City Council Approves $18 Million CIP Plan with Some Reservations

With a few adjustments, the City Council approved City Manager’s proposed $18 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) budget for Fiscal Year 2020. About $4.7 million of that proposal comes from the City’s free cash reserves.

The Council held a special meeting Tuesday night, May 28, to pass the CIP before the June 1 deadline.

The major changes to Ambrosino’s requests included paying for the second phase of the Mary C. Burke School roof project through $825,000 in free cash rather than the school stabilization fund, and doing away with $450,000 in the FY20 CIP for an updated Master Plan.

“Even though I am a huge proponent of the Master Plan, I think we should take a step back,” said Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson.

He said the City will be looking at some zoning issues in the near future, and should focus on that before it moves forward with a Master Plan update.

Earlier this year, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented the proposed 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the City Council. That document included 45 projects totaling $18 million for FY20.

“It is my strong belief that this comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan fully meets our promise to invest the City’s strong reserves in projects that enhance the quality of life in our City,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council.

The program areas addressed in the CIP for FY20 include equipment purchases including furniture, desktop replacements, and vehicles for the library; roadway and sidewalk improvements; improvement and expansion of open spaces, including the Mary C. Burke playground; replacement of police cruisers, radio communication equipment, and a new engine pumper; and nearly $7 million for infrastructure improvements including utility replacement on Upper Broadway, mitigation of localized flooding and expansion of the City’s lead service replacement program.

“This gives our City Manager the leverage to go out and continue to fix our sidewalks and roads and also help with school projects and water projects,” said District 8 Councillor Calvin T. Brown. “It’s a lot of money, but it needs to be done to improve the quality of life in Chelsea.”

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero voted in favor of the CIP, but questioned why the Council vote is necessary, since the City Charter already requires the annual adoption of the CIP. “The charter is telling you it has to be approved,” he said.

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District Councillor Celebrates Installation of Crossing Light

It was a request that didn’t appeared as if it would never see the light of day, but for Councillor Giovanni Recupero, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel – or rather – on the curves of Marginal Street.

Councillor Giovanni Recupero stands in front of the new pedestrian crossing traffic light on Marginal Street this week. The light will help ensure the safe crossing of residents to the PORT Park on what is a very busy truck route.

This week, Recupero said he was glad to finally see the substantial crossing light installed at the PORT Park so residents of his district – including children – can safely cross a dangerous road to get to the new park.

“They said I couldn’t do it; no one said this could be done, but here it is,” he said on Monday. “I found money in an account from Eastern Minerals. I called for that money to be used for this light, and convinced my fellow councillors to vote for it. Everyone told me not to try to do this because it was too expensive. But we did our research and we did it. It’s a great achievement for all of the children of this district. This is a dangerous spot. The park is great, but you couldn’t safely get to the other side of the street.”

Marginal Street is a truck route flanked by some industry and a dense residential neighborhood.

The PORT Park came on the scene about five years ago, and is a beloved asset for the community in the summer months. However, for those in the neighborhood adjacent to it, dodging fast-moving tractor trailers was daunting.

Now, Recupero said thanks to the rest of the Council, and the unbelievable investment in his district by City Manager Tom Ambrosino, the situation is much safer.

The light cost just under $1 million in total, and is a full traffic light that can be activated at the push of a button and completely stops vehicles for pedestrians.

The idea was rejected several years ago when first proposed by Recupero because of the price tag. However, he said he investigated some forgotten accounts and found a mitigation account from Eastern Minerals that was to be used for infrastructure in his district.

And bingo – the light shone. “The City spends money on everything and it should spend money on the safety of the children,” he said. “Now the children and their parents don’t have to worry anymore because the light will always be here.”

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Council Looking to Limit Resident Parking for New Developments

It’s a general consensus among City officials that parking and traffic are among the greatest challenges facing Chelsea.

But the best way to help ease clogged streets and ensure residents aren’t endlessly circling their block to find an open parking spot are open to debate.

The latest proposal is an ordinance introduced by City Council President DamaliVidot and District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop seeking a change in the City’s off-street parking requirements.

Under the proposal, the residents of any development or housing that is granted relief by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) from the City’s parking requirements won’t be eligible to participate in the residential permit parking sticker program. Already, in Everett, City officials at their ZBA have been requiring new developments or expanded housing units in triple deckers to not participate in their parking sticker program. That tool has proven quite successful over past several months.

The Chelsea proposal will head to the Planning Board for a recommendation before coming back for a public hearing before the City Council.

“This will require any developer that comes into the city to put their money where their mouth is by asking tenants not to participate in the City parking program,” said Vidot.

Bishop said it is unfair that larger developments come into the city and ask for and are granted well below the 1.5 parking spaces per unit required by the City.

“There are too many units and not enough parking,” said Bishop. “Where do you think all those cars go? They go all over the streets, that’s where they go.

“There is very little parking even in areas where there was once parking. This is something we should have done years ago.”

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero said that while developers promote the use of Ubers, Lyfts, and public transportation, the fact is that more development brings more cars into the city.

“There are more cars being registered in our city, our streets can’t support all the cars,” Recupero said.

If developers want to build in Chelsea, Recupero said they should do like they do in Boston and provide parking underneath the units.

Several councillors said there are still some questions about the proposal made by Vidot and Bishop.

Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda asked what would happen with condominiums, where there are owners as opposed to tenants. He also questioned what would happen if developers did provide required parking.

“If they meet the conditions and there are 15 spots for 10 units, would we still allow the parking sticker?” he asked.

Avellaneda said he is supportive of working out more details for a parking plan, and also noted that many of the biggest parking issues come not from the larger developments, but from smaller conversions where parking relief is granted for buildings increasing from one to two or two to three families.

District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda said there needs to be a closer look at the overall parking program for the city.

He said the current program, which limits resident sticker parking to 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. is unfair to residents.

“Unless we change the parking program to 24/7, these people are still going to be parking in our streets, and I’m sick of it,” said Perlatonda.

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TND, Traggorth Finally get the Green Light on Midas Site

A 38-unit affordable housing project at the former Midas site on Broadway can move forward after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) unanimously granted a special permit for the project Tuesday night.

The $15 million project is a partnership between the Traggorth Companies and The Neighborhood Developers (TND). The developers initially came before City officials last year with plans for a 42-unit housing development with some market rate units included.

In addition to cutting the project down to 38 units and making all the units affordable, a planned fifth floor of a building along the Broadway side was eliminated.

“This project cannot do everything for everyone, but it can achieve many things for Chelsea by creating 38 units of affordable housing,” said Dave Traggorth of the Traggorth Companies. “This blighted site pays very little in taxes. This will change that and bring revenue to the city.”

In addition to providing affordable housing, Traggorth said there will be public access to Mill Creek for all Chelsea residents.

As has been the case during past public hearings on the project, a number of community members touted the need for affordable housing in Chelsea and TND’s past successes in bringing affordable units to the city.

City Council President Damali Vidot said she has never supported a TND project in the city until this one.

“There is a huge problem with affordability in this city and we are displacing residents at a rapid rate,” said Vidot.

Resident Sandy Maynard supported the creation of affordable units and the improvement of a blighted site in the city.

“I can’t think of a better project than this one to meet that (affordable housing) need and to beautify Chelsea,” said Maynard. “That lot is an ugly, ugly place.”

Several residents who have been homeless also spoke in favor of the project and of the need of affordable housing.”

A letter from District 3 City Councillor Joe Perlatonda cited his objections to the project, including the welfare of neighboring residents due to traffic and parking concerns.

City Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda, who has spoken against approval of the 1001-1005 Broadway project in the past, said his overreaching concern has been TND’s lack of a vision to bring affordable home ownership, as opposed to rental units, to the city.

“Teachers and city employees are not able to bid on homes (in Chelsea) and they are pushed out,” said Avellaneda. “I understand the need for affordable housing, but there is no balance here … There is a broader discussion that is needed in this community.”

The special permit granted by the ZBA was required because the project did not meet minimum zoning requirements for rear yard setbacks, number of off-street parking spaces, and maximum lot coverage percentage.

A housing lottery will be held for all of those units, with 30 offered at 60 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) for the area (about $64,000 for a family of four) and eight at 30 percent AMI (about $32,000 for a family of four). The maximum preference allowable under state law will be given to Chelsea residents for the units.

There will be 42 parking spaces for the 38 units (the majority of which will be two-bedroom apartments). And because of state law regulating public access to public waterways, 31 of those parking spaces will be available as public parking from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to provide access to Mill Creek for everyone.

•In other business, the ZBA held a public hearing for a retail marijuana shop at the site of the former King Arthur’s strip club at 200 Beacham St. GreenStar Herbals, Inc. is seeking to tear down the existing two-story building and replace it with a one-story retail facility.

Representatives from GreenStar said the building will feature state-of-the-art security and 34 parking spots on site. Representatives of several of the neighboring local produce businesses came to express concerns about traffic and parking affecting their businesses.

The GreenStar proposal still needs to go before the Planning Board later this month before coming back to the ZBA for special permit and variance approvals.

•The ZBA also denied a special permit for a church to operate out of the second and third floors of 307 Broadway because the plan did not include any parking spaces.

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A Lot of Noise but Little Action on Planes at Council

A Lot of Noise but Little Action on Planes at Council

For as long as jets have rumbled over Chelsea as they land at and depart from Logan Airport, City officials have struggled with getting state and federal officials to help mitigate the noise from that air traffic.

Monday night, District 6 City Councillor Giovanni Recupero introduced an order asking City Manager Tom Ambrosino to look at renegotiating a deal with Massport to bring back the window and soundproofing program to the city.

“People deserve a little more consideration than they have been given,” said Recupero.

The Councillor said he would like to see Massport provide soundproof windows for residents suffering excessive noise from plane traffic, as it has done in the past.

“I’d like to get them back to the table and figure out a way to help with the problem,” Recupero said.

Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda said he appreciated Recupero’s efforts to get Massport back to the table to discuss sound mitigation, but that he didn’t have high hopes that it would be successful.

“Whenever the City Manager has approached Massport, the answer has been that it is a nonstarter; they have done their program,” said Avellaneda.

Avellaneda said he has been working with City Manager Tom Ambrosino to find a company to undertake an independent sound study of noise from the airport. But, he said it has been very difficult to find a company qualified to do that study.

If a company is found that can perform an independent sound study, Avellaneda said he hopes it has the support of his fellow councillors.

On the positive side, Avellaneda said he attended a recent Massport meeting with airport communities in which officials stated that a new Massport sound study is underway. He said this study will take into account items that a study released in 2017 did not take into account, such as the impact of hills on sound and the resonating sound of airplanes.

The 2017 study was conducted by the Center for Research on Environmental and Social Stressors in Housing Across the Life Course (CRESSH), which is a division of the BU School of Public Health.

That report showed that flights over Chelsea have nearly doubled between 2011 and 2015, and that certain health effects associated with airplane noise are very high in Chelsea.

But getting Massport to kick in for additional noise mitigation efforts has been an uphill battle.

“Confronted with the increase in air traffic, their response has been, ‘But our planes are quieter,’” said Avellaneda.

The Councillor has been pushing for the independent noise study since at least the time the 2017 airport noise study was unveiled.

“We (can) do a real noise study with proper equipment and prepare to say we have proof that our community is impacted and possibly prepare to embark on a lawsuit against MassPort and the FAA,” he said at the time.

•In other business, the Council unanimously approved sending a home rule petition to the state legislature that will allow for the construction of the new Innes Housing Development.

•Recupero introduced an order asking the City Manager look into hiring another animal control officer for the purpose of issuing fines to people that don’t clean up after their dogs.

•Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson introduced orders asking the City Manager for updates on the City’s master plan and the status of the Salvation Army building on Broadway. The Council approved taking the building by eminent domain in 2017.

•District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop was absent from Monday night’s meeting, but with good reason. He was celebrating his 35th anniversary with his wife. Happy anniversary to the Bishops.

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Council Passes Plastic Bag Ban, to Go into Effect December 2019

Council Passes Plastic Bag Ban, to Go into Effect December 2019

When Chelsea residents go shopping for the holidays next year, they will have to either bring their own bags or pay a dime for a heavy-duty plastic bag.

Monday night, the City Council approved an anticipated single-use plastic bag ban in the city. The ban goes into effect one year from the Dec. 17 vote.

The proposal has been discussed in committee and meetings on the ban have been held with local businesses, but the issue was not listed on Monday night’s agenda.

District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez made the motion to take the ban out of conference committee and have it voted on by the full Council. Lopez noted that single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment and are also a constant source of litter around the city.

“This is a great idea and it is in our power to do it,” said Council President Damali Vidot. “I think small businesses will be able to adjust to the change.”

District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said he initially had some mixed feelings about the proposed ban, but said he was swayed by Sunday night’s ‘60 Minutes’ segment on the environmental dangers of plastic.

“I think plastic will kill us all if we keep going the way we are going,” said Bishop. While Bishop said plastic bags are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangers of plastic, banning plastic bags is a start.

District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda voted for the ban, but said he did have some concerns about the cost to consumers and businesses. While single-use plastic bags will be banned, consumers will be able to purchase sturdier, multi-use plastic bags for 10 cents.

Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson shared some of Perlatonda’s concerns and recommended the proposal be kept in committee, giving local businesses more time for input.

But the majority of the Council favored taking action Monday night.

“There have been other cities that have implemented this, and you can see a huge difference in the streets,” said District 2 Councillor Luis Tejada.

The one year time-frame before the ban goes into effect will give the City time to do outreach to local businesses, and give the businesses time to go through any existing stock of plastic bags.

The ban passed with a 10-1 vote, with District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown casting the lone vote against it.

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Council Rejects Silber Center School Bus Traffic Plan

Council Rejects Silber Center School Bus Traffic Plan

Monday night, City Councilors rejected a plan that would dramatically impact traffic and parking around the John Silber Early Learning Center on Hawthorne Street.

The recommendations from the Traffic and Parking Commission, based on a request from School Facilities Director Joseph Cooney III, sought to block traffic from Congress Avenue and Hawthorne Street, only allowing bus access to Hawthorne Street during the hours of 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. and to move a school bus lane from Shurtleff Street to Hawthorne Street. Cooney also requested a painted “Buses Only” parking area in front of the school on Hawthorne Street and to change the existing language on the signs to “No Parking, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., School Buses Only.”

Several councillors said they were dismayed by the effect the changes would have for residents in the area, and also said they thought the Council should have had more of a say in the proposed changes.

“Why take away all of the parking for the whole day?” asked District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero. “You can’t just say we are going to do this and this is what it is. What’s going to happen to the people who live there?”

Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda echoed Recupero’s concerns.

“Reading this, it is a major change and there has not been the outreach this deserves,” he said.

Many major details were missing from the proposal, Avellaneda added, including what would happen with parking when school is not in session. He said it would have been preferable if school officials had met with councillors before making the recommendations.

“I know that behind this, the intent is the safety of school children,” Avellaneda said. “But I don’t think this has been fully vetted or thought out.”

  • In other business Monday night, the Council unanimously approved spending $170,000 for a turf field cover at the new Chelsea High School field. This cover will allow for outdoor activities on the field, including high school graduation.

For the past several meetings, Chelsea High students have organized and spoken out in favor of the proposal.

With the vote taken, several councillors praised the students for the role they played in making the request a reality.

“I’ve never seen a group impact the Council on an issue as much as you guys,” said District 2 Councillor Luis Tejada. “Keep up the good work and know that this is the way to get things done in life.”

  • The Council also approved a request by Council President Damali Vidot to place signs at five locations around the city where Chelsea police officers have been killed in the line of duty over the past 150 years.
  • In other parking and traffic related news, District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia announced that Fire Chief Leonard Albanese rescinded a request to change the traffic flow on Chestnut Street.

A petition from St. Stanislaus Church with dozens of signatures stated that the temporary change of direction on the street had been detrimental to the day-to-day business operations of the Parish rectory and created multiple hardships for parishioners and others in the area.

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Bishop Proposes City Council Pay Cut

Bishop Proposes City Council Pay Cut

If District 1 City Councillor Robert Bishop gets his way, he’ll be taking $6,000 per year out of his own pockets, and those of his fellow city councillors.

Monday night, Bishop introduced an ordinance asking that the Council salary be cut from $14,000 to $8,000 per year beginning in 2020. The councillor said he was unhappy when the salary increased from $8,000 to $14,000 several years ago, and wants to see it cut back.

The ordinance was moved to a second reading at a future council meeting before there was any discussion on the proposal, but Council President DamaliVidot said there will be an opportunity for debate and discussion during the second reading.

The council voted for the pay raise to $14,000 in 2013 and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

  • In other business, the council heard a legal opinion from City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher that stated that the Council’s subcommittee on finance violated the open meeting law when it discussed a $20,000 appropriation for legal services that was not properly placed on the subcommittee’s agenda. Bishop, who heads the finance subcommittee, countered that the matter was properly posted and fell under the heading of financial requests.

“I felt it would be appropriate to discuss,” Bishop said. “I see nothing in Rule 26 that says we could not speak about it. … To me, this is kind of petty and picayune.”

But Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson said he didn’t understand how the matter had gotten to the finance subcommittee without coming before the full Council first.

Vidot said there will be a subcommittee discussion about how to best move forward with financial matters on the Council.

  • Bishop also asked for a meeting to discuss traffic flow issues at Revere Beach Parkway and Washington Avenue, Revere Beach Parkway and Webster Avenue, and Spruce Street and Everett Avenue. The councillor noted that motorists are faced with an especially dangerous intersection at Revere Beach Parkway and Washington.

“It’s a wonder that there are not more accidents than there already are,” Bishop said.

  • The District 1 Councillor is also requesting a subcommittee meeting to discuss issues with the city and the Chelsea Housing Authority’s rodent baiting programs. Bishop said he has concerns that the programs are ineffective and dangerous for the workers implementing them.
  • District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero introduced an order asking the public works director provide the Council with an accurate account of how the City sets water and sewer rates and how those rates could be stabilized.

In contrast to the past several meetings, when discussion over water and sewer rates brought a steady stream of residents to the microphone, it was a more subdued public speaking session at Monday’s meeting.

Chelsea High School senior Manuel Teshe advocated for fundraising efforts that would allow the senior class to graduate outside at the school’s football field. Teshe estimated the total cost of covering the field to keep it safe for a graduation ceremony would be about $30,000.

“We are passionate about this and want to graduate from the school in the best way possible,” said Teshe.

Teshe’s classmate, senior class president Jocelyn Poste, was also on hand at the meeting to promote the Red Devil Turkey Trot race on Saturday, Nov. 17 to benefit the school’s track and cross country programs.

Anyone interested in finding out more about the race can visit  HYPERLINK “http://chelseahightrack.com” t “_blank” chelseahightrack.com. The event begins at 10 a.m. at Admiral’s Hill.

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‘Big Top’ Comes to Chelsea City Council

‘Big Top’ Comes to Chelsea City Council

Civility was at a premium at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

While the meetings typically end with a pro forma opportunity for councillors to make community announcements and hold moments of silence to honor those who have recently died in the community, this week’s meeting ended with a flurry of accusations, banging gavels, and frustration.

Tensions were already high Monday night, as the month-long debate over a water and sewer discount for homeowners was rescinded by one vote (see related story).

Things only got hotter as the Council got to an order introduced near the end of the agenda by Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda. That order asked the Council to schedule a conference with the City Clerk’s office to discuss the campaign finance filing deadline enforcement policy, and the state’s campaign and political finance office findings of campaign finance law violations, by Council President Damali Vidot’s campaign committee.

“I was a little surprised when I saw that you allowed this particular order to be placed before the Council,” District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said to Vidot. “One councillor going against another councillor, it should be ruled out of order. It’s a personal thing, and I don’t think those types of things should be put on the floor.”

Vidot ruled that Avellaneda’s motion was out of order. She said she brought the matter forward as a matter of transparency, but would not allow orders attacking her personally to go forward.

“I think this matter is totally inappropriate, and Councillor Avellaneda, I understand you wanting to embarrass me, but this is not the place to do it,” said Vidot.

Avellaneda argued that nowhere in his motion was he attacking Vidot, and that it was a motion based on facts. He challenged Vidot’s decision to rule the motion out of order.

No councillors joined Avellaneda in voting to overturn the challenge.

Matters only got more out of hand as the meeting wound down with the announcements portion that typically ends the night.

District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez accused Avellaneda of putting forward proposals that would directly affect his business ventures, which Avellaneda denied.

Vidot repeatedly banged the gavel as she tried to restore order to the proceedings.

“We are looking very circus-like,” said Vidot. “I ask that we display a little decorum and reflect on the type of representation this community needs.”

As the meeting ended, several councillors had already walked away from their seats as a steady stream of cross-talk filled the chamber before Vidot was able to settle the room for a moment of silence.

After the meeting, several councillors were visibly frustrated and expressed dismay over the recent proceedings in the Council chambers.

  • In earlier, more sedate business, the Council received communication from City Manager Tom Ambrosino asking the City to consider a request for proposals for use of the Salvation Army building for residential and commercial use.

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero asked that the City Manager look into ways the building, now owned by the City, could be converted into a community center.

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Condo Owners say Water and Sewer Discount Unfair

Condo Owners say Water and Sewer Discount Unfair

The City Council passed District 6 City Councillor Giovanni Recupero’s measure to provide a 10 percent water and sewer percent discount to Chelsea homeowners last month.

Yet, since that vote, there has been a fair share of resident dissatisfaction from condominium owners who don’t qualify for the price break, as well as allegations of some social media shenanigans between councillors.

But despite an attempt on Monday night by Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda to consider a repeal, the discount will stand for now.

The discount applies to all units in any owner-occupied single, two-, or three-family homes and any owner-occupied condominium that has an individual water meter. The problem, as some condominium owners noted at Monday night’s council meeting, is that very few condominium units in the city have individual water meters.

“I chose 15 years ago that I wanted to buy a condominium and not a house,” said resident Suzanne Perry. “I consider this to be a basic issue of discrimination and unfairness. I’m sure it was not meant to be that way, but that’s the way it ended up.”

Condominium owner Alison Cuneo circulated an online petition with more than 130 signatures as of Monday night asking the Council to overturn its water and sewer discount vote.

“I would oppose this even if I were to benefit from (the discount),” Cuneo said.

The debate over the issue took a personal turn early in the meeting, when District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop spoke out about a social media post by Avellaneda. In the post, Bishop said Avellaneda posted a Google maps image of his home and pool, noting that Bishop would benefit from the discounted water and sewer rates.

“Councillor Avellaneda wrote that Bob Bishop would get a discount to fill up his pool next year,” said Bishop. “That is not only petty, but it is untrue.”

Bishop said that he, like many people, has an individual water meter on his pool that would not qualify for the homeowner discount.

The District 1 Councillor also said he would be in favor of extending the discount to condominium owners if there was a way to determine the water use in owner-occupied units.

Avellaneda’s attempt to overturn the discount was struck down on a procedural vote.

Council President Damali Vidot ruled the request by Avellaneda to take another vote as out of order.

“We shouldn’t set a precedent just because this is something you disagreed with,” she said. “The majority of the Council voted in favor of adopting this.”

Avellaneda challenged Vidot’s ruling that his request was out of order, but the challenge failed.

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