Just as the Planning Board looked close to taking a vote on a major development plan for the Forbes site Tuesday night, Dec. 18, the attorney for developer YIHE asked the board to give his client another month to review potential changes to the project.
Paul Feldman, the attorney for the developer, requested a one-month continuance of the public hearing on the project after City officials, including City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, recommended decreasing the density of the residential units on the site.
Developers were seeking 630 studio, one-, and two-bedroom units in a mix of buildings on the property, along with 963 parking spots, and 20,000 sq. ft. of office, commercial, and retail space.
Chinese company YIHE purchased the 18-acre former Forbes Lithograph Manufacturing site, bordered by the Chelsea River and Mill Creek, in 2014 for just over $11.5 million. In 2015, the City rejected a far-reaching plan for the site that included skyscrapers more than 20 stories tall and more than 1.5 million square feet of residential and commercial development.
“The current proposal is more than half the size smaller than the one three years ago at 699,000 square feet,” said Feldman.
During a nearly three-hour public hearing Tuesday night, Ambrosino gave the project his qualified support, stating he approved of the developer’s plans to allow waterfront access to the public through a three-acre waterfront park. He also supported their willingness to work with the city on affordable housing levels and the plan to build 60 percent of the units as condominiums, dramatically helping to increase home-ownership levels in Chelsea.
“This is the first significant home ownership project to come to the city since I started here three-and-a-half years ago,” said Ambrosino.
However, the city manager said the project is too dense for the neighborhood, and asked the Planning Board to recommend to the Zoning Board of Appeals that the project be limited to 550 residential units. He also asked the ZBA to stipulate that 10 percent of the units in the project be set aside as affordable units at 50 percent of the annual median income.
“I advocate that outright denial would not be in the best interest of the city,” said Ambrosino. He noted that 630 units could be approved by right on the 18-acre parcel provided there were more parking spaces than the number proposed by YIHE.
During the public hearing, Feldman said the developer was willing to work with the city on affordable housing. With the recommendation to reduce the number of units, however, the attorney said his client would need more time to review the conditions.
“Given the enormous amount of information we have heard tonight, we do not want to be rushed,” said Feldman.
During the hearing, most of the questions from the board and the public revolved around some of the usual suspects with any large development — safety, traffic, and parking.
A good portion of the evening was dedicated to a traffic study conducted by the developer’s engineering firm.
Jeff Dirk of Vanasse and Associates said there would be a traffic impact from the 630 units, but that it would top out at about 200 vehicle trips during peak hours around 1 Forbes Street. He also noted that once traffic exited the development over one of two proposed new bridges to the site off Crescent Avenue, it would be dispersed throughout a number of thoroughfares throughout Chelsea, cutting down on overall congestion.
“It will be a relatively minor increase (in traffic) as you get away from the site,” said Dirk.
Feldman said the developers will work with the City to make infrastructure and traffic improvements in the area, including to Crescent Avenue itself. In addition, he said YIHE will work with the MBTA to improve public transportation to the site and the surrounding neighborhood.
While a dedicated bus stop is likely years away, Feldman said developers will provide a shuttle bus service to the nearest MBTA bus stops and the Silver Line for residents of the development and the neighborhood.
But some people Tuesday night, including District 3 City Councillor Joe Perlatonda, said the development team was painting too-rosy a picture of the traffic and parking impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
“This is in my district and I am still not on board,” said Perlatonda.
As it stands, the councillor said pedestrians dodge traffic on Crescent Avenue, and backups in the area can be severe, particularly during school drop-off and pick-up hours.
“Parking is also a major concern, and I also don’t want to see a bus circling Carroll Street and Clinton Street,” he said. “I see there being a complete bottleneck.”
Several residents and Planning Board members were also concerned about the two new planned bridges, questioning if they were too close together in case of emergency.
Feldman said a wider bridge would be for vehicles and a narrower one would be primarily for pedestrians, but could be used for emergency access by the police and fire departments.
However, Planning Board member Gladys Vega said she was worried that there could be issues in an emergency because the bridges are essentially side by side, with no other access point to the development.
City Council President Damali Vidot raised concerns about the density of the project, as well as the lack of three-bedroom apartments in the initial plans.
“I do appreciate the 10 percent affordable housing at the lower annual median income, if the developer is willing to do it,” Vidot said. “But I do have an issue with (Feldman) minimizing the impact of the project on the community. This would be an increase in population of 2,000 people, or about five percent of the city’s population.”
The Planning Board will take up the public hearing on 1 Forbes St. at its January meeting.
Feldman said he will also be asking for a continuance from the ZBA, which needs to grant a special permit to allow for fewer parking spots than are required under zoning for the Waterfront District.
Council President Damali Vidot has lined up the votes to be chosen as the Council President for a second year in a row, a rare move on a Council where most only serve for one year and pass it on.
“I’m excited to serve again and thank my colleagues for their confidence,” she said this week. “From what I’m hearing, it’s the first time a woman has served for two consecutive terms as Council President. I don’t have it all figured out, but I believe my colleagues trust my leadership and know I’m trying to do the right thing.”
Aside from Vidot, the vice president will be Luis Tejada and the School Committee liaison will be Yamir Rodriguez.
The Council in Chelsea doesn’t vote on its leadership positions until its first meeting in January. However, the Council does line up its votes and preferences in December. Rarely, if ever, does the vote change between December and January.
Vidot said one of her goals is to begin looking at the boards and commissions within the City, such as the License Board and Zoning Board.
“One of my goals is to better monitor these boards in the city, like the Traffic Commission and the ZBA,” she said. “I feel like at different levels these boards exist and that no one is in control. I’ve seen residents come up 100 percent against a project, and it goes through anyway. These are things we really need to look at to make sure we’re all on the same page. It feels like we’re all running in different directions now.”
Additionally, Vidot said she hoped to foster a good working relationship between councillors in the coming year.
“I take a lot of pride in being able to work with all the different councillors,” she said. “I want to make sure we’re all working together and doing the best we can…There are so many different needs. You take a councillor like Bob Bishop from Prattville and a Councillor like Enio Lopez from District 4 and their needs in those districts are so different, but I look forward to being able to work together to address each of them equally.”
The Council has yet to set a date for its first meeting and its organizational meeting for election of officers, but it is expected to be on Jan. 7.
There has been no shortage of colorful language used to express frustration for the often ill-timed Chelsea Street Bridge closures, and now the MBTA has joined the chorus in cursing the 250-foot vertical lift bridge – a bridge that far-too-often makes a lift in the dead of rush hour traffic.
At the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) meeting on Monday, Kate Fichter – Assistant MassDOT Secretary for Policy Coordination – said that the Silver Line extension to Chelsea has been a great success, but the delays at the critical crossing of the Chelsea Street Bridge have stifled the new service.
A plan put in place to warn Silver Line drivers in advance of a bridge closure has not worked out very well, she said, and the Silver Line’s growth is believed to be hampered by people frustrated with the bridge delays.
“It impacts a lot of things and it’s been an issue a long time for Chelsea, East Boston and Revere,” said Fichter. “With the SL3, we had a plan in place that had a system for early warning with dispatch that we hoped would mitigate the issue. It hasn’t really turned out to work as well as we had hoped. It is a challenge to the Silver Line, the 116, the 117 and a lot of its other uses…The Silver Line usage has grown, and we believe if we can solve the delays at the bridge, ridership can grow even more.”
Fichter said they are working with MassPort and several other partners to propose a six-month pilot program to the Coast Guard’s Maritime Regulations on the bridge. Those regulations prioritize maritime travel over all other forms of transportation and often result in ships coming through at the worst times of the day. That has caused problems for MassPort workers trying to get to and from the employee parking garage in Chelsea from the airport, and it’s also caused problems for parents trying to get to Chelsea to pick up their children from school or day care. Likewise, it is a constant headache for commuters and commercial/industrial ventures when it goes up.
“We are going to apply with the Coast Guard in the next couple of months to propose a pilot program to those regulations that would last six months,” she said. “At this point, we’re proposing that the bridge would not open in the a.m. peak times or the p.m. peak times for a two-hour period at each time.”
The exception would be if a fully loaded petroleum tanker sought to come into the Chelsea Creek or there was an emergency situation. The purpose of the pilot program would be to collect data on MBTA delays, as well as delays for other users.
“I am cautiously optimistic about getting the pilot,” she said. “The situation is such that we have no real leverage. We can only ask.”
She said the goal would be for the multiple agencies to seek a permanent regulation change with the Coast Guard if the pilot shows improvements. That, she said, is a tough road to travel and would likely get resistance from maritime uses on Chelsea Creek.
“They see it as a maritime facility and we see it as the bottom of a road,” she said. “It’s no secret the users of the Creek and vessel operators are very opposed to this and I anticipate they will oppose the pilot program and would really oppose a permanent change. There are plenty of regulations that have changed across the country, but it’s a tough fight…My hope is there is a compromise position where everyone gives a little and we all get some relief.”
Fichter said they would be having public meetings in the new year at some point to get input from the community, and they are encouraging everyone to come out and voice their frustrations with the bridge as it is set up now. The more people that voice their opinions, the more likely it will be that the pilot would be put in place.
She said they would like to see any approved pilot program start in June 2019.
Chelsea Silver Line extension seeing major growth in weekday ridership
MBTA officials reported this week that Silver Line ridership for the new Chelsea service has been growing steadily since implementation last April.
Members of the MBTA’s Chelsea Task Force reported to the Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) on Monday that ridership on weekdays has grown by nearly 2,000 riders per month.
The service started with about 4,100 riders per month on weekday at the outset, and now boasts around 6,200 riders per month on weekdays. At other times, though, ridership has stayed flat.
On Saturdays, ridership started around 3,000, grew to nearly 4,000 riders and has now declined to about 3,200 riders.
On Sundays, ridership started at about 2,900 and surged to about 3,000 riders in August, but has now declined to about 3,800 riders per month.
The Bellingham-Cary House held its annual Holiday Open House on Saturday evening, Dec. 7, with a good turnout of residents coming to celebrate the holidays in the historic home. Pictured here are the Board of Trustees: Jean Chapman, Corresponding Secretary; Faye Dookharan, Treasurer; Matt Frank, and Karen MacInnis, President.
The Planning Board recommended approval to two changes to the City’s zoning ordinances on Tuesday night.
The first change affects the Naval Hospital Residential and Commercial Districts, also known as the Admiral’s Hill area of the city.
In the 1980s, the city slackened many building and zoning regulations for the district in an effort to encourage development, according to Lad Dell, the city’s planning and land use administrator.
“People were able to develop without much regulation at all,” said Dell.
A moratorium on building in the district was recently extended to the end of the year by City Manager Thomas Ambrosino as the City worked on new regulations for the district.
The new ordinance recommended by the Planning Board for approval by the City Council allows for four- to six-unit buildings to be constructed by right, with a special permit required for any construction above six units.
The ordinance brought before the Planning Board allowed for building heights of 2 ½ stories and 35 feet. The board amended the ordinance to allow for a building height of 40 feet.
“I would suggest that we add the half a story and a little height to allow for garages,” said John DePriest, the City’s planning director.
City Councillor Roy Avellaneda said the amendment was in line with Council subcommittee discussions on the ordinance to increase building height to make it easier to build garages.
The residents who spoke during the public hearing on the zoning amendment were supportive.
“It looks like this is an effort to protect the character of the neighborhood and not overload our streets,” said Christine Shields.
The second zoning amendment would allow for residential units on the first floor of buildings in the Retail Business District by special permit, as long as those units are not on Broadway.
Two years ago, a zoning amendment banned residential units on the first floor in the Broadway corridor. If the new amendment is approved by the City Council, residential units will still be banned on the first floor on Broadway itself, but could be allowed under special permit on other streets near Broadway in the zoning district.
In other Planning Board business, the developers of the massive 1 Forbes Street project withdrew their plans for the project.
But rather than a massive blow to development in the City, it was a procedural move that gives developers more time to fully present the project to a full Planning Board, according to Paul Feldman, who is representing the developer for the 630-unit residential and office building project.
“The public hearing on this was opened on Sept. 22, and at that time, there were a couple of vacancies on the board and a member who was not present,” said Feldman. “With a nine member board, to get site approval, we need six votes.”
Feldman said developers are withdrawing the site plan, but immediately refiling it to start the clock over on the hearing process. He said he expects the project to be back before the Planning Board at its Dec. 18 meeting.
“We would like the participation of all nine members, or all that can attend,” said Feldman.
Tuesday night, the board also approved a special permit for a 16-seat Peruvian bistro-type restaurant at the site of a former liquor store on 22 Adams St.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said this week that the City has negotiated three Host Community Agreements (HCA) with marijuana operators looking to establish dispensaries in the City.
Ambrosino said all three HCAs are identical and are really a formality for the dispensaries, which include the one at the former King Arthur’s, the one on Eastern Avenue and the one on Webster Avenue at Chelsea Commons. He said the City’s policy is they would negotiate an HCA with any entity that had gotten through the process and wanted to proceed to state approval.
“My guess is that it’s another year or so before any of them are set up,” he said. “It’s my understanding that all of the enterprises with HCAs here are not very close to being approved by the state Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).”
The HCAs are the next step after the community meeting, which all three have completed. To go before the CCC, an entity must have an HCA in place, and Ambrosino said the law is clear towards what can be in those agreements.
In Chelsea’s case, the City has asked for 3 percent of gross revenues from the sales of marijuana products. Those payments will come annually and will be in addition to the 3 percent local sales tax already approved. The first 3 percent mitigation payment would come 14 months after the dispensary opens.
A second monetary piece in the agreements includes two, $30,000 payments over two years to the City’s non-profits that have an anti-drug focus.
An important aside, Ambrosino said, is that the HCA doesn’t mean the City has agreed to support the license of any entity.
“My signing off on these is not a substantive decision on them,” he said. “I’m just giving them the chance to move forward and you have to have these in place to move forward. We’ll make the substantive decisions on these proposals not behind closed doors in a negotiation, but rather at the Zoning Board and Planning Board in a public as part of a process.”
Before any of the three dispensaries could open their doors, they would need state approval from the CCC. Then they would have to come back to Chelsea and get a special permit after visiting the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the Planning Board. If that permit is achieved, they would then have to get a license to operate from the Chelsea License Commission.
Only then could an establishment open for business.
The development team of The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and Traggorth Development will appeal last month’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) decision to reject their 42-unit waterfront development on upper Broadway.
TND Director Rafael Mares and David Traggorth, principal of Traggorth, said they believe the project still has great value for Chelsea and for those that are being priced out of the city.
“We were motivated to propose this project because Chelsea residents are being priced out of their own city and there is an overwhelming need for all kinds of affordable housing options,” they wrote in an op-ed to the Record. “We have chosen to appeal the Zoning Board of Appeals decision because we still believe that this site offers a unique opportunity to meet critical community needs.”
Any appeal of a ZBA decision goes to Suffolk Superior Court for a hearing.
The ZBA narrowly defeated the proposal after the company engaged in several community meetings, and even changed the project after neighborhood input – lowering the height on one side and adding some market-rate units.
However, at the ZBA, the call came to reject the plan in favor of home ownership opportunities.
Chief among the opponents was Councillor Roy Avellaneda, who said the city needed people who were buying and intending to stay to preserve the community.
The op-ed said the developers agree with the idea that there needs to be more ownership, but they said they project on Broadway could not work out financially because of environmental costs.
“It is clear from the comments of those who spoke for and against the project that members of our community would like to see more opportunities for residents of Chelsea to own their own homes,” they wrote. “We agree. Opponents of the project argued that rejecting our proposal would encourage the development of homeownership opportunities and discourage more development of apartments for rent. However, the rejection of our proposal will not create any homeownership opportunities, let alone affordable ones. The limitations and costs of complying with Chapter 91 make for-sale condominiums not feasible at this site.”
While they said they want to work with the City to find ways to develop more homeownership opportunities, they also said this project was for the critical affordable housing needs of those being displaced.
This project was designed to serve current Chelsea residents who are clearly in critical need of affordable housing,” the wrote. “It is for this reason that while we work with City officials to envision how more homeownership can be built and advocate for more resources to do so, we will continue to advocate for this project.”
When Ayman Souabny looked around his school and his city, he didn’t see much of anything but concrete.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino, Council President Damali Vidot and Supt. Mary Bourque join Wright Middle students Luis Cruz-Martinez,Ayman Souabny, Sherlyn Melgar and Kevin Mizhquiri in front of the school last Friday, Oct. 19, to celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree in front of the school. The planting was a request made by the students, fulfilled by local government.
He, and many of his students at the Wright Middle School, wanted to see trees.
And the City heard their call.
On Friday, the Chelsea Tree Board and City officials joined Souabny and several other key students who called for more trees around the Williams School building to plant a ceremonial tree in honor of Arbor Day.
“In Chelsea we need trees,” said Souabny. “Things keep changing in Chelsea and now we have none left. We need oxygen to breath and trees provide oxygen. So, I thought we should tell them to plant trees around our school…I never thought they would bring them, but they did.”
Tree Board member Julie Shannon said it’s a small gesture, but it’s one that – on Arbor Day – the students will be able to remember for a long time.
“Arbor Day is a chance for us as a community to pay special recognition to the importance of trees in our community,” she said. “I wanted to give a special thanks to the students where they are the reason we are celebrating this year’s Arbor Day at the Williams school. These students understand the numerous benefits and positive impact of more trees and took the initiative to speak up asking for more trees around the school. Well, let today be a testament that you’ve been heard and today is because of you. It’s a great lesson that you do have a voice in this community. Whether it’s getting more trees planted or other areas that need attention, speak up, you can make change happen. You should all be proud of yourselves.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the new trees will be something students can remember for a long time.
“This is a City committed to improving the green canopy in our City,” he said. “For the students, the best thing is these trees will last 50 years or more. When you grow up and are in Chelsea, every time you see these trees, you’ll be able to tell everyone they are there because of your efforts.”
Said Supt. Mary Bourque, “You do have a voice in this community. Whenever you see a place to speak up, you know you will be heard.”
Council President Damali Vidot said many of the comments she gets from students are about the environment.
“The majority of letters I get from young people, probably 95 percent, are about improving the environment,” she said. “I thank you for speaking up and I thank the DPW for listening to our future leaders – these students.”
Principal Michelle Martiniello said she was proud of the students for getting such a thing done.
“A lot of the time we encourage them to get involved in the community, and this time, it showed great benefits,” she said.
Added Assistant Principal Adam Weldai, “It was great for them to hear local government did listen to them and will do things they ask for.”
The golden arches on Revere Beach Parkway are going to shine a little brighter.
Tuesday night, the Planning Board approved a special permit allowing for the demolition and rebuild of the McDonald’s at 170 Revere Beach Parkway.
The updated fast food restaurant will be larger than the current building and will feature a double drive-through lane, according to project engineer William Lucas. There will also be fewer parking spots and more green space on the property.
“McDonald’s is going through a nationwide rebranding program at all its restaurants,” said Lucas.
In many locations, that means major renovations. But in Chelsea, Lucas said the demolition and rebuild of the restaurant will help improve accessibility inside and outside the restaurant.
“This will bring the restaurant into compliance and improve operations,” he said. “They are implementing a side-by-side drive-through instead of the single file line.”
The current drive-through lane is parallel to Washington Avenue, while the new window will face Revere Beach Parkway. The size of the building itself is slated to increase from 3,500 to 4,400 square feet, and the number of parking spaces will decrease from 65 to 32.
Planning Board Chairman Tuck Willis asked how long the demolition and rebuild will take once work gets underway.
“Generally, it gets done in less than 60 days,” said Lucas.
Board member Todd Taylor said he did have some concerns about the project if the construction affects Washington Avenue.
“The traffic there is such a bad problem,” said Taylor. “That is the main way out of Prattville, and in the mornings, there is a huge backup and people cannot get out of the neighborhood.”
Other than the McDonald’s vote, it was a fairly low-key evening for the Planning Board, as it approved special permits to convert several single-family homes to multi-family units.
The massive, 630-unit Forbes Street project was continued to the board’s Nov. 27 meeting.
The most excitement during the meeting came during a thunderstorm, when several board members were startled during an especially close and loud boomer.
Nine Chelsea liquor stores have hired an attorney and filed an appeal with the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) regarding last May’s ‘nip’ ban of small alcoholic beverage bottles (100 mL or less), a policy that was renewed at a recent meeting in September.
Attorney Louis Cassis has filed an appeal with the ABCC on behalf of Chelsea Liquors, Inc. (Heller’s); 180 Broadway Liquor Inc. (Chelsea Liquor Mart); Pamukhan Corp. (Bridge Liquors); Canadian Liquors, Inc. (Broadway Variety 2); Finemart, Inc.; KB Corp. (Yogi’s); Nilam, Inc. (Caribbean Liquors); SAR Convenience, Inc. (Shop N Go); and Banwait Liquors, Inc. (One Stop).
The policy was enacted after several hearings last spring aimed at reducing litter and preventing vagrancy in areas around liquor stores. Many in the public and the Commission felt that the small liquor bottles were an enabling factor to the litter and the vagrancy.
Another provision in the policy was they could not sell any alcohol product under $3.
Attorney Cassis said his clients felt the change altered their licenses in a way that made their businesses suffer.
“The Board’s action in prohibiting the sale of containers of spirits of 100mL or less and imposing a voluntary ban on containers priced below $3 is a modification of the liquor license within state law,” read the complaint. “The action of the Board is so modifying the license was unsupported by substantial evidence; arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion…; unsupported by specific findings of fact or by the evidence; based upon error of law; made upon unlawful procedure; violative of its own policies and procedures; and in excess of the statutory authority of the board.”
The attorney said his clients sought a review before the ABCC and would reverse the actions made on his clients.
The ‘nip’ ban was followed up by an effort to also ban small bottles of 250 mL or less, but that effort was tabled in favor of a voluntary ban that is being promoted among the liquor store owners.
The review before the ABCC will likely be a test case for the entire state as many urban municipalities have also sought to ban ‘nip’ bottles from their licensed package stores. Already, Everett has taken a step in that direction as well as other surrounding cities.