City’s Façade and Signage Program to Kick Off on July 12

City’s Façade and Signage Program to Kick Off on July 12

The City of Chelsea will begin a downtown façade and signage improvement program in a kick-off meeting on July 12.

Business and property owners in the downtown, as well as other interested parties, are invited to this meeting to learn about the rollout of the program and to meet Nathalia Hermida.

Hermida will be available throughout the summer to provide free design services for signage and façade improvements of downtown properties. During this meeting, Hermida will detail the design process, what assistance she’ll be able to provide and how to engage her services.

Along with responding to inquiries solicited through this meeting, Hermida will also be approaching specific identified properties. Those interested in the program who cannot attend this meeting should contact Mimi Graney, Downtown Coordinator at mgraney@chelseama.gov.

Design consultation with Hermida will be available both in English and in Spanish.

The City of Chelsea Façade and Signage Program meeting will take place on Thursday, July 12, at 8:30 a.m. at Chelsea City Hall, third-floor Committee Room.

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On Hold:‘Real Discussion’ Unfolds Regarding Small Liquor Bottles, Special Meeting Aug 28

On Hold:‘Real Discussion’ Unfolds Regarding Small Liquor Bottles, Special Meeting Aug 28

The Chelsea Licensing Commission has put on hold the ban of small liquor bottles (100 ml) after a hearing Tuesday night where numerous package store owners from the City came forward to protest the change.

The hearing came on the heels of the ban of “nip” bottles last month, with Chelsea being the first municipality to ban the sale of the one-shot bottles of liquor. That was to be followed up with the potential ban of small liquor bottles too. However, Chair Mark Rossi said the strong turnout from the liquor licensees in the City caused the Board to pause.

“They told us this would essentially put them out of business,” said Rossi. “The sales of small liquor bottles have been up since the ban on nips and the liquor stores were supplementing the lost income from nips with the 100 ml bottles. The positive on this is there was actually a dialog. This is the first time that has happened. Chelsea is the first municipality that has pub in a ban on nips. Based on that, it showed the community is serious about this issues. All parties considered this a problem.”

He said about half of the 16 package store license holders were at the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

The result is the ban has been put on hold, but a special meeting has been called for Aug. 28 and a voluntary ban has been called for.

“We are calling a special meeting to address this and pick up where we left off,” Rossi said. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen something like this.”

He said the liquor license holders were asked as a show of good faith to meet with the Police Department and voluntarily ban 100 ml bottles (particularly McCormack’s and Ruble) within 30 days. While the License Commission rarely meets in the summer, Rossi said they would call the special meeting for an update, with the hope being the ban can work informally.

Police Chief Brian Kyes said he is still for the ban, but was encouraged by the willingness of the liquor license holders during the meeting.

“Although the Chelsea Police strongly encourages the commission to proceed with the ban as proposed, I am encouraged that these licensed businesses are engaged in dialogue with the commission, the community and understanding their role in this serious issue,” he said. “Moving forward, we will continue to focus enforcement on any business that violates City licensing rules and state law, especially those that have such an adverse effect on the community.”

But not all was lost in the matter, which is an issue pushed by residents and several city councilors, including Councilor Roy Avellaneda.

Rossi said it was impressed on the liquor license holders that they need to be more connected to the community. He said it was interesting to note that none of them were as involved as they thought they were – particularly in things like the Chamber of Commerce or the local non-profits.

“The idea is we’re not looking to push anyone out of business, but to address a systemic, decades-old problem everyone agrees exists in Chelsea,” he said. “This is a positive step forward to address that issue…It’s important liquor store owners realize they are members of the community and aware of their actions on others. No one wants to go to the hair salon next to a liquor store where they have to step over the urine-soaked body of a perons passed out in the doorway.”

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Mystic Brewery Named ‘Best of Boston’ Breweries

Mystic Brewery Named ‘Best of Boston’ Breweries

Boston Magazine announced this week that the Mystic Brewery on Williams Street was named the Best of Boston brewery, joining stalwart former winners like Night Shift Brewery and Jack’s Abbey.

The annual Best of Boston edition hit the newsstands last week, and 2018 marks the 45th anniversary of the awards. For the past 12 months, Boston magazine’s team of expert judges ate, drank, and shopped their way across the city, the ‘burbs, the Cape, and the Islands to find the very best the area has to offer.

When it came to the best brewery in the area, the magazine landed in Chelsea.

“We are thrilled and humbled to have scored Best Brewery in Boston Magazine’s annual Best of Boston lineup,” read a statement from Mystic this week. “This puts us in some mighty fine company alongside Night Shift Brewing, Jack’s Abby, and Trillium Brewing Company. To say we’re flattered is an understatement. Thanks to Boston Magazine and you all for this honor.”

Mystic Brewery has been located in Chelsea for nearly 10 years on Williams Street.

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Community Preservation Committee Announced

Community Preservation Committee Announced

The newly established Community Preservation Committee will lead Chelsea’s use of funds provided by the Community Preservation Act (CPA).

Chelsea voters approved the adoption of the CPA in November 2016.  It will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to be used for the creation and acquisition of affordable housing, historic preservation, open space and recreation.

Nine members appointed to the Community Preservation Committee are: Bea Cravatta, Judith Dyer, Caroline Ellenbird, Jose Iraheta, Michelle Lopez, Yahya Noor, Ron Robinson, Juan Vega, and Tuck Willis. Five members, by statute, represent City boards and commissions. The remaining four members are appointed by the Chelsea City Manager with the following requirements for each of the seats: one seat requires expertise in open spaces, housing and/or historical preservation; one seat requires expertise in development, business, finance, and/or construction; and the two remaining seats will be for individuals with a history of community involvement.

Community Preservation Committee (CPC) members serve a three-year term in a volunteer capacity, and must be residents of Chelsea. The CPC’s primary responsibilities include: approving an administrative budget for the City’s Community Preservation program; developing an annual Community Preservation Plan; reviewing project applications and making recommendations for funding approval. Further, CPC members are required to meet with regularity and engage with community groups throughout the City as needed.

The Committee is organized by John DePriest, AICP, Director, City of Chelsea Department of Planning and Development. An RFP has been prepared to hire a Professional Planning consultant services to develop the Community Preservation Plan. The Community Preservation Committee solicits and reviews proposals for use of the Community Preservation Act funds and  makes recommendations on how funds should be used. The funding of any project requires a recommendation from the committee.

For more information go to:  https://www.chelseama.gov/community-preservation-committee.

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City Manager says New Residency Ordinance Unenforceable Until 2021

City Manager says New Residency Ordinance Unenforceable Until 2021

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would gladly enforce the new Police and Fire residency ordinance confirmed last week at Council, but not until at least 2021.

“It has to be negotiated through collective bargaining,” he said. “The firefighters are under contract until 2021, and the police are now at the state Joint Labor Management Commission. It probably won’t be able to be negotiated with either unit until 2021. We have no plans to enforce it until there is a new contract because the law is clear this is a change in the contract subject to collective bargaining.”

The Council voted for the matter last month, and staved off a challenge to that vote last week, led by Councilor Giovanni Recupero. Recupero has tried for seven years to get the residency plan in place for new police and fire hires. The plan now in effect would require all new hires as of July 31 to live in the city for five years after hire.

The matter, however, cannot be enforced until the City Manager re-negotiates the contracts with the police and fire, meaning that all member would get raises in exchange for that change in working conditions.

Ambrosino said the unions could decide not to agree to the matter, which would also make it unenforceable if it is outside any contract.

“An ordinance cannot supersede a mandatory collective bargaining matter,” he said. “It is unenforceable until it shows up in a collective bargaining agreement.”

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Packed Chambers:Budget Passes, but with Some Rare Controversy, Drama

Packed Chambers:Budget Passes, but with Some Rare Controversy, Drama

The City Budget vote at the Council is usually a night of empty seats and methodical tabulation.

Not so this past Monday night when teachers, students and School Department employees packed the Chambers and councillors debated over several controversial cuts to the document.

One councillor, Bob Bishop, even cast a lone vote against the City Budget.

In the end, the Council did approve the budget 10-1.

The total spending came in at $195,964,074, with the breakdown as follows:

  • General Fund Budget, $174,074,177.
  • Water Enterprise Fund, $8,397,199.
  • Sewer Enterprise Fund, 12,808,779.
  • General Fund Free Cash, $683,919.

The total sum represents an increase of 6.6 percent over last year’s budget.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it was a document that represented a philosophy in government and he was proud of it.

“A budget is not just a compilation of numbers and spreadsheets,” he said. “A budget is always a document expressing a philosophy of government. This budget delivers services and programs and invests in our people, our community.”

The real drama came for the School Department, which needed a large influx of City cash into its coffers to avoid massive cuts to it program after being shorted several years by the state’s funding formula.

The City is required to give a set amount of money to the School Department each year, but in the budget crunch of the last few years, the City has kicked in extra funding. On Monday, numerous representatives from the schools were there to speak in support of what amounts to about $4 million (or 5.7 percent) above the required spending amount.

“The state is letting Chelsea down,” said Sam Baker, vice president of the Chelsea Teacher’s Union. “They can’t be relied upon to support urban Gateway districts like Chelsea…When the federal government lets you down, the state government lets you down, there is only one place left to turn – to the neighbors and the local officials of the city. This budget shows that the students and schools in Chelsea can rely on their local neighbors.”

Several others spoke as well, particularly for keeping special education position intact – positions that have been cut heavily in the past few years. School Committee Chair Jeannette Velez urged the Council to approve the additional spending in the budget.

After the vote, the room erupted in applause for the sake of the schools.

But it wasn’t that easy.

While the Council was uniformly in favor of the school measures, there were several things they were flat out against. Major amendments were proposed and hashed out on close votes over the course of an hour.

Almost all of them were proposed by Council President Damali Vidot.

First was a cut of $15,000 to the Law Department – which was a dart in the back of many on the Council. The cut represented funding put in the budget for the Council to have its own attorney on retainer to give them a second opinion when they aren’t satisfied with the City’s staff lawyers.

Only Councillor Giovanni Recupero and Damali Vidot voted for it, with it losing 9-2.

One cut that did survive was a $100,000 cut to the Fire Department as a shot across the bow for their use, and some on the Council would say abuse, of overtime in the last few years.

Vidot said the Department has seen numerous new hires in the last year and has proposed to increase its overtime budget. She said that number should be going down, not up.

The cut was approved 6-4, with Vidot, Recupero, Bishop, Luis Tejada, Enio Lopez and Rodriguez voting yes.

Vidot also proposed to cut the Police Department salaries by $150,000 to curtail the use of overtime pay being given to officers who do walking beats around the downtown. She said that should come out of regular pay at the regular rate, not as overtime pay.

That measure lost narrowly, on a 5-6 vote. Those voting against that were Calvin Brown, Tejada, Avellaneda, Robinson, Perlatonda, and Garcia.

A major discussion took place after that to cut the new Downtown Coordinator position, which comes at $72,000. Vidot said it was a failed program and should be staffed by a Chelsea person who can bring all different Chelsea residents to the downtown to connect in one place. She said she doesn’t see that happening.

However, the majority felt that good things were happening and the coordinator needed more time.

A key supporter was downtown district Councillor Judith Garcia.

That cut failed 3-8, with only Vidot, Lopez and Bishop voting for it.

The final controversial cut proposal was to eliminate monies being spent to keep retiring EMS Director Allan Alpert on board for a year. Alpert plans to retire on June 30, but will be kept on as a consultant to bring the new director up to speed. The cost for that is $55,000.

Vidot said it was unnecessary, and she said it’s time to stop keeping retiring City Hall people on the payroll as consultants.

However, other councillors such as Avellaneda, said there was a succession plan in place for Alpert that didn’t pan out. Now, to make sure a new plan could be put in place, Alpert needed to be allowed to stay on another year.

After much controversial discussion, the cut was defeated narrowly 5-6. Those voting to keep Alpert on were Rodriguez, Tejada, Avellaneda, Robinson, Perlatonda, and Garcia.

For the overall budget, all councillors except Bishop voted for it.

Bishop, who has emerged as a staunch fiscal conservative on the Council, said the spending was not sustainable.

“I cannot vote for this budget,” he said. “I can’t be for this budget because it is not sustainable. We’ll hit the wall one day and that $25 million in the Rainy Day Fund will go out one ear because out budget is almost all salaries.”

The City Budget goes into effect on July 1.

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Residency Ordinance for Police, Fire Hires Holds Firm at Council

Residency Ordinance for Police, Fire Hires Holds Firm at Council

A last ditch effort by Councillor Roy Avellaneda to reverse the new police and fire residency ordinance successfully passed by Councillor Giovanni Recupero failed on Monday night, June 4, in a close vote.

It represented seven years of twists and turns for Recupero’s number one issue and one that has been before the Council in several forms about a dozen times.

On Monday, the victory came in a narrow defeat of Avellaneda’s proposal, 5-6, which allowed the proposal to become the new law.

Those voting to keep the residency ordinance were Councillors Damali Vidot, Enio Lopez, Bob Bishop, Luis Tejada, Joe Perlatonda and Recupero – a one vote margin of victory.

Those voting to reconsider and repeal the ordinance were Councillors Yamir Rodriguez, Calvin Brown, Avellaneda, Leo Robinson and Judith Garcia.

“This is a good thing,” said Recupero. “It’s something the citizens of Chelsea wanted and I’ve fought for it for seven years solid. Now the councillors wanted it too. I think it’s good for the City and for the people. The police and fire can live in the neighborhood and understand the people and the people can understand them and respect them. The young men and women of the city will relate to them because they live in the same community.”

The matter will apply to anyone hired in the Police or Fire Department after July 31, 2018. It will require them to live in Chelsea for five years after starting on the job. After five years, they can move out of the city if they choose.

The negative came in that to get the measure, it had to become a collective bargaining issue. That meant that the entire Police and Fire Departments would get a raise in order to include the new condition in their contracts. Even those for whom the measure doesn’t apply will get additional pay to accept the new condition.

“Hey, it’s good for those on the department too,” said Recupero. “They’re all going to get a raise, but we’re going to get new officers that want to live in Chelsea.”

Councillor Leo Robinson said he was against the measure because of the cost. He said he was once in favor of residency, but that changed when he learned about the collective bargaining costs.

“The bottom line is you have 40 police living in the city and 26 firefighters right now,” he said. “ When we have to go and negotiate with the union that means 110 police and 96 firefighters get raises. That’s $200,000 we’ll have to give them. I think it’s foolish to do. They think it’s a great thing. You have Bob Bishop voting against the budget because he says it out of control and then he votes for this without knowing what it costs.”

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City Announces Major Renovation Plan for Garden Cemetery

City Announces Major Renovation Plan for Garden Cemetery

The City has announced that they have hired a landscape architect to present a Master Plan for renovating the Garden Cemetery – with Phase 1 starting as early as this fall.

The goal, said Planner Karl Allen, is to have it all done by 2024.

“We’ve hired our landscape architect to put together a phased Master Plan for rehabilitating the cemetery,” he said. “Our goal is to have it in a condition where we can open it to the public from dawn to dusk on a daily basis by 2024 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Chelsea.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the substantial repair of the historic, garden-style cemetery is part of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) – which the City Council approved last week. That CIP had $350,000 set aside for the Garden Cemetery work.

He said the Master Plan will include an analysis of the full rehabilitation and the costs associated with that.

“It’s a little bit of a jewel,” he said. “I think the City would like to spend some money to make it pop a little bit. It can be a small oasis in the middle of the city if treated properly and with a significant investment. I’m proud to recommend that.”

The first step in the program will be putting out phase one in for bid in the fall.

Phase one will include fixing the retaining wall on Shawmut Street that is close to collapse. It will also include replacing the metal fence around the cemetery and putting a new central gate on Shawmut and Chester. The existing entrance will have a new French gate and an arch with the words ‘Garden Cemetery 1841’ above the entrance.

Next year, it is expected that they will continue with the rehab and make the paths ADA compliant and fix the Soldier’s Lot. They will replace the broken up asphalt path piece by piece and put in something that is more appropriate to the time period, such as stone dust.

One of the key issues is that the grave stones over the years have fallen or been knocked over. That is an expensive proposition to set back all of the fallen stones, but Allen said they will likely do that incrementally over time.

“That’s definitely on our radar in order to get it open,” he said. “The restoration and resetting of the graves toppled is probably a very long-term process…Our initial purpose is to address safety issues.”

He also said they hope to be able to include an educational aspect to the project to get the students in Chelsea schools interested and informed about the Garden Cemetery.

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Memorial Day Parade, Exercises to Take Place on Monday Morning

Memorial Day Parade, Exercises to Take Place on Monday Morning

The 7th Girl Scout Memorial Day Parade will take place on Monday, May 28, at 8:15 a.m. on Broadway, to be followed up with the traditional Memorial Day Exercises on City Hall lawn.

The Chelsea Girl Scouts have coordinated the Parade for several years, and it has only gotten bigger every year, with quite a bit of community participation.

The Parade will commence at 8:15 a.m. from the Welsh & Son’s Funeral Home.

All community and veterans organizations are encouraged to march.

Following the Parade, the City will hold its Exercises on the Lawn at City Hall, with essays from students, the Chelsea High Concert Band and the Chelsea Chorale.

A speaking program will also take place, and the laying of the wreaths will take place to conclude the ceremony.

To participate in the Parade, contact Kathryn Bourgea and kathrynbourgea@gmail.com.

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Changing Lives:New Pilot Program a Hit Right Off the Bat with CHS Students

Changing Lives:New Pilot Program a Hit Right Off the Bat with CHS Students

In the big scheme of $100 million-plus budgets, $150,000 is pretty small potatoes, but that small allotment approved by the City Council went a long way to instantly changing the trajectory of dozens of Chelsea High (CHS) students last Thursday, May 10, when they learned that the City would pay for them to finish their Associate’s Degree after graduation.

CHS Principal Priti Johari made the announcement to 94 seniors that qualified for the new pilot program approved by the Council about one month ago. At first, there was an air of disbelief.

But after about 20 minutes, there were smiles and a lot of tears from students gathered there – many of whom had given up on going to college.

Guidairys Castro said she had been accepted to UMass Dartmouth, Roger Williams and two other colleges. However, even with financial aid, it was still out of her reach, and even though she gathered more than 12 college credits at Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) through the dual enrollment program over the past two years, she said she wasn’t even going to be able to pay for finishing that Associate’s program.

“I would say this is life-changing,” she said. “It definitely changes everything for me. I wasn’t thinking about getting to go to college. This is a very good opportunity for me. I didn’t think I would have the money I needed to finish and then go on to a university. I applied to so many colleges and got accepted, but when the financial aid numbers came back, I realized it wasn’t going to happen for me. Today, that all changed.”

On Thursday, Castro sat down with the other 93 seniors who qualified, most not knowing what the big announcement was going to be. Johari said students had to complete 12 credits, and if they agree to stay in Chelsea and go to BHCC, they can finish their Associate’s Degree on the City’s dime as part of the program.

“This is a special group and a really exciting announcement,” she told them. “The City of Chelsea is investing in you. That is exciting…They want you to go to college and graduate, then come back to Chelsea. We want higher education to be more affordable. I know a lot of you have big dreams and can’t go to college because of money. City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the Council wanted to take money away as an obstacle.”

Ambrosino was heartened to hear of the scene after the announcement, and said it made him believe that the program is worthy and should be continued next year.

“I’m thrilled because this is exactly why we did that program and how we wanted it to work,” he said. “We wanted it to change people’s lives.”

Others in the room were relieved because they were going to have to pay out of pocket to finish at Bunker Hill.

Barbara Mendez and Emily Romero said they were going to have to take a year off to work full-time, perhaps more than one job, to be able to pay for going back to Bunker Hill next year.

With the announcement, that all changed.

“We were going to work for a year, but now there is no point in doing that,” said Mendez.

Both were interested in nursing, and early childhood care. The plan was to finish the Associate’s and transfer to a university – which is the popular route nowadays for students wishing to save significant money on college.

“Most of us in this room are the first to even consider college in our families,” said Romero. “It’s a big achievement for our family. They are going to be so happy to hear this. I feel this is really going to help me because I was going to have to pay out of pocket, and I didn’t know if I would have the money. It’s a great opportunity.”

For David Cruz, the scholarship is going to speed up his career path, as he wants to finish up at Bunker Hill and transfer to Bridgewater State. There, he wants to study aviation so he can be an airline pilot.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do as long as I can remember,” he said with a smile.

The applications for the new program were due on Monday, May 14, and many of the 94 eligible students were expected to apply.

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