City Budget Request Submitted and Sits at $181.5 Million

City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented a city budget just short of $181,500,000 for Fiscal Year 2020 to the City Council Monday night.

The proposed budget funds city expenditures at $86,095,981 and the schools at $95,391,784 for a total budget of $181,487,765. This budget is about $6.5 million more than the FY19 budget, an increase of 3.71 percent.

“The FY20 budget continues support for many programs we have implemented over the past few years,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council.

The City Manager is proposing full funding for social services programs in the downtown, including the Navigators and Youth Navigator program. The Health and Human Services budget also includes a new social services contract to support the ISD housing program.

The budget does include new positions in three city departments — E-911, DPW, and Elder Services — and an increase from a part-time to a full-time position in the Licensing Department. The E-911 increase, a total of three new full-time positions, follows a personnel review by the department’s new director.

Increases in the DPW include personnel for a new 311 system as well as a group of new hires required for the city to operate its own Water and Sewer Department.

The FY20 budget includes funds in salary reserve to cover the anticipated costs of ongoing union negotiations with City Hall employees. With the exception of the police and fire union contracts, all municipal union contracts expire on June 30 of this year.

•In other business, the Council approved an order proposed by councillors Giovanni Recupero, Enio Lopez, Luis Tejada, and Damali Vidot requiring that all street cleanings should be limited to the same amount of time in every street. Lopez and Recupero both noted that residents who live in areas where they have to move their cars for five hours for street cleaning face greater hardship than those where street cleaning is limited to two hours.

•The council also held a public hearing on zoning amendments that will allow for outdoor dining and improved signage and facades in the city.

Several local business owners and city officials spoke in support of the zoning amendments, noting it would improve the look of the downtown and make for a livelier, safer city.

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License Commission Approves License for Carnival at Chelsea Commons

The carnival is coming to Chelsea.

On Wednesday, April 3, the Licensing Commission approved a four-day license for New Hampshire-based Fiesta Shows to hold a four-day carnival on the Chelsea Commons this spring.

During the short public hearing to approve the license, Chelsea Police Captain Keith Houghton said the City’s public safety agencies have never had an issue with Fiesta Shows. The company also runs events nearby in Revere and Lynn, among other communities.

At-Large City Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he’s had experience with Fiesta Shows owner John Flynn in the past, and that Flynn has always run a tight and secure ship with his shows. In addition, Avellaneda noted that Fiesta Shows will make a donation to the City’s summer jobs program.

Licensing Commissioner Roseann Bongiovanni said she did have some concerns about the carnival operating until 11 p.m., especially on Thursday night.

Flynn said while the license has the closing time at 11 p.m., festivities and rides typically wind down around 10 p.m., giving police time to sweep the area by 11 p.m. Music and amplification is usually shut down at 9 p.m., he added.

•In other business, the Commission denied a permit that would have allowed for Friday night social events at the Rincon Hondureno Function Hall at 194 Broadway. Commission members and City officials expressed concern that the social night would effectively turn the function hall into a nightclub.

•The Licensing Commission also approved a liquor license transfer for La Esquina Mariachi Restaurant at 170 Washington Ave., the former site of the Plaza Mexico restaurant.

The pastor and parishioners from the neighboring church expressed concerns about the new restaurant, given their experience in the past.

While the Commission approved the license, members asked that the owners are mindful of the past history at 170 Washington Ave.

“You need to be very conscious of the environment you are stepping into,” said Licensing Commission Chair Mark Rossi. “Please don’t disappoint us.”

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New Broadway Sign and Design Guidelines Head to City Council for Review

New Broadway Sign and Design Guidelines Head to City Council for Review

Dr. Deborah Wayne’s optometry shop has been on Broadway in one way or another since 1936, but in 2019 she’s hoping that new City guidelines and a store improvement program will help her shop – and others around it – catapult into the new century.

“You want to see quality businesses and you want them to look like quality businesses,” she said. “I think it’s a fabulous idea. It’s an old storefront. I have a storefront that doesn’t have any grates. We’ve been operating in one location or another on Broadway since 1936 and we’ve never had a grate. I’d do anything to get the grates off the businesses on Broadway. I think they’re ugly. I’m hoping that these regulations go through so I can take advantage of the program. I don’t want to take action and build something that isn’t in compliance. I’m ready to rip the front off my store. I can’t wait.”

She shares the enthusiasm of most of the business community on Broadway, who wholeheartedly support a set of design guidelines for the corridor, as well as a storefront improvement assistance program.

Downtown Coordinator Mimi Graney has proposed the regulations this spring to the Planning Board, and had a hearing on April 1. They will have a stop at the City Council again with a ruling promised in May.

“The goal is to be attractive and be maintained and lit well,” she said. “It’s also transparency of the windows. We’re telling folks not to have the big frosted glass and we would like the business to take down the big metal grates. In a lot of cases, they aren’t necessary because it can done other ways. We can meet the goal of safety and meet the goal of feeling safe and having an attractive façade.”

One of the problems, she said, is that the regulations for signage and façade improvements are woefully outdated – in some cases not allowing simple things like a blade sign. A blade sign is a suspended sign that faces those walking on the sidewalk. Because of the outdated regulations, she said, many store owners are hesitant to make upgrades that could be a code violation.

“The downtown has always been a bunch of things, but the rules never changed so it means the businesses can’t update or maintain their facades,” she added.

Alberto Calvo of Stop & Compare Supermarket said they improved their façade and sign a few years ago, and it made a huge difference. He’s excited to see that happen throughout the business district.

“We’re absolutely excited to see movement toward the revamping of sign ordinances,” offered Calvo, also executive vice president of the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. “A few years ago, we at Stop & Compare in Chelsea invested significantly to improve our building’s façade and to install updated, modern signage. It has made a marked, positive difference in our foot traffic and sales at that location, and I very much want to see other businesses in the Downtown corridor benefit from these kinds of improvements.”

Chelsea Chamber President Joseph W. Mahoney added, “We do get member businesses, and non-members, too, asking whether there are programs to assist business owners to fund signage and façade improvements. For façades, we know that there is a small program to be made available, but the roll-out of the façade program has been at least a couple of years in the making. Our understanding is that there may also be a cost-sharing program for signage as well. The new signage ordinances still need to be passed by the City Council, so we’ve been telling businesses to sit tight, but be ready. We’ve been saying the same thing to our member and non-member businesses in the signage business. We suggested to Craig Murphy, owner of our member Cambridge Reprographics, start talking to people now.”

“I think businesses are most excited about the potential return of blade signs,” Mahoney elaborated, “those that are perpendicular to the building.” Newburyport’s shopping district is full of those signs.

When one drives down its streets, one can see the businesses’ signs before accidentally passing them. Pedestrians also can spot their destination from a half-block away.

•Another piece of the regulations addresses outdoor or sidewalk dining – which was pioneered by the Ciao! Market on Broadway two summers ago. It was a success, by most accounts, and Graney said they would like to encourage others to try it.

First, however, they wanted to put some standards in place.

The regulations would only allow such dining on sidewalks and they would have to be immediately in front of the business. The furniture would have to be matching and of a high quality. There would have to be a safety plan, and businesses would be responsible for the area. No alcohol service would be allowed for the time being.

Seasonal heaters for outdoor dining are also being considered.

“Realistically, there’s not a lot of space,” she said. “Downtown, where this works, it’s two or three tables or six people. It’s similar to what Ciao! Did on their pilot.”

Addressing the proposed sidewalk dining ordinance, Chamber Executive Director Rich Cuthie was slightly more cautious.

“Edson and Marvin from Ciao Pizza definitely have been the market movers on this and need to be applauded,” he said. “They put in the work and time with the City to test it out. But let’s say it’s a nice summer evening and you and I wanted to have a beer and split a plate of nachos al fresco at a local restaurant on Broadway; maybe an after work meeting or just something social. We sit down at the table and chairs on the sidewalk and then are told, ‘No, sorry. No alcohol is allowed outside.’ Like many people, we’re just going to get up, apologize, and either go to the inside of that restaurant, or another restaurant, or worse, decide to move our meeting or dinner to another town.”

Cuthie said there is no compelling argument for a business owner to make the investment in tables, chairs, and staffing while also having to insure against additional outdoor liabilities if the potential revenues to offset those costs are not there.

“No mistake,” Cuthie continued, “we’re happy and appreciative that the City is moving to try to formally create a path to outdoor dining, but without beer, wine, and cocktails—which by the way are a restaurant’s highest margin offerings and offset food costs, we’re missing the mark and I have to reserve judgment on the initiative’s ultimate success. I don’t want Chelsea to always be 10 years behind other communities. We need proper updating now so that people will say, ‘It’s a beautiful evening, let’s have some margaritas and good Latin food in Chelsea tonight. We’ll decide where we want to eat when we get there, because there are so many outdoor dining choices.’”

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School Committee Passes Budget Without Majority

School Committee Passes Budget Without Majority

The School Committee passed a $95.4 million School Budget last week, but it was passed with less than a majority of the total number of nine committee seats.

The budget, which passed with a $1.9 million funding gap that led to the elimination of 10 teaching positions, was approved by a 4-2 vote.

School Committee members Rosemarie Carlisle and Frank DePatto voted against the budget, while board member Jeanette Velez and Chair Richard Maronski recused themselves from the vote, citing relatives who work for the School Department. Last week, Julio Hernandez resigned from the Committee and his seat has yet to be filled.

School Committee members and administrators said it has been a long struggle to present a budget that attempts to meet the needs of the Chelsea schools.

Supt. Mary Bourque and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino were among those who noted that falling enrollments in the Chelsea schools, as well as an antiquated state funding formula that underfunds urban communities such as Chelsea, were the main culprits in the budget cuts.

“I’ve spent a lot of the time with the superintendent trying to provide city support for the budget,” said Ambrosino. “The City is really trying to do its fair share.”

That included the City providing an additional $1.5 million to the schools to address budget shortfalls.

“Every new tax dollar I can raise in Fiscal Year 2020 is going to the School Department,” said the city manager.

Regardless of how the School Committee ended up voting on the budget, Ambrosino said the $95.5 million figure is the figure he would present to the City Council as the school share of the overall City Budget.

“The budget (Bourque) presented is fair and reasonable,” said Ambrosino.

Once the budget is approved, Ambrosino said attention should be turned towards advocating for change to the Chapter 70 state education funding formula on Beacon Hill.

Bourque said she agreed that the time is now to fix the state funding formula, noting that Chelsea schools will be underfunded $17 million by the state.

The other factor leading to cuts in the budget is falling enrollment, Bourque said. Between January of 2018 and January of this year, she said Chelsea schools have lost 217 students. That is part of a larger trend of falling enrollment over nearly a decade, according to the superintendent.

Carlisle voted against the proposed budget, but said the problem with the $95.4 million figure laid not with the City, but with the state.

“The problem is with the state,” said Carlisle. “They are not doing the right thing, and we have to send them a message.”

School Committee member Ana Hernandez backed the budget, but said it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

“The votes we make are very hard,” she said. “This budget is what we dread every year. We have to make a decision for the best of the entire school system.”

But for DePatto, further cuts to teaching positions was a bridge too far to support the FY ‘20 budget. He said the schools laid off seven teachers in 2017, 20 in 2018, 10 in 2019, and have projected another 10 for 2020.

“Forty seven teachers and 25 paraprofessionals,” he said. “When is it going to stop? I can’t vote for this budget (when) I don’t support these cuts.”

School Committee member Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez voted in support of the budget, stating that it was in the best interest of the City’s students to pass the budget, and also noting that Chelsea is hamstrung by declining enrollments and inequities in the state funding formula.

•In other business, the Committee voted to forgo School Choice for the 2019-20 school year.

•The School Committee also approved a field trip to New York City for high school and middle school REACH students to participate in the Andover Bread Loaf Writing Conference in May.

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Dr. Jeffrey Benecchi Continues Family Tradition

Dr. Jeffrey Benecchi Continues Family Tradition

When it comes to dentistry it seems that the apple does not fall far from the tree and Dr. Jeffrey Benecchi, DMD is living proof.

Sure he could have become an environmentalist, he graduated from Bates College with a degree in environmental science and economics, but it was the influence of his father John, also a dentist, and grandfather Leo, a physician in Revere, who steered him toward dentistry and to being a 2009 graduate of the Tufts Dental School.

“I think it’s in our family history. I always had it in me with my father being a dentist,” Benecchi said from his office at 140 School St. He loves dentistry from the hands-on nitty gritty parts of the business to the patient interaction. His father John graduated in 1976 from Tufts Dental School and started his practice a couple years later

Today Jeffrey runs the practice by himself since his father retired at the end of last year. He has 10 employees. Most who also had worked for his father.

“He’s still says hi to everyone,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey has always liked working with his hands and he felt dentistry was a natural fit. He liked being around the patients and see what his father was working on. Not the corporate model of dentistry but a hands-on approach.

“I still like that personal touch,” he added.

“It’s been a good job to help people and be able to see things done with the artistry of dentistry,” Jeffrey said. “I like everything there is to do with dentistry.”

The Benecchi dental practice specializes in general dentistry for everyone from children to the elderly.

“Basically we offer what a lot of people need to have done.” Jeffrey said.

Keeping up with the latest technology, Dr. Benecchi uses digital scanners to avoid goopy mouth molds for dental impressions.

There are also digital x-rays and cameras now that they use when working with a local laboratory for caps and crowns.

He noted that he will also be having a couple of associates added to the practice to help with an increasing patient load.

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Appreciation – Remembering Joanne Tarason

Appreciation – Remembering Joanne Tarason

The city is mourning the loss of Joanne Tarason, a popular local business owner and highly respected community leader who touched the lives of many residents with her kindness and generosity.

Mrs. Tarason died on Tuesday. She was 77.

Joanne Tarason owned Coprico Printing (formerly Sir Speedy) at 40 Washington Ave., located across the street from Chelsea City Hall. She was also a long-time member of the Rotary Club and the Chelsea Chamber of Commerce.

Mrs. Tarason donated her services to many local organizations. Though she received numerous awards in appreciation of her generous contributions and volunteer services, she always deflected the praise to others and tried to stay out of the spotlight.

“Joanne helped out so many groups in a quiet and unassuming way,” said Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson. “She never sought recognition for her many kind deeds and generous assistance. Chelsea has a lot a great woman, community leader and friend.”

Councillor-at-Large Calvin Brown said Mrs. Tarason was “one of Chelsea’s unsung heroes.”

“Joanne did so much for so many and was admired by all,” said Brown. “It was always a pleasure to see her at local social events. We have lost a great friend to Chelsea.”

Mrs. Tarason was a goodwill ambassador for the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club, always lending her support at installation of officers dinners, community fundraisers, and the Chamber’s $10,000 Pot-O-Gold Dinners.

But her reign of kindness and premier platform of helpfulness was at her local business where residents would often stop in just to say hello. She was meticulous in her work and customers came from far and wide to have their printing jobs, large and small, done at her business.

Mrs. Tarason stayed ahead of the technological advances in the printing business, acquiring new skills and equipment to meet the requests of her large clientele.

The Chelsea City Council will pay tribute to Mrs. Tarason with a moment of silence at its Feb. 25 meeting.

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Dealing with Details: License Commission Works out the Logistics of Marijuana Shops

Dealing with Details: License Commission Works out the Logistics of Marijuana Shops

The Licensing Commission has continued a hearing on special additional rules for marijuana establishments to its March meeting.

The commission opened the public hearing at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 17.

While the hearing did not generate much controversy, commissioners did agree that they wanted more time to consider several issues, including language limiting where retail marijuana shops can be concentrated, and the amount the city will charge for application fees.

“I’d like to see more research and see what nearby cities have done and what their challenges are,” said commission member Roseann Bongiovanni.

Currently, there are three applications in the works for retail marijuana shops in the city. The city will allow a maximum of four retail licenses.

According to the proposed regulation, the Licensing Commission will not issue a license to anyone who has violated Licensing Commission rules and regulations in the past five years. All licenses are subject to zoning approval and state Cannabis Control Commission approval.

The operating hours for retail shops will be limited to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and all signage will have to be approved by the city, according to City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher.

“We are trying to be a little more restrictive now so we don’t have to clean up after the fact, like with liquor licenses,” said Fisher.

The section of the proposed regulations that garnered the most discussion among commission members was one which would limit the concentration of where retail marijuana shops can be located.

Fisher noted that the language included in the draft regulations, limiting retail shops to one per voting district and not within 500 feet of another retail marijuana store, was not included by the legal department. She said it was included because it was a request made during a past public hearing on marijuana regulations.

“We already have a very small area in Chelsea, and retail shops are already restricted to three zones and can’t be within 500 feet of schools,” said Fisher. “It is already quite restrictive of where you can put a facility.”

The city will allow marijuana establishments in the Industrial, Shopping Center, and Business Highway zone.

Licensing Commission Chairman Mark Rossi said he’d like the commission to have more discretion over where facilities can be located.

“Our job is to factor in the input from the community and the licensees,” said Rossi.

Much like it does with liquor licenses, Rossi said the Licensing Commission will be getting input from the community, police and fire departments, and other city officials when it comes to making a final determination on issuing a marijuana license.

“This committee is uniquely situated to make that determination,” he said.

Commission member James Guido said he would like more information on limiting concentration in voting districts before making a final decision on the proposed regulation.

Rossi also said he had questions about the $5,000 application and annual renewal fee for marijuana establishments, stating he would like to see a higher number.

Rossi said the application fees and concentration of locations will be discussed when the hearing is continued at its March 7 meeting.

“This is a big issue that affects everyone,” he said.

•In other business, the Licensing Commission adjusted its penalty for Rincon Latinos restaurant at 373 Washington Ave. In December, the commission suspended the restaurant’s liquor license for eight days spread over four weekends for repeated instances of exceeding its capacity.

Last week, the commission agreed to suspend the license for two weekends in January, as well as for a five-day stretch during the week when a new handicap bathroom will be installed by the restaurant owners.

The new bathroom will allow Rincons Latinos to increase its capacity from 17 to 28 people, according to John Dodge, the attorney representing the owners.

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City Moves to Dismiss Case to Overturn ‘nip’ Ban

City Moves to Dismiss Case to Overturn ‘nip’ Ban

The City of Chelsea has filed a brief with the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) to dismiss the case brought by nine liquor licensees to overturn the ban on small liquor bottles (50 mL), known as nips.

On Dec. 8, in a hearing at the ABCC, the licensees argued their cause.

However, the City has now filed a motion indicating that the ABCC does not have jurisdiction to decide on the challenge of the ban. The case is somewhat groundbreaking because Chelsea is the first municipality to attempt to ban all nip sales. While few communities find nips a plus due to increased litter and public drinking, the sales are strong pieces of business for many liquor stores – including Chelsea. A number of communities and liquor retailers are watching the case very closely to see what they will do in their communities as well.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the key will be whether there is jurisdiction.

“They will decide on that preliminary issue soon,” he said. “If they have jurisdiction, they’ll decide on the issue. If they decide they don’t have jurisdiction, then the ban stands.”

The motion by the City indicates, “The ABCC is not a super-regulatory authority for review of regulations issued by local licensing authorities, and therefore is not the proper forum for Appellants to challenge the regulations.”

One of the other objections in the motion are that the licensees did not appeal the decision until many months later, in September, while the ban started in May.

Chelsea moved last year to institute the ban on nips, and it has been in effect for many months. A second attempt to ban 100 mL bottles of liquor was tabled until the case was heard and decided.

Ambrosino said he has noticed some definite improvements since the ban went into effect.

“I do notice a little difference,” he said. “I think the Downtown Task Force police officers will tell you the same. I think it’s been effective. It’s one piece of many efforts we have in place. There’s a lot of things that contribute to the absence of that problem, including all the social services and resources going on as well.”

The licensees are expected to file their brief in response to the City’s motion to dismiss within the week.

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Planning Bd Recommends Zoning Changes,Approves Parkway Peruvian Restaurant

Planning Bd Recommends Zoning Changes,Approves Parkway Peruvian Restaurant

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.

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Traffic Commission Approves Two-Way Broadway, Other Changes Downtown

Traffic Commission Approves Two-Way Broadway, Other Changes Downtown

The Chelsea Traffic Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to recommend that the Broadway business corridor be changed from a one-way, to a two-way street – the culmination of more than a year of planning.

Carolyn Vega was the lone vote on the Commission against the two-way plan. She wasn’t opposed to the overall plan, but desired to recommend a six-month trial period.

The remaining Commissioners preferred to simply recommend the two-way plan.

The plan will now go to the City Council for a final vote at the Sept. 10 meeting, though it could be put off until the Sept. 24 meeting.

Many people were for it and many were against the plan, but in the end City Manager Tom Ambrosino said that if it didn’t work out, it would easily be able to be changed back to a one-way.

Business owner Rick Gordon said he would prefer a one-way configuration because it would be more inviting for businesses.

Fire Chief Leonard Albanese said he believed in the two-way configuration and thought it would lead to a much safer pedestrian and driving experience. He also said he believed it would enhance the Fire Department’s operations.

Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he didn’t see the need for a two-way and didn’t believe it would be safer. He asked for data to show whether or not people are being hit by cars.

Resident Bruck Black said it would be a shame to study the issue for two years with an award-winning consultant team, and then not make the changes they recommend.

Consultant Kevin Dandrade, of TEC, said they believed Chelsea could successfully make the change.

The Traffic Commission also recommended sweeping circulation changes to Fay Square, Chelsea Square, Bellingham Square and the City Hall front area – where Broadway will also become a two-way street.

The changes also include new smart traffic lights which will be at all Broadway intersections and will work via Wi-Fi to help control and time the traffic lights in real time.

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