City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented a
city budget just short of $181,500,000 for Fiscal Year 2020 to the City Council
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
•The council also held a public hearing on
zoning amendments that will allow for outdoor dining and improved signage and
facades in the city.
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
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
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
“You need to be very conscious of the
environment you are stepping into,” said Licensing Commission Chair Mark Rossi.
“Please don’t disappoint us.”
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
•In other business, the Committee voted to
forgo School Choice for the 2019-20 school year.
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.
When it comes to dentistry it seems that the
apple does not fall far from the tree and Dr. Jeffrey Benecchi, DMD is living
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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.
The Licensing Commission has continued a
hearing on special additional rules for marijuana establishments to its March
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
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
“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,”
•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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.