying it would improve the flow of traffic.
“If a person double parks his vehicle, we have a reason to tow the vehicle ASAP,” said Kyes. “We want to keep the traffic flowing.”
Kyes said he was happy to hear that the intersection of Broadway and Third Street will have traffic lights in the redesign project. “Broadway and Third is probably one of the most dangerous intersections in the entire state,” said Kyes.
He said that when he drove from the police station to City Hall for the meeting, “the backup when I got to Hawthorne Street was incredible, because everybody is making the loop (around Broadway). I think the final [redesign] project makes a lot of sense. I drive down Broadway, Revere all the time and I very, very rarely see double parking there.” Councillor-at-Large Damlili
Vidot said she would like to see the city pay more attention to cleaning up Broadway (such as removing the weed in the metal grates). She also disputed the claim that two-way traffic would curtail double parking and that it would make it safer for pedestrians. She also asked about potential back-ups on the Tobin Bridge and how it would affect traffic on a two-way Broadway.
Vidot said she was not happy with the swiftness of the entire redesign process.
“I urge everyone to just take several steps back and let’s figure out a way to engage more people,” said Vidot. “The way that this process has gone, having a meeting in the middle of summer when the City Council isn’t even meeting – in a hot room where everyone is aggravated and we had to wait 10 minutes to even start the meeting, all of it is just not right.”
Ambrosino, who favors a two-way Broadway, said the traffic configuration should not predominate the discussion of the redesign project.
“That’s only a small part of the reimaging Broadway,” said Ambrosino. “Many of the improvements [to Bellingham Square, Fay Square, City Hall Avenue, traffic signals at dangerous intersections] are happening regardless of which of these two configurations between Williams and Fifth Streets is chosen. Even the one-way configuration is a major improvement over the two-lane speedway that currently exists on Broadway. The two-way configuration is still safer, calmer, and slower for bicylists and pedestrians.”
Ambrosino said the two-way configuration will be “transformative.”
“It will make a difference to the feel and the look of that downtown. It makes it vibrant. It makes it aesthetically pleasing. This will be better for pedestrians, for traffic, and for businesses.”
Rick Gordon, owner of Allen Cut Rite on Broadway, said the No. 1 issue in the downtown district is parking. “I personally prefer a one-way plan for the flow of traffic. The street is much narrower than other communities and I don’t think two-way makes a business more visible.”
Gordon credited the Chelsea Police for their efforts in slowing down motorists and enforcing double-parking restrictions on Broadway. Some residents at the meeting had noted that double-parking is a recurring issue on Broadway.
Councillor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda, whose family owns Tito’s Bakery, asked whether the City Council will have to vote on the redesign project in its entirety as opposed to voting on individual components such as the traffic configuration, and the placement of new bus stops and traffic lights on Broadway.
Following more than two hours of discussion, the one-way/two-way Broadway issue remains a hotly debated one and all eyes will be on the Traffic Commission when it convenes for a vote at its next meeting.WE should be Ambrosino said he favors a two-way Broadway
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would gladly enforce the new Police and Fire residency ordinance confirmed last week at Council, but not until at least 2021.
“It has to be negotiated through collective bargaining,” he said. “The firefighters are under contract until 2021, and the police are now at the state Joint Labor Management Commission. It probably won’t be able to be negotiated with either unit until 2021. We have no plans to enforce it until there is a new contract because the law is clear this is a change in the contract subject to collective bargaining.”
The Council voted for the matter last month, and staved off a challenge to that vote last week, led by Councilor Giovanni Recupero. Recupero has tried for seven years to get the residency plan in place for new police and fire hires. The plan now in effect would require all new hires as of July 31 to live in the city for five years after hire.
The matter, however, cannot be enforced until the City Manager re-negotiates the contracts with the police and fire, meaning that all member would get raises in exchange for that change in working conditions.
Ambrosino said the unions could decide not to agree to the matter, which would also make it unenforceable if it is outside any contract.
“An ordinance cannot supersede a mandatory collective bargaining matter,” he said. “It is unenforceable until it shows up in a collective bargaining agreement.”
The Chelsea City Council approved a request from City Manager Tom Ambrosino to clean up and make a big-time deposit into the City’s savings accounts.
The Council approved a $15 million transfer into the Stabilization Fund on Monday night, and also approved a $5 million transfer into a new School Stabilization Fund. At the same time, three old savings accounts were closed out with about $300,000 going into the Stabilization Fund.
The requests came at the behest of Councillor Bob Bishop, who made the requests last month and presided over a committee meeting two weeks ago discussing the matters.
Bishop had indicated that he would like the money in the Stabilization Fund because he believes the City needs to save more money in case of a downturn in the economy. On the background, having the money in the Stabilization Fund gives the Council more control over any spending due to the fact that it requires a two-thirds vote of the Council.
Ambrosino said he supported both transfers and believed that the School Fund was a wise idea given that there are several projects coming up on the City’s schools.
All of them, he said, are in the Capital Improvement Plan.
In the same financial vein, the Council approved the final $3 million payment on the Clark Avenue Middle School project. The City has been paying cash wherever it can on the project – which is still under construction until this summer – to save money on interest payments accrued from having to borrow.
Part of the project is also funded by state reimbursements.
The owners of the old Forbes Lithograph campus on Mill Hill will likely propose a new project to the City in the coming months, like this summer, said City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
The Chinese company once proposed a gigantic campus development with skyscrapers, a hotel and more than 1,000 apartment units in a multi-phase development with one small entrance coming in through the neighborhood. It was vociferously opposed by most every resident and elected official in the City.
That was a couple of years ago, and since that time the company has been laying low and preparing to propose something a little more modest.
“My guess is perhaps they’ll be in front of us this summer,” said Ambrosino.
He said the development could likely be by right, meaning there might not be any reviews or public hearings necessary for the project to go forward.
He said the numbers of units would be far smaller than previously proposed and much less dense.
However, parking requirements for the district are two spots per unit, which might be hard for the developer to achieve by right. That would mean a parking variance would be required, triggering reviews and public hearings.
The issue of accessing the site still hasn’t been resolved.
Previously, Ambrosino had made a point of requiring that the company look into providing access via a bridge over the Chelsea Creek to the site from Revere. In the previous proposal, he had said he or the City would not support any proposal that didn’t include that access point.
It is uncertain at this point if that’s still the case with the smaller project that is believed to be coming.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino delivered his State of the City address on Monday night, Feb. 26, prior to the Council meeting, and he implored the Council that the time to fill the storehouses is not now.
Ambrosino once again – as in the previous two State of the Cities – praised the former City governments for putting the City in a firm and solid financial position with a lot of reserves and savings.
However, he said the City just received $34 million in Free Cash from the state, and having that kind of money to save doesn’t sit well with him.
“Now, I give full credit this Council and others that preceded you for that incredible financial stewardship,” he said. “But, having that level reserves has to give us a little pause. There’s always been something just a little unsettling to me about this City having that much money in reserve. Government is not intended to be a profit making enterprise. Our goal isn’t to make money year after year. As a local government, our goal, our mission is to provide services to our residents. So, it is my strong opinion that with this level of reserves, we have an obligation, a fiduciary duty, to start investing more in our City. And, that will be something you will see from me this year and beyond.”
One of the major examples he quickly turned to was the $11.4 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that he proposed two weeks ago to the Council – a plan that calls for more than $4.5 million in Free Cash to get started. The CIP plan focuses on projects like water and sewer repairs, sidewalks, public parks, street repairs and public building improvements.
Beyond those nuts and bolts spending measures – which Chelsea has neglected for many years – he said he will present plans in the next few months for things like more youth programming, a local workforce training program to prepare for the coming casino jobs, standardized trash barrels to reduce rodents, and a pilot program for Senior Citizen transportation.
“All of these are ideas that cost money to implement, and, if they are approved, they will reduce our reserves,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, we’re not going to be judged by how much money we have in the bank. We are going to be judged by whether we improved the lives of our residents. That is my overriding motivation as City Manager.”
Another piece of investment he noted – and one that Ambrosino will likely focus on more than any previous City Manager – is investing in the School Department.
“We have to avoid the temptation, which often happens in Massachusetts Municipalities, of looking at it as just another department competing for limited resources,” he said. “Instead, we have to consider it as our co-equal partner in making our community better.”
He said he wants to do more to help the students in the school system from the City’s reserves, and he rolled out an idea that would use City funds to pay for Chelsea High students to achieve higher education.
The program, he said, would be a pilot program for any Chelsea High student already enrolled in the dual enrollment program with Bunker Hill Community College. Under the pilot, any student in that program could go on to complete an Associate’s Degree at Bunker Hill after high school at no additional cost. City funds would cover the cost of students to finish that degree they started in high school.
“Again, I don’t look, and we shouldn’t look, at funding for the School Department needs as a burden,” he said. “Instead, it is a pure investment.”
Another area he said he would like to think about spending more reserves is in the possible acquisition of properties in the Broadway business district in order to build mixed-use affordable housing. Such an acquisition was successful at the Salvation Army Store on Broadway last year, and the City hopes to find a developer to complete the job this year.
He said if the City buys property, they can control the affordable component. That, he said, could spur large amounts of affordable housing that will sit aside what is expected to be a lot of private market-rate development on Broadway in the coming years.
“Because we own it, we can dictate the level of affordability in any development,” he said. “Maybe we consider other similar acquisitions, particularly in the Downtown, using either Reserves, as we did in acquiring the Salvation Army site, or through a tool we now have for the first time, Community Preservation Funds. I don’t have anything specific in mind at this time, but if another opportunity presents itself, particularly on Broadway, a further acquisition is something I might advocate to the Council.”
When it comes to development, Ambrosino was upbeat as well, saying there is great interest in the City.
On the Chelsea Creek, he announced that in the next few months, he would announce a significant mixed-use development for the Forbes Plant site. Much of the development, he said, is expected to be as of right and would need no extra relief at the Zoning or Planning Boards.
“Our goal for that project there is to ensure that the public benefits, particularly the public access to the waterfront, are not just significant, which they will need to be, but are also early action items, so that our residents benefit from the very start of the project, not just when the project is completed years from now,” he said.
On the same front, that being the waterfront, Ambrosino said the long-awaited Municipal Harbor Plan effort has finally moved forward. He announced that a contract has been signed with Utile Design of Boston to conduct the plan, and they are waiting for the Notice to Proceed from the state. He expects the first public meeting on that plan to take place in the spring.
With the Silver Line starting full operations on April 21, he said there is and will be great interest for development along that new public transit corridor.
“Developers have already been in to see us for parcels on Cottage Street and Sixth Street, and there will inevitably be more,” he said.
In conclusion, he said that he has enjoyed the “unique cohesiveness” that continues to exist in Chelsea.
“It’s why I love my role here; it’s why I’m optimistic; and, it’s why I can say without reservation that the State of the City in 2018 is very, very solid,” he concluded.
A new, revamped effort by the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) to build a mixed-income development on Central Avenue will likely come with a significant Tax Increment Financing (TIF) request, said City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
The new proposal, which is a second attempt by designated developer Corcoran Jennison, will likely come before the City in February or March. However, this time Ambrosino said it’s probably going to also be accompanied by a request from Corcoran for a TIF agreement.
“It will not be an insignificant amount for a TIF,” said Ambrosino. “From the City’s perspective, we’re motivated by the fact there is no other way to get that development rebuilt. This will give those resident brand new units in a mixed income development. Right now, we’re getting zero tax dollars on it, and we would be getting something from the developer if this is built.”
The development was proposed in 2017, but was beat back when Corcoran requested the City Council allow them to use some non-union labor on the project to make the finances work.
A large group of residents and union workers appeared at the meeting on the night of the vote, and the Council agreed with them, shooting down the request.
Nothing has happened since, but it appears that to make the books balance, Corcoran will be looking to get some property taxes reduced for a period of time.
“The City will be sympathetic,” Ambrosino said. “I want that project to move forward. That’s going to be a huge upgrade for those public housing tenants.”
Historically, the Council has been accommodating for TIF requests, but in recent years many councillors have began to question whether they are really needed any longer. It will likely be a spirited debate once again within the board.
Shown in blue is the aea that will be worked on by MassDOT.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the City Council have submitted an eye-opening mitigation package to the MassDOT to accommodate the upcoming Chelsea Viaduct project – a major rehabilitation project of the elevated highway leading to the Tobin/Mystic Bridge.
The project is slated to be advertised in 2018 by the state.
In a letter submitted this month, City Manager Tom Ambrosino asked for a total of $1.724 million from MassDOT for various items to make up for the construction project.
“As you know the Route 1 viaduct basically bisects Chelsea, running directly through its dens, environmental justice neighborhoods,” he wrote. “Because of its overwhelming presence in the City, substantial and lengthy reconstruction of the Route 1 viaduct will undeniably yield negative impacts for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors and severely diminish the City’s quality of life.”
He said the project would have substantial disruption to the daily lives of Chelsea residents, including middle school and high school students who routinely walk in the Viaduct area to get the school.
MassDOT said it is early in the design stage and looks to be at about 25 percent by the end of the year. It is considering the letter, but had no further comment than that.
“MassDOT is currently in the early design stage, and is in the process of engaging the public in order to develop a comprehensive construction staging plan that will accelerate construction and minimize disruption to the City of Chelsea and commuters,” said a spokesman for MassDOT. “Additionally, MassDOT is in the process of evaluating the letter from the City of Chelsea and as always, will consider all suggestions that avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts to local business, members of the community and to ensure reliable travel throughout the viaduct area.”
One of the biggest asks is $500,000 to fund a decorative lighting program under the Viaduct. Ambrosino said the lots beneath the Viaduct have historically been very dimly lit and subject to blight and criminal activity. The City is asking for post construction lighting that includes typical street lighting, and also a significant public art and special design program.
“As a commanding presence, the City envisions a spatial design and public art involving up-lighting that would enliven this corridor and lessen the negative attributes associated with the highway,” he wrote.
A second ask is for funding in the amount of $300,000 to re-design and renovate the football stadium and Carter Park – which are cut in half by the Viaduct.
Other mitigation measures include surveillance for parking lots, parking lot improvements under the Bridge for the City, improvements to the Fourth Street off-ramp, residential enhancements to homes abutting the bridge, additional crossing guards for school children, and a contribution to a bike-pedestrian path on the Tobin/Mystic Bridge.