Council Passes Parking Program Ban for Developers Seeking ZBA Relief

Developers who want to get around the City’s parking requirements are going to have to put their money where their mouths are.

Monday night, the City Council approved an amendment altering the off-street parking requirements in the zoning ordinance. Under the change, brought forward by Council President Damali Vidot and District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop, developers who seek parking relief for their projects will lose the right to have their tenants take part in the City’s on-street parking program.

“If a developer wants to build and does not meet the minimum requirement for parking, we are asking them to enter an agreement with the people they rent to, to not participate in the residential parking program,” said Vidot.

As a lack of parking becomes a bigger and bigger issue in Chelsea, Vidot said developers continue to come forward seeking relief from parking regulations which typically require two parking spots per residential unit. Often, she said, those developers will tout the fact that more people are using public transportation or ride-sharing services and do not own as many cars. But, Vidot said, the numbers show that car registrations are heading up in Chelsea, and it becomes harder every day for residents to find a place to park on the city’s streets.

“It’s important that we try to figure out how to resolve this issue, and we definitely have an issue in our community,” Vidot said.

Bishop said the issue extends beyond developers building multi-unit apartment complexes.

“People are going to the Board of Appeals and they want to convert a two- family house to a three-family house, or a one-family to a two-family,” Bishop said.

Often, he said, those conversion requests come with a request to seek relief from the parking requirements.

“Something has to be done, it’s crazy out there,” said Bishop.

While the change will go into effect on Jan. 1 of next year, Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda took a shot at backdating the ordinance change to Jan. 1 2015. Effectively, developers who were granted parking relief since that date could have seen their tenants no longer eligible for on-street parking stickers.

Several councillors raised objections that the City could be in legal jeopardy if the ordinance change was back-dated. However, Avellaneda maintained that participating in the parking program is not a right, so that taking it away wouldn’t be a legal issue.

City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher was not as comfortable denying that parking relief granted by the ZBA is a right.

“If someone sought relief, then they have relief,” she said, adding that if the Council went forward with Avellaneda’s suggested change, the whole ordinance change would be unenforceable.

Avellaneda withdrew his amendment, and voted for the change as proposed by Vidot and Bishop.

Councillors Joe Perlatonda and Leo Robinson cast the two votes against the ordinance change.

“Who are we to say that someone comes into Chelsea and buys a $500,000 condo or an $800,000 house and we say they can’t park here?” asked Perlatonda. “There are people parking in Chelsea who do not live in Chelsea.”

Perlatonda said there is a parking issue in the city, but has vocally championed a more holistic overhaul of the city’s parking regulations to address the issue.

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Little League’s Giant : Jimmy O’Regan, Youth Sports Leader, Dies at 75

Special to the Record

We know he coached the Cardinals in the Chelsea Little League but everyone knew he was a true Giant.

A long-time and revered youth sports leader and coach who never sought recognition for his volunteer efforts in this city, James “Jimmy” O’Regan died on Aug. 30, 2019. He was 75.

Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson knew Mr. O’Regan many years before he served as president of the Chelsea Little League.

“Jimmy was an outstanding athlete at the Shurtleff School and Chelsea High (Class of 1963) but more importantly he was always a gentleman and so nice to people,” recalled Robinson. “It didn’t surprise me at all that Jimmy became president of the Little League and wanted to make sure that other kids would have the opportunity to enjoy sports as much as he did.”

After high school, Mr. O’Regan was drafted in to the United States Army and he served his country before being honorably discharged on Sept. 29, 1968.

Returning home from the service, Mr. O’Regan worked at the Thomas Strahan Company in Chelsea for 30 years before his retirement.

Mr. O’Regan and his wife, Patricia “Patty’ A. (Ells), shared 46 years of marriage, making Chelsea their home and the community where they raised their four boys.

The O’Regan boys followed their father’s lead in to sports, often having the honor of their father as their coach.

The sons also followed their father into leadership positions in the city. James O’Regan Jr. served two terms on the Chelsea School Committee and is a candidate in this fall’s election.

Former Chelsea School Committee member Shawn O’Regan and his younger brother, Kevin, have taken the city’s youth sports scene by storm. Shawn is the president of Chelsea’s youth baseball league and a leader of the Chelsea Pride youth football and cheerleading organization. Kevin is the Pride’s equipment manager and coach of the fifth and sixth grade football team.

They are carrying on their father’s legacy of youth sports leadership, helping boys and girls set the foundation for their entry in to interscholastic athletics.

And just like their father, the O’Regan boys are competitive, having led their teams to championships but always putting sportsmanship and fair play first.

“He was a great father,” said Shawn O’Regan, who is running for a seat on the School Committee. “He taught us how to play the game of baseball and got us involved in basketball.”

From Phil Spelman to Arnold Goodman to Earl Ham to Rick Chapin, there have been men who have devoted countless hours to helping Chelsea youths appreciate sports and take the right path to becoming fine young adults.

James “Jimmy” O’Regan Sr. has earned his spot on the list of the all-time great ambassadors for youth sports in this city. Chelsea parents were fortunate to have had a gentleman like Jimmy O’Regan teaching their children how to play sports and how to be a good teammate.

He is gone but he will never be forgotten.

And with the sons of James and Patricia O’Regan continuing his fine work and exemplary leadership, Chelsea kids are the winners.

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Helping Residents : Planning Board Supports Changes To Affordable Housing Regulations

The Planning Board is supporting an amendment to the City’s inclusionary housing and zoning ordinance that will make it easier for low-income residents to rent affordable housing units.

The proposed change in the ordinance will also increase the amount of money developers will need to pay the City if they attempt to opt-out of building affordable units in projects of 10 or more units.

The amendment first came before the Planning Board in April, and at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board unanimously supported recommending the changes in the ordinance.

The inclusionary housing ordinance was first introduced by At-Large City Councillor Leo Robinson in 2016, according to Lad Dell, the city planner and land use administrator.

“The reason was that in the Greater Boston area, the cost of housing has gone up astronomically, and Chelsea has not been isolated from that. There was a concern that long-time Chelsea residents would be pushed out.”

But the original ordinance set the eligibility guidelines at 80 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) to qualify for affordable units.

Since the AMI is based on income for the Greater Boston area, and not just Chelsea, that figure stood at about $89,000 for a family of four. Dell noted that the figure is well above the average Chelsea income of $55,000 for a family of four.

Under the new amendment, the affordable rental units will now be evenly split between 80, 50, and 30 percent AMI. Condominium projects will remain at the 80 percent AMI level.

Developers who build projects of 10 or more units must set aside at least 15 percent of those units as affordable.

“If a developer did not want to provide the 15 percent of affordable units, they had the option of a $200,000 payment in lieu per unit,” said Dell. “That was raised to $400,000 in April.”

Planning Board member Eric Asquith asked what the rationale was for raising the payment in lieu to $400,000.

“The $400,000 price tag kind of startles a lot of people, but that’s what it costs to build an affordable unit in Chelsea,” said Alex Train, assistant director of planning.

However, Train said developers still need City approval to substitute the payments for the creation of affordable units.

Planning Board member Sara Arman questioned why the rate was set at 15 percent and not higher.

“That’s on par with other communities,” said Train. “We want to have a balance between affordable housing and encouraging development.”

Several board members noted that there is very little developable land in Chelsea, with member Mimi Rancatore asking if the number triggering affordable units should be lowered from 10 to eight.

Train said that most of the development in Chelsea is reuse or redevelopment of existing land.

“It’s about that balance,” he said. “One thing that has proven to lower prices is building more houses, and if we set (the affordable housing number) below 10, it may discourage more building.”

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A Standing ‘O’ for Linda Breau : Chelsea Deputy School Superintendent Honored

Linda Breau is retiring from the Chelsea school system and she’s learning just how much her colleagues and the schoolteachers have appreciated her 26 years of service in the city.

Breau, who is deputy superintendent of the Chelsea public schools, received a warm, standing ovation from the entire assemblage of teachers and administrators when she was honored Monday during the program at the annual back-to-school breakfast.

Dr. Mary Bourque, superintendent of Chelsea schools, presented the award to her esteemed colleague. Chelsea education’s dynamic duo has been together since 1998 leading the school system to many successes.

“I have the bittersweet and yet privilege to honor a dedicated lifelong educator – Deputy Supt. Linda Breau, who will be retiring in a mere 35 days,” Bourque said.

“Linda is a lifelong educator who served in the Chelsea schools since 1993 – 26 years,” noted Bourque. “She began her career as a paraprofessional at the ELC, went on to serve our students as ESL teacher, Assistant Principal, and Principal of the Clark Avenue Middle School.

“She moved to Central Office in 2011 as Assistant Superintendent and was then promoted to Deputy Superintendent in 2016. We have been side by side learning, serving, having successes and at times making mistakes – but always learning, always looking to be better.”

Bourque continued her praise of the beloved administrator, stating, “We are a better school district today because of Linda’s quiet strength, relentless work ethic; her love of our students and Chelsea families.

“Personally I am a better leader and better superintendent today because she has always been by my side. Linda has changed lives and touched so many,” said Bourque. “So before she leaves at the end of September for a well-deserved retirement, I want to publicly thank her for her service and for friendship to us all and to me.”

As Breau left her seat and approached the podium, the crowd stood up and acknowledged her accomplishments with hearty applause. Making the moment even more significant for Linda Breau was the fact that her husband, Robert “Bobby” Breau, a Chelsea High School alumnus and one of the city’s greatest athletes, was there to witness it all from a seat in the VIP section.

Breau humbly accepted the award, thoughutfully acknowledging all employees in the school system in her remarks.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the last 26 years than working in this wonderful district,” she said. “I have met and befriended so any wonderful and dedicated people, from paraprofessionals to teachers/support staff to administrators to custodial crew to kitchen staff to security.

“It takes a village and you are that village. It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with all of you.

“I’m proud of who Chelsea Public Schools has become today. I’m so proud that we welcome and educate. We open our doors and provide opportunity to our kids. One thing I ask as I leave the district: keep on welcoming and educating! Our kids need all of you.”

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School Department Able to Replace Some Budget Cuts With State Budget

The School Department will be able to replace a number of positions and items cut from the original 2019-2020 budget due to an influx of state monies from the final State Budget.

Last Thursday night, the School Committee approved an additional $1.3 million in state Chapter 70 appropriations.

That money will be used to add one attendance officer and a half-time special education clerk in the special education department, increase salary contingencies and health insurance funds across the district, add one social communications teacher and two paraprofessionals and increase funding for substitutes at the Early Learning Center and the elementary schools, add a special education inclusion teachers at the Clarke and Browne middle schools, and correct funding for athletic coaches and increase funding for substitutes at the high school, among other items.

The City Council will now have to approve the additional funding.

“Each year, the Governor’s proposed budget numbers are used by CPS as the foundation for the upcoming year’s budget,” stated Supt. Mary Bourque.

When the state budget is finally adopted after deliberations by the House and Senate and considered by the governor, the budget allocations by school district typically change.

The $1.3 million is separate and apart from any changes to the “pothole” funding which could be finalized by the state in the next several weeks, according to Bourque.

Last year, the Chelsea schools received just under $300,000 in the pothole funding.

“I think it will be something in the same range this year,” said Bourque.

As the schools await the additional funding, Bourque said it’s important for parents and teachers to continue to advocate for a change in the way the state determines the foundational school budget for districts such as Chelsea. Bourque noted that Chelsea’s special education program and benefits are underfunded by approximately $17 million.

“The state legislature is working on a bill to fix the foundation budget,” said Bourque. “We want to make sure it is something we can live with for the next 25 years. We need the City Council to continue to advocate alongside us.”

•In other School Committee business, Bourque updated the board on the superintendent transition plan.

Superintendent-elect Almi Abeyta will be constantly shadowing Bourque through Dec. 1. On Dec. 1, Bourque will take a step back and Abeyta will begin making school district decisions.

Bourque’s last day is Dec. 31, and Jan. 1, 2020 will be Abeyta’s first official day as superintendent.

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City Election Ballot Set With Interesting Races Around the City

The City Election ballot for November has been set for City Council and School Committee, and it features several intriguing races – and one blockbuster Preliminary Election on Sept. 24 in District 2.

The City Clerk’s Office has concluded the certification process this month, and one of the most interesting outcomes is a Preliminary Election for District 2.

Three good candidates have filed signatures for the Powderhorn Hill district, and the campaigns will begin to take shape immediately.

Incumbent Councilor Luis Tejada has filed his signatures, and he will once again face challenger Olivia Ann Walsh – an attorney who lives at the Soldiers’ Home and ran against Tejada two years ago.

The interesting new candidate is Melinda Vega Maldonado, who is the daughter of Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega and the wife of a Chelsea Police officer.

Those three in the race are all very well-known in the City and will hustle for votes around the district. The outcome will leave only the top two vote getters to square off in November.

The at-large Council race will also be interesting, but will not come up for a vote until November.

Council President Damali Vidot and incumbent councilors Roy Avellaneda and Leo Robinson will be on the ballot.

Challenging them will be License Commission Chair Mark Rossi – who ran for a district seat last time out – and Chris Winam, a newcomer on the scene with deep Chelsea roots.

District 1 Council features a vacant seat with the bowing out of Councilor Bob Bishop. Running for the empty seat are Planning Board member Todd Taylor, and Economic Development Board member Rick Pantano. Both are very well-known in the city and are very active in City affairs. It will be a close race to the end.

In District 4, it seemed like Councilor Joe Perlatonda wasn’t going to have an opponent, but late in the process Naomi Zabot successfully turned in her Nomination Papers – and so Mill Hill will have a race on its hands too.

Councilor Judith Garcia in District 5 has had several contests over her tenure, and this time won’t be different, as she will face Jason Benetti from the waterfront area.

Councilors Enio Lopez (District 3), Giovanni Recupero (District 6), Yamir Rodriguez (District 7) and Calvin Brown (District 8) will have no opponent on the ballot.

•School Committee

There is no Preliminary Election in the School Committee, but there will be one to watch when it comes to the at-large race, where there is no incumbent due to School Committeeman Frank DePatto choosing not to run again.

That leaves Shawn O’Regan, a former School Committeeman, who is making another run and said he is ready to challenge the system after having watched it work previously.

The other candidate for the at-large seat is Roberto Jimenez Rivera, who grew up in Puerto Rico and came to the mainland to attend the University of Michigan. He and his wife, Sarah, recently moved to Chelsea, and he works as an admission’s officer at a local university.

A race in District 1 will also be interesting as long-time School Committeewoman Rosemarie Carlisle will face James O’Regan. Both have deep roots in Chelsea and the votes will be close.

The only other race is in District 7 where incumbent Kelly Garcia will face former School Committeeman Charles Klauder.

Incumbents Jeannette Velez (District 2), Marisol Santiago (District 3), Lucia Henriquez (District 4), Henry Wilson (District 5), Ana Hernandez (District 6), and Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez (District 8) will have no opponents on the ballot.

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Noise Study to Begin in Chelsea

Noise in the City’s Community Noise Lab was developed by researcher Dr. Erica Walker to take a more creative look into the relationship between neighborhood noise issues and corresponding health impacts.

Walker has partnered with volunteers in the neighborhood to take part in some lab based experiments on how individuals respond to noise by measuring brain waves, stress and cardiovascular changes.

Researcher Dr. Erica Walker is gearing up for her noise study in Chelsea and is looking for volunteers.

The study also sought Chelsea residents willing to place sound monitors in their homes for one year to test neighborhood noise.

At a meeting last week Walker said the study is moving into forward and will start collecting data on how noise impacts residents’ daily lives.

“The Community Noise Lab are gearing up to conduct a sound monitoring study in Chelsea this fall, starting on Friday, September 20,” said Walker. “Community members have expressed interest in allowing us to place a sound monitor in their homes and we are reaching out to start making arrangements for this to happen.”

Walker said she and MHHM intend to monitor noise in Chelsea for one-year in both a “hot” and “cold” season.

“During each season, we would like to place a sound monitor in an accessible, secured location on a resident’s property,” she said. “Potential locations could be a balcony, porch, roof, yard, or any location that works. The sound monitoring station will be outside and will need no electrical inputs.”

Walker stressed that the equipment does not record conversations.

“We will need to leave the sound monitoring station with community volunteers for one-week,” she said. “You can participate in as many one-week sessions as you would like to throughout the year.”

If you live in Chelsea and want to participate Walker said residents can start by filling out a brief form that can be found at https://form.jotform.com/91614289131153.

“A member of the Community Noise Lab team will reach out to you to make arrangements to place a sound monitor at your home,” she said.

Walker, who earned a ScD (Doctor of Science) degree from Harvard, has been interested for several years on how noise impacts health. Walker said she wants to bring her Community Noise Lab to Chelsea and begin engaging the community on how noise impacts their daily lives.

“When I first started out I sort of assumed what the noise issue (in the city) was and what the impacts were but I quickly realized this is going to take a community effort,” said Walker. “So I’ve been grappling with what I want this Community Noise Lab to be. Typically in academia we do a top down approach to studying these issues but I wanted to try something different and try a bottom up approach.”

The bottom up approach, explained Walker, will start with no assumptions on how noise impacts residents living in Chelsea. However, Walker will collect real time noise monitoring data using sound measuring technology as well as an app that residents can download to their phone. Through the NoiseScore, an in-house smartphone app, residents can also participate and can register a noise event and provide notes on how the event made them feel both physically and mentally.

“I always use this example; imagine you are waiting for a bus at a bus stop and you can hear the bus coming and you can hear when the brakes start squeaking,” said Walker. “But even if you put your fingers in your ear you can still feel the vibrations of that sound in your body, the rumbling in your chest even though you are blocking out the actual sound. So there is a complete picture of sound that is not only heard but felt physically and I’m interested in how both those aspects of sound affect people.”

Dr. Walker’s research on the impacts of community noise is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The two-year, $410,000 grant will fund a real-time sound monitoring network, which consists of a series of eight rotating sound stations; upgrades to Community Noise Lab’s smartphone app, NoiseScore, which allows residents to objectively and subjectively describe their environmental soundscape and map their responses in real time; a laboratory-based experiment examining the neurological underpinnings of noise exposure; and a series of community engagement activities ranging from sound walks to podcasts.

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Time Rolls On : Bellingham Square Clock Is Repaired

The historic clock in Bellingham Square is right on time.

Thanks to the efforts of the world-renowned Chelsea Clock Company, the clock has been repaired and is now showing the correct time for all 1,440 minutes of each day.

“The clock is fixed – I’m very happy,” proudly reported master horologest Bhupat Patel of Chelsea Clock. “We’re going to come back again to put the new lenses on the glass. The city is going to remove all the rust and repaint the clock.”

Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson was on hand for the relaunching of the clock.

“They did an outstanding job,” said Robinson. “Tom [Ambrosino] had reached out to me to get in touch with Chelsea Clock to fix the clock.”

Robinson is the brother-in-law of long-time Chelsea Clock official D. Bruce Mauch.

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Water, Sewer, Trash Rates Increasing

Water and sewer rates are increasing, but not as much as some City Councillors initially feared.

Most of the City’s residential water and sewer customers will see an increase of 1 percent in rates for Fiscal Year 2020, and larger users will see a 4 percent increase.

In June, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented the Council with a proposed three percent increase for water and sewer customers who use less than 2,500 cubic feet of water. A 5 percent increase was proposed for customers who use more than that amount.

In June, a number of Councillors spoke out against the proposed increases.

“This is killing the poor people who live here,” said District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero. “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.

Following a public hearing on the rates earlier in July, Ambrosino and Public Works Commissioner Fidel Maltez discussed concerns about rising sewer rates, according to a letter the City Manager sent to the Council.

“Although rising rates are inevitable when the majority of the City’s water and sewer costs are determined by charges from the MWRA, and those charges rise each and every year, we are cognizant of the City’s need to try to keep the rate increases moderate,” Ambrosino stated.

After looking at some of the recent improvements to the water system in the past year, including the start of the program to replace aging water meters throughout the system and better tracking of water use by contractors, Ambrosino said he believes the City will be able to reduce non-billable usage.

The City Manager said he also plans to implement a better process for water and sewer rate-setting, beginning next year. Those plans include a spring subcommittee meeting with the City Council to present recommendations for water and sewer rates for FY21.

While the water and sewer rate increases are lower than initially proposed, there will be a heftier price to pay for the City trash rate with a 10 percent hike.

“For the past several years, we have been running deficits in our trash accounting because the rate has not been sufficient to cover the true cost of solid waste collection and disposal in the City,” Ambrosino stated.

The 10 percent increase is an effort to eliminate that deficit.

The new FY20 trash rate is $33.10 monthly for residential property and $156.15 monthly for commercial units in mixed buildings. Owner-occupied units will remain exempt from the fee.

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Chelsea Entrepreneurs Challenging Zoning Ideas Around Marijuana

Two Chelsea residents looking to break into the recreational cannabis industry in Chelsea are challenging the ideas behind the zoning regulations set by the City – regulations that bar such establishments from the Broadway business corridor and relegate them to expensive industrial locations in the city.

Chelsea has been known to be quite progressive when it comes to permitting and welcoming the marijuana industry, but the zoning regulations set more than a year ago required that any marijuana businesses be located in the industrial or shopping center districts.

Ola Bayode and Kyle Umemba, both from Chelsea, are questioning the zoning regulations for marijuana establishments – saying they should be allowed in the downtown area to help local residents and people of color to break into the industry. They said they believe retail marijuana could help to revive the downtown area, and they believe the current zoning unintentionally sets a barrier too high for locals to overcome.

That limits them to the Produce Center, Eastern Avenue or Parkway Plaza, and many in the City have postulated that it has excluded local people unintentionally from being able to participate or profit from this new industry.

The Chelsea City Council had just such a discussion earlier this year, asking if it were possible to set aside licenses for residents who might qualify in the future – that coming because most of the City’s licenses were being gobbled up by big-money interests from out of town, and sometimes out of state.

Now, add Chelsea residents Ola Bayode and Kyle Umemba to those critics.

Both are young professionals working regular jobs, but with a hope on the side that they could establish their own business in Chelsea within the emerging cannabis industry. Being right at the nexus of Boston and Somerville (and with Everett and Revere having prohibited marijuana shops), they felt the downtown area was a prime location.

Then they found out about the zoning restrictions, and found it nearly impossible to draw the interest of investors to be able to afford the buildout of a place in the industrial areas.

“For us, we can’t even find a place,” said Bayode. “The one place we did find was on Broadway and Congress. It was a great location and we went to the City and found it wasn’t allowed. We believe the City Manager and the City Council need to think five to 10 years ahead…Our demographic is not Chelsea residents but people who live in One North and upcoming new Forbes development – people new to Chelsea. We want to provide a premier boutique opportunity here…This is a critical time. This game is the first three years and who is able to navigate the waters early will prevail. It’s hard to grip and replace the incumbent business. That is why it’s so important to create a business friendly environment that is helpful to local residents. Right now is the time for that. Later will be too late.”

Bayode said they believe that retail marijuana would fit really well with the City’s idea for reviving the downtown. Umemba said it is proven that such establishments are more safe because of required security, and the foot traffic brings vibrancy to the areas. Having them walled off, both said, misses a great opportunity to bring people to the business district, and also to help local business-people get into the industry.

“The build-out cost in the industrial areas are so expensive,” said Bayode. “Spaces on Broadway are retail ready. They are made for this. It’s also hard to attract any investors because locating in an area like that doesn’t seem as credible.”

Umemba said he believes the zoning now creates a barrier to local people and people of color – maybe even those who have marijuana convictions and are encouraged by the state to get involved in the industry.

“There’s so much investment that can be brought into the downtown,” he said. “The zoning there now creates an extremely large barrier for individuals. We’re young guys who went to college and now we work. We have middle-class jobs. We want to break into this industry in Chelsea, but the way it’s set up creates an unfair playing field…and Chelsea is progressive compared to others and we still don’t have an equal playing field.”

Both said they plan to talk with elected officials and City leaders over the summer to see if there is room to make such zoning changes – perhaps allowing a few licenses to be located in the downtown and reserved for Chelsea residents.

“If there are four or five at least have one or two for Chelsea people,” Bayode said. “It shouldn’t all be big companies from the outside.”

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