The Clean Team : Fosbury, Sandoval Lead Beautification Effort at Park

The temperature was 83 degrees and heading north of 90 when a group of residents showed up Saturday for a cleanup of the park adjacent to Creekside Commons in Chelsea.

But the hot sun proved no match for members of the Chelsea Enhancement Team (CET) who worked diligently to spruce up the park and walking path that begins behind Beth Israel Deaconess Healthcare and continues to the Locke Street Apartments.

The Chelsea Enhancement Team, pictured at Saturday’s cleanup of the park at Creekside Commons, From left, are Jason Romero, Deedee Hernandez, Sharon Fosbury, Mari Carmen Espinoza, Carlota Gaitan, Joe Englen, and Michael Sandoval.

Sharon Fosbury, senior engagement manager at The Neighborhood Developers, and Michael Sandoval, a founding member of CET and recycling and solid waste coordinator for the City of Chelsea, have headed the regularly scheduled events that have come to be known as “Chelsea Shines – The Neighborhood Cleanup.”

“We do these events in various parts of the city,” explained Fosbury. “At our last meeting, the group decided that they wanted to go to Creekside Commons for July, so we’re here cleaning, weeding, picking up trash, trying to keep our parks clean.”

Sandoval said the city and CET are committed to providing safe passage for the Chelsea residents who use the local parks and recreational areas.

“We’re very committed to stepping up our cleanings and educating the public and creating an awareness for the importance of reducing litter in our parks,” said Sandoval.

Each week city workers maintain a bag dispenser and dog waste station at the site, one of 33 such stations throughout the city, according to Sandoval.

Sandoval credits City Manager Tom Ambrosino for his support of the CET and the consistent cleanup efforts throughout the city.

“This is a work in progress and we have an amazing leader in our city manager, Tom Ambrosino,” said Sandoval. “He’s been our backbone and given us all the support we need as far as doing the outreach and talking to residents about the importance of keeping our city clean.”

Fosbury said the CET also regularly maintains the area at the corner of Marlborough and Willow streets.

“We’ve adopted this little area right where the Silver Line goes by,” related Fosbury. “We’ve planted a bunch of sunflowers. Every year we do plantings and weeds.”

Fosbury, who’s become one of the faces of the highly successful TND agency that totally transformed Gerrish Avenue into an incredible residential community among other projects, invites local residents to join the Chelsea Enhancement Team at its meetings which are held on the third Wednesday of each month.

Read More

Councillors Say It’s Time to Put the Brakes on Water, Sewer Increases

Several City Councillors are lining up in opposition to water and sewer rate hikes proposed by the Department of Public Works, urging residents to attend a public hearing on the new rates in July.

In a letter to the Council, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino stated there will be rate increases of just under 3 percent for water and sewer customers who use less than 2,500 cubic feet of water. Under the City’s tiered approach to water and sewer rates, customers who use over that amount will see a 5 percent increase.

“With this increase, the average water and sewer bill in Chelsea (assuming annual usage of 120 hundred cubic feet) will be $1,828.80,” Ambrosino stated.

The rates will cover approved expenditures of $8,709,470 for water and $13,326,503 for sewer for Fiscal Year 2020, according to the City Manager.

But with surpluses totaling about $7 million in the water and sewer enterprise accounts, several councillors questioned the need for rate increases on Monday night.

“I don’t know why we need any increase in the water and sewer rates,” said District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop. “I don’t understand why you have to go up at all with $7 million sitting there, that should be sufficient.”

Bishop said he would be attending the DPW public hearing on the rates, tentatively scheduled for July 16 to voice his displeasure, and said he hopes to see other councillors there as well.

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero, never one to mince words, said homeowners and renters will end up getting shafted by the rate increases.

“This is killing the poor people who live here,” he said. “This is not only going to drive the homeowners out, this is going to drive the tenants out, too. This is a bad thing to go up this much.

“I like living here, I don’t want to be driven out.”

District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda said he agreed with Recupero.

“The water bills keep going up, and the taxes keep going up,” he said. “We don’t get any relief for the city of Chelsea.”

District 2 Councillor Luis Tejada said one of the main reasons he became involved in local politics was because of rising water and tax rates.

“Bigger government isn’t going to make it better in the city,” he said. “We need to put the brakes on.”

Read More

Ambrosino, Walsh Wary of 4 A.M. Encore Liquor License

Everett might be all-in on the 4 a.m. extending liquor license for Encore Boston Harbor, but surrounding cities like Chelsea aren’t so excited.

In comments this week, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they weren’t in favor of Encore’s request for a limited 4 a.m. liquor license from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC). The request is currently under review and in a public comment period. It would only apply to those actively engaged in gaming, and the last call would be 3:30 a.m. Most other liquor licenses have a 2 a.m. cutoff.

Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he doesn’t support the idea, seeing no advantage to Chelsea in having a luxury casino open late just a few hundred yards from the Chelsea city line.

“That would have no positive benefit to the City of Chelsea, so it would not be something I would favor,” he said.

Mayor Martin Walsh agreed with those sentiments as well.

“When the Legislature wrote the bill to have casino gaming, it was a 2 a.m. liquor license, which I voted on,” said Mayor Walsh. “I think that at this point in time, we should get the casino open, and see how the 2 a.m. license works. If there is a need, if there is a desire, or if there is a concern that it hampers the business, then I think we should explore the opportunity of maybe going until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. But right now, at opening, closing at 2 a.m. – let’s see what it looks like. You can’t say there are concerns there until it’s open. I would request we wait and then have a full vetting. Right now it needs to be opened and see how it all works with a 2 a.m. closing.”

Meanwhile, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said the later closing hour is critical to the casino being an international destination, as no such 2 a.m. rules apply in other locales where Wynn Resorts operates.

“The City of Everett is committed to supporting the success of the Encore Boston Harbor Resort,” he said. “In order for it to be a destination for an international clientele, the resort needs to be able to offer these clients a cocktail during the time they play. At 2 a.m., all the bars and restaurants will be closed, and drinks will only be served to those on the casino floor by a trained and certified server. Over-serving and irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated.”

He added that State Police, Everett Police and Encore security would be on site during the late hours and transportation services would be available for guests.

Walsh said he realizes that the Springfield casino already has a 4 a.m. license, but he also added that the circumstances are different in Everett. He said there are a lot of other cities and towns in the immediate area without such licenses. He said there has to be a dialog with everyone after the first six months.

“I’m not going to assume they’ll do 4 a.m.,” he said. “I’ll ask the Gaming Commission to be respectful of the surrounding cities and towns and see how the process works and see how the casino does in its first six months. Then we’ll revisit it and have a conversation and dialog at this point.

“We filed legislation (in Boston) a few years ago to open some of the bars and clubs later,” he continued. “So, that’s why I think you need a six-month vetting. Let’s assume for a moment the Gaming Commission grants the 4 a.m. license, that puts a lot of businesses in surrounding cities and town, including Boston, at a serious disadvantage. I think let’s wait and see what the 2 a.m. does…It’s not simply opening the casino until 4 a.m. It’s about having a conversation about other cities and towns and their licenses and what would happen in their establishments.”

The MGC is expected to talk more about the 4 a.m. license application at its next meeting on May 22.

Read More

City Looks to Introduce 3-1-1 Reporting System for Constituent Services

Have a problem?

Soon Chelsea – like other cities – can “3-1-1” it.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he hopes to proceed with introducing a 311 constituent services reporting platform to the City in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Already, Everett, Revere, Boston and others feature a telephone and online/app 311 system that residents can use to report anything from a pothole to graffiti to a rabid skunk.

“The goal is to provide better and more prompt responsiveness to constituent complaints,” read a letter from Ambrosino to the Council.

Ambrosino said the system he has in mind would operate with two employees working out of the DPW building. They would field complaints from 311 by telephone, email, text message and web-based reporting. They would fall under the supervision of Public Works Commissioner Fidel Maltez.

Once having taken the complaint, the employees would then assign the complaint to the appropriate department.

That would open up a series of accountability measures on each complaint, he said.

“These employees will be responsible for assigning the issue to the appropriate department representative or directly accessing the relevant information in a City database, tracking progress on the issue providing information on the resolution of the issue to the individual who reported it,” he wrote. “We believe this will be a much more effective way of addressing constituent complaints and hopefully it will be well-received by our residents.”

Start-up costs would look to be $162,000 for employees and the computer software. He said there is already $27,000 set aside for the program, and $50,000 from a state grant received last year. The remainder of the first-year costs would have to come from a budget request.

“I hope the Council will see the benefits of this improved constituent services effort and approve the requested FY20 appropriations,” he wrote.

The new system would replace the old SeeClickFix reporting system, which never worked as advertised.

Read More

Summer Youth Job Lottery Takes Place at City Hall

City Manager Tom Ambrosino and members of the Chelsea Collaborative held a lottery on April 4 to pick the names of scores of young residents who will secure a summer youth employment job.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino picks names for the summer jobs lottery.

Director Gladys Vega said that while it was a time to celebrate the employment of more than 100 youth in the community, the need was far greater than the jobs.

“This year we received more than 300 applications, with more that came after the deadline,” she said. “Due to our funding, we are able to offer only 150 spots this year. We are excited to pair youth with more than 40 of our longstanding partners, including City of Chelsea, Chelsea Police, Intergenerational Literacy Program, Jordan Boys & Girls Club, North Suffolk Mental Health and others.”

At the lottery, 185 names in several different age groups were selected.

Some were put on a waiting list, and a vast majority of those applying were of a younger age.

Youth that were picked in the lottery are now going through several interviews this week, during School Spring Break. If they successfully pass those interviews, they will meet their employers in June and receive more training.

The Summer Youth Employment Initiative (SYEI) begins on July 1.

Read More

Fire Department Works To Renovate Firefighters Memorial

Fire Department Works To Renovate Firefighters Memorial

The Chelsea Fire Department has begun a major renovation project for the Chelsea Firefighters Memorial that is situated outside the local fire alarm headquarters.

Chelsea Fire Capt. Michael Thompson points to the stone plate marking the original opening date of the memorial. The firefighters have launched a renovation project to restore the site.

Fire Captain Michael Thompson said the memorial was first erected in 1972 and there has been no refurbishing at the site since that time.

“Our goal is to revamp the entire site,” said Thompson, a 32-year veteran of the department. “We will erect granite walls with the names of our deceased firefighters.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino met with Deputy Chief Michael Masucci to discuss the project. Ambrosino gave the official go-ahead for the project.

Seeking to raise monies to defray the cost of the project, the firefighters will hold a “Chili Selloff” fundraiser this Saturday, April 6 at the Mystic Brewery, Chelsea.

“Bryan Greenhagan (owner of the brewery) has graciously invited us to sell chili from 1 to 9 p.m. on that day, with the proceeds going to the rebuilding of the memorial,” said Thompson.

Chris Flahive and his team of chefs from the Chelsea Yacht Club will team up with the firefighters to cook up 40 gallons of chili for the event.

On April 13 at the New Brown Jug, owner Michael Matrinko will host a fundraiser during which 20 percent of all food sales will go the firefighters memorial fund. There will be a raffle drawing for a $10,000 cash prize.

Every year on the first Sunday of June, the firefighters hold ceremonies at the site. Thompson is hopeful that the project will be completed by that date.

“I’m very excited to see this come to fruition,” said Thompson. “With the help of the citizens of Chelsea, we’re going to meet our goal and get it done.”

(Donations for the project can be sent to the Chelsea Firefighters Memorial Fund, P.O. 505616, Chelsea, MA 02150).

Read More

Forbes Park Plan Approved by ZBA

Forbes Park Plan Approved by ZBA

The Forbes Park development proposal, with more than 500 residential units proposed for the former industrial campus, has been approved by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) after four years and two major re-designs.

The final iteration of the project includes 590 units of housing, with 60 percent of those units being condos for sale and 59 units being affordable to a range of incomes. There are also 1.6 parking spaces per unit, or 963 spaces. The project also boasts a major public access area to the waterfront of the Chelsea Creek and Mill Creek. The current project also has a very small amount of retail and office uses, with both totaling below 20,000 sq. ft.

The project, though still very large, was scaled back from the developer’s (YIHE Forbes of China) original proposal in 2015. That proposal featured skyscrapers about 21 stories tall and more than 1,000 units of housing accompanied by large office spaces and large hotels. It was rejected informally and the company eventually withdrew during a ZBA meeting that went past midnight.

The news of Tuesday’s approval of the new plan was viewed with mixed results by most, including those who had come to support the project, including City Manager Tom Ambrosino.

“I’m happy with the project even though it’s far from perfect,” he said. “Given all the concessions made since they first showed up here, I think it’s a workable project. There is lots of homeownership, with 60 percent being condos. This is the largest condo project in Chelsea for more than a decade if not longer. They also have really exciting plans for accessing the waterfront along the Chelsea Creek.”

Ambrosino said they also agreed to several affordable housing concessions. Of the required 59 units of affordable housing, the mix will include many different income ranges, including 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), 50 percent of the AMI and 30 percent of the AMI.

“That’s really deeply affordable and it assures that actual families that live in Chelsea now will be able to afford to live in the complex. That was very important to the City,” he said.

The developer also agreed to contribute $300,000 to the four schools at the Mary C. Burke Complex, which is about two blocks from the Forbes entrance.

That said, not everyone was happy with the news – and in particular was Councillor Joe Perlatonda, who represents the Mill Hill and Forbes area. He said the problem with the Forbes project is the same as it has always been, and that problem is the fact that there is one access point.

In the first iteration, City officials – including Ambrosino – had called for a bridge over the Chelsea Creek to Revere as a second access point to alleviate traffic in the neighborhood. However, this time around that was not made a requirement, and Perlatonda said he was not happy there was a concession made on that point.

“It’s a shame that no one has thought about the concessions of the residents that live in our neighborhood,” he said. “Right now, with cars parked on both sides of the street that go into the Forbes site, and what we have to go through every day. Try getting out of your driveway every day; try driving down the street when you have to dodge cars, and then add 963 parking spaces which is 1.6 cars per unit. But someone seems to forget about the cars they will have for each unit like the mother, father and kids that all have cars, not to mention the visitors or guests that will come with cars. Has anyone thought where to put the overflow of these cars? Our streets are already congested, and getting in and out will be so bad. This is just part of the nightmare.”

GreenRoots Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni said they didn’t believe the project was perfect, but felt there had been reasonable concessions made about their concerns.

“We had a number of concerns relating to the impacts on the neighborhood, and we feel that we have achieved some reasonable concessions from the developers,” she said. “The number of affordable units, deeper levels of affordability and preference for Chelsea residents for those units – together with the mitigation for the adjacent neighborhood and the $300,000 for the four schools at the Mary C. Burke Complex are all concessions that we are proud to have fought hard for…GreenRoots is committed to ongoing dialogue – and protest if necessary – to ensure the benefits are for everyone in the community, not just the lucky few who will get to live at Forbes.”

Ambrosino said the site is very large, and that did allow the developer to be able to build large numbers of units by right if they chose to do so and could meet the parking requirements. That, he said, would have cut the City and the neighborhood out of the planning completely. He felt it wasn’t worth the risk to chance that.

“They could have gone in by right and built 450 units and 900 parking spots and got a building permit without any say from the City or the neighbors,” he said.

The project has already cleared Major Site Plan at the Planning Board, but has many hurdles to clear at City Hall in reviewing plans before they can break ground.

It is believed that the developer plans to keep three of the smaller buildings on site and rehabilitate them. The rest of the project will be new construction.

Read More

Lime Bike Rental Program Hopes to Unveil Electric Situation in Chelsea

Lime Bike Rental Program Hopes to Unveil Electric Situation in Chelsea

When the Lime Bike rental program returns to the streets of Chelsea this spring, riders might notice a little extra oomph in their ride.

Chelsea took part in a program with Lime Bike, along with 16 neighboring communities, last year. Council President Damali Vidot said the bike rentals will be up and running again this year.

However, there will be a difference this year, as Lime is unveiling electric-assisted bicycles throughout the region.

Because electric bicycles are currently not allowed in Chelsea, Vidot has introduced an ordinance to the City Council that would allow for the vehicles as long as they do not travel faster than 15 miles per hour.

“Since the late Summer of 2017, the City of Chelsea has been experimenting with dockless bikes, initially as a pilot with the company Ofo and then, last year, as part of a regional Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) contract with Lime Bike,” City Manager Tom Ambrosino stated in a letter to the Council. “Notwithstanding some minor complaints, I believe the experiment has been successful.”

Last year, more than 4,000 people used the dockless bikes in Chelsea, taking almost 20,000 separate trips, according to the city manager.

“The City would like to continue this dockless bike program in 2019,” stated Ambrosino. “However, there has been a change in the marketplace for dockless bikes. All the companies in this arena are moving away from pedal powered bikes to electric assisted bikes, including Lime Bike.”

To continue with the regional effort with Lime and allow the bikes in Chelsea, the City will have to change the current ordinance that prohibits the vehicles.

“Over the past month, we have explored the options of replacing Lime Bike with another company that might offer dockless pedal only bikes, but no operator is interested in the restriction,” Ambrosino said.

While the change in the ordinance would allow for the electric-assisted bicycles, Ambrosino said there are no plans in the works to allow for electric scooters to operate on public streets.

“I am just alerting the Council that the use of such scooters may soon become ubiquitous in surrounding communities,” he stated.

Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda said he’s looking forward to the transportation upgrade.

“I’m looking forward to them,” he said. “I took a practice ride, and it was quite fun.”

•In other transportation-related news, Ambrosino told the City Council it should keep the future appearance of autonomous vehicles in the back of its mind.

“Right now, testing of such vehicles is underway in Boston and other communities,” he said.

As with the electric-assisted bicycles, the Council would have to adjust its ordinances to allow for autonomous, self-driving vehicles. A MassDOT and MAPC agreement could allow for a pilot route for the vehicles in the Industrial District.

“It is likely to be some time before autonomous vehicles actually appear on this pilot route,” Ambrosino said. “Again, such testing cannot occur until the City has given express permission. However, I just wanted to give the Council notice that this transportation innovation is moving forward and may someday make its way to Chelsea.”

Read More

City Manager Ambrosino Highlights Achievements -Looks to the Future in His State of the City Address to City Council

City Manager Ambrosino Highlights Achievements -Looks to the Future in His State of the City Address to City Council

Fresh off of a new contract, City Manager Tom Ambrosino gave an enthusiastic opening to Monday’s Council meeting during his State of the City Address, where he talked about Chelsea’s accomplishments in 2018 as well as its goals for 2019.

“I feel confident in saying that the state of our City of Chelsea is very good indeed,” he started.

Among the achievements of the past year, Ambrosino noted that the City ended 2018 with an excess of $28 million in its coffers.

“There’s not another city our size in the entire Commonwealth with that level of reserve,” he said. “That is a testament to the shrewd financial planning of City Council.”

In 2018, Chelsea was also one of only 35 cities in the country to be awarded a Bloomberg Challenge grant for its vision to reduce crime with preventative care.

“Because of that award, our model of predicting harm and then engaging in cross-sector collaboration to address the harm got national attention,” said Ambrosino. “It’s gaining interest and it has people seeking to replicate that, not just in Massachusetts, but outside as well.”

Ambrosino cited the City’s increased development in 2018, such as the construction of two new hotels and the multi-million dollar expansion of a pharmaceutical company. He also mentioned the $10 million grant by the state to reconstruct Broadway from City Hall to the Revere Line, as well as a $3 million federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to renovate Chelsea’s waterfront, one of the largest grants given by the EDA to any municipality in the country in 2018, and one of the only grants issued in Massachusetts.

“We kept our promises to our residents in 2018 by doing good services,” Ambrosino reflected. “I think we can achieve the same level of success in 2019 if we have the same level of collaboration from City Council.”

In terms of goals for 2019, Ambrosino highlighted the effort to renovate the downtown Chelsea area, building on the foundational work done in 2018.

“We added police, social services, more lighting, decorative banners, public art,” he said. “We’ve created an atmosphere and foundation for success, so what we need to do now is finalize the work that remains.”

Ambrosino outlined four areas of improvement for downtown Chelsea: finalizing the design for the infrastructure improvements for one-way schemes, adopting the necessary zoning permissions to improve the facade of the corridor, offering a rich array of cultural and artistic activities, and submitting a request for proposal (RFP) for the redevelopment of the former Salvation Army site.

The City Manager threw his support behind the Forbes Proposal, which is up before the City Board of Appeals next month for the redevelopment of the Chelsea waterfront, claiming that it will include affordable condominiums for Chelsea residents looking to become homeowners.

Ambrosino also mentioned the planned infrastructure and capital improvements for 2019, including work to the Chelsea Greenway, the Chelsea Garden Cemetery and Veterans’ Field. This would all be in the context of a master plan, the first of its kind in Chelsea since the 1970s.

The City Manager emphasized the importance of investing in affordable housing as well as in education, specifically for grants to allow high-achieving, low-income high school students in Chelsea to attend Bunker Hill Community College free of charge.

“This idea of public funding for education beyond just high school is gaining momentum in this nation,” he said. “We can feel a sense a pride that Chelsea is in the forefront of that movement.”

The City Manager’s State of the City address can be viewed on the Chelsea Community Cable’s YouTube channel here: youtu.be/lRVWajXR44w.

Read More

Parking Study Comes In at More Than $200,000

Parking Study Comes In at More Than $200,000

A parking study asked for by the City Council has had few interested takers, and the only bid on the study has come in at an exorbitant $210,000.

The Council called for a parking study to be done for the entire City late last year, and the City began work on getting a consultant in place through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

However, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said there was only one bidder, Howard Stein Hudson (HSH), and they only bid on a portion of the city rather than the entire city.

“HSH believes that a parking study encompassing the entire City of Chelsea will be too big and likely too expensive of an undertaking,” wrote Ambrosino. “Instead, HSH is proposing that, in addition to the downtown, it would identify only a few other target neighborhoods for study. I don’t know if the Council would be satisfied with that limitation.”

The other piece of the puzzle is the cost.

Ambrosino said the cost of HSH’s limited proposal was $210,780.

“That is much more than we anticipated, and I don’t know if the Council is prepared to expend that sum,” he wrote.

Ambrosino called for the Council to convene subcommittee to talk about next steps. He said they could accept the expensive proposal from HSH, or they could re-big the project and hope to get more proposals.

A date is being set for the committee meeting.

•City Manager Tom Ambrosino is recommending against taking the trash collection operations in-house, a proposal floated by the Council last month.

He said the City’s Department of Public Works had made some initial calculations that showed it would be about the same costs to bring it in-house as it would be to continue using its contractor, Russel Disposal.

“The (figures) make clear that there are no obvious savings by taking the work in-house,” he wrote. “Our best estimate is that annual costs would probably be somewhat greater than what we pay to Russell.”

However, many of the concerns of the Council, including Councilor Enio Lopez, came from the mish-mash quality of pickup.

Ambrosino said he understood those concerns, but didn’t believe taking the operations in-house would improve the mistakes that are made.

“It is my opinion that, given the nature of the trash business, where litter, rough handling of barrels and occasional missed deliveries are inevitable no matter who is performing the work, bringing this work in-house would not demonstrably improve quality, at least not to the extent where any improvement would be noticeable to our residents.”

He said he would not recommend any change.

However, he did not close the door on taking other functions in-house.

He said he isn’t opposed to bringing things like some water and sewer work back in-house.

“I feel strongly that we should probably take in-house certain water, sewer and drainage work that we currently outsource,” he said. “But, in the case of that utility work, I can definitively show that the City will save substantial money doing the work ourselves, and I do believe the quality will be a noticeable improvement to our residents.”

However, he said he doesn’t believe the same to be true for the trash realm.

Read More