Kayaks and the Creek: Residents Want More Recreation Opportunities on the Waterfront

Kayaks and the Creek: Residents Want More Recreation Opportunities on the Waterfront

By Seth Daniel

Xavier and Angel Mojica enjoyed their time paddling on the Chelsea Creek on Tuesday, Aug. 8, during an event sponsored by GreenRoots to make a statement about recreational boating on the Creek. Both GreenRoots and City officials see the pier on Marginal Street as a key site to getting people more access to the Creek.

Xavier and Angel Mojica enjoyed their time paddling on the Chelsea Creek on Tuesday, Aug. 8, during an event sponsored by GreenRoots to make a statement about recreational boating on the Creek. Both GreenRoots and City officials see the pier on Marginal Street as a key site to getting people more access to the Creek.

When Sandra Perdomo’s little daughter saw the kayaks floating off the new pier on Marginal Street last Tuesday, Aug. 8, her eyes lit up as big as silver dollars.

She had never been on a kayak, and certainly had never really been anywhere near the Chelsea Creek for recreational events. But at the first-ever GreenRoots Paddle on the Creek event, there was plenty of room for everyone to grab a paddle and boat across the Creek to Eastie or just kick around the pier with a paddle.

“After she went out, my daughter said, ‘Oh mommy, can we do this again and again?’” said Perdomo. “One time wasn’t enough. She wanted to do this every day. For her, it was the first time in a kayak…This was a great opportunity for the community to be able to use the water for fun. For me, I felt it was the best community event in all of Chelsea because we had a good time with family and friends. It’s a fun activity outside and everyone enjoyed themselves.”

The event featured activities and the Chelsea Police Copsicle Truck up on the expansive concrete pier – which is basically brand new and very much underutilized.

Down in the water by the docks, kayaks were lined up and people were excited to get out on the water.

Looking down from the dock, GreenRoots Director Roseann Bongiovanni yelled, “We’re kayaking on the Chelsea Creek. Can you believe it?”

Few could.

But many like Bongiovanni and other City leaders hope that it becomes much more common.

“We’ve had canoeing and kayaking on the Creek before, but it was with the River Revel, which we had with East Boston,” said Bongiovanni. “We’ve never done it on the Chelsea side on the Chelsea Creek. We wanted to give the community and the kids the opportunity to use their waterway. We’ve been putting a lot of attention on that pier area and we have a vision that one day that could become a park. There’s much more to come on that site. It’s a very key site…Getting out there kayaking and canoeing felt very powerful to people. This was something people said you couldn’t do. We did it.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the long-term goal is to have residents using the Creek for recreation despite the limits of it being a commercial and industrial waterway.

Both Ambrosino and Bongiovanni believe it can be a shared space for both commerce and leisure.

“One of our long-term goals here is to try to provide more access to the Creek,” he said. “I hope some day to have a park in that area where things like that can happen. The PORT Park is great but we’re trying to do something more. If we can use the pier there to do something, it would be great. Everything now is privately owned, but that may not always be the case in the future.”

Many of the youth at the event had never been on the Creek, and even more had never been in a kayak. It’s something that many have struggled with for years in Chelsea, whereas many young people live only a stone’s throw from the waterfront, but don’t even know the waterfront exists.

Long time resident Lisa Santagate said the waterfront had been blocked off to residents for more than a generation. She couldn’t recall ever being able to really access the Creek in her lifetime.

“This is not a one off thing,” said Bongiovanni. “It can be difficult to have recreational boating on the Chelsea Creek, but we’re going to have try as much as we can to get people on the Creek regularly so it becomes something that’s normal. We see that  (pier) as a key property that can change the Chelsea Creek in a dynamic way.”

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Chelsea Creek Waterfront Plan Takes a Hit, Plan Thwarted for Now

When the City took up the task last February of changing the Designated Port Area (DPA) on the Chelsea Creek so that some development could take place next to the Chelsea Street Bridge, all signs seemed to point to the fact that it was a no-brainer.

A plan to locate a parking garage for rental cars on the waterfront property next to the Bridge on Marginal Street was preliminarily planned to be moved to the other side of the street – with the City swapping land with the waterfront owner. That was going to unlock the Creek waterfront for another new hotel and park/recreation development after a lifetime of only industrial uses allowed on the Creek due to the DPA designation.

Many thought the state review, conducted by the Coastal Zone Management (CZM), would more than likely turn Chelsea’s way.

That was presumptive, it appears.

CZM issued a draft review of the Chelsea Creek waterfront in December, and removed several areas of the Creek from the DPA, but not the pieces the City had requested next to the Bridge – known as the Marginal Street and Eastern Avenue South parcels.

“CZM analysis indicates that the land in the Marginal Street and Eastern Avenue South planning units are in substantial conformance with all the physical suitability criteria in [state regulations],” read the report. “Therefore these planning units will remain in the DPA.”

Now, the hotel development is likely off, and City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they were rather disappointed with the news.

“We’re not happy with it at all,” he said. “I have sent a comment letter opposing the draft report, but no one expects the final report to differ from the draft. Our real hope with this whole process was that 270 Marginal St. would come out because we have a hotel developer wanting to develop a hotel there on the parcel right next to the Bridge. It’s the same hotel developer that has developed several other hotels here in Chelsea. We needed that because you can’t put a hotel in…a DPA. Unfortunately, that whole parcel is within the boundary and no hotel can go there unless it is out of the DPA.”

The City had also intended to build a small park there to promote public access to the waterfront.

To add salt to the wounds, the CZM actually enlarged its scope when conducting the review and looked at the entire DPA in Chelsea, from the PORT Park to the Forbes Site in Mill Hill.

In that larger review, they decided that the properties in Mill Hill should come out of the DPA – known as Railroad North (Forbes) and Railroad South (adjacent to the Burke Complex).

“CZM analysis of the land in the Railroad South planning unit indicates that while this area is in substantial conformance with the physical suitability criteria for possessing a topography that is conducive to industrial use…the land area does not possess a substantially developed shoreline which creates a functional connection to DPA waters,” read the report. “The shoreline in the Railroad South planning unit is comprised of a mix of tidal flats and salt marsh and is wholly devoid of structures which would provide a functional connection to the waterway.”

And for the Railroad North (Forbes) area, “Additionally, CZM analysis of the land in the Railroad North planning unit indicates that while this area is in substantial conformance with the physical suitability criteria for possessing a topography that is conducive to industrial use…the land area does not possess a substantially developed shoreline which creates a functional connection to DPA waters. To the contrary, this review found that the Railroad North planning unit is not in conformance with the substantially developed shoreline…is either undeveloped or bordered by coastal resource areas. CZM finds that although a portion of the Railroad North shoreline includes a bulkhead, the area lacks a functional connection to the DPA waterway because the waters adjacent to the bulkhead have shoaled.”

So, CZM found that the Railroad South and Railroad North, as well as the portion of the MBTA railroad associated with these, should be removed from the DPA. It was an outcome the City wasn’t even asking for. The area along the Creek on Eastern Avenue where Gulf Oil is located was not eligible to be reviewed and was not considered.

“They removed them because those parcels don’t belong there anyway,” said Ambrosino. “The one parcel we were hoping would come out [of the DPA] didn’t come out and we are disappointed.”

A final draft is expected in the coming months.

Meanwhile, a Waterfront Visioning Process began in December with residents and community groups giving input as to what they would like to see there. That effort, now, is hampered by the lack of options due to the DPA designation.

That process will continue, though, Ambrosino said.

“They have to be mindful to suggest things that are consistent with the fact it’s a DPA, but the process is an effort to start the conversation about a Harbor Plan,” he said.

To redevelop waterfront areas like Chelsea Creek, a municipality must prepare a Harbor Plan, and the City does not currently have one. The Visioning Group is the first step in that process and that is expected to last about six months.

Ambrosino said the Harbor Plan could cost as much as $200,000, but he hopes to secure grants to pay for it.

“We hope to seek funding to develop that plan,” he said. “A Plan can cost anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 and we will seek Seaport Economic Council dollars, likely this spring, for that effort.”

The decision was a blow to what many residents on the eastern side of the city and City Planners had hoped would be a thriving new recreational and economic development district located on what has been no man’s land for generations. Ambrosino said they will wait to see what the final decision says, but that a request for another review cannot be made for five years.

A map showing the areas reviewed by the CZM. The City had hoped the Marginal Street and Eastern Avenue South areas would be taken out of the DPA, but they were not. Instead, parcels in the Mill Hill area were removed.

A map showing the areas reviewed by the CZM. The City had hoped the Marginal Street and Eastern Avenue South areas would be taken out of the DPA, but they were not. Instead, parcels in the Mill Hill area were removed.

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Waterfront Development Plan to be Considered this Month

The ongoing process to begin considering development for part of the Chelsea Creek waterfront will be considered this month by the Economic Development Board and, likely brought to a vote, later this month.

Since earlier this spring, a local and state process has been underway to begin discussions about developing a portion of land on the waterfront from Willow Street to the Chelsea Street Bridge. The City has engaged since that time in an overall plan, and the state has also begun a longer process to remove the area from the Designated Port Area (DPA) district.

Planning Director John DePriest said the City is hoping to do a land swap.

Currently, the City owns 324 Marginal St. – a large swath of land across from the Creek that is now leased to Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The City hopes to make a land swap with a developer who wishes to build a large parking garage on the waterfront site – just next to the bridge where there is now a brick wall. The City hopes to be able to allow the developer to build the garage on the Marginal Street site off the water, get title to the waterfront parcel and open it up to hotel development and waterfront park access.

“We’re in the process of working up that plan now,” said DePriest. “We expect to hold an Economic Development Board meeting later this month to put the finishing touches on the plan and vote to endorse the plan…The plan is practical and shows how to achieve what we want. The end goal is a land swap to allow the City to gain access to a waterfront parcel. Our feeling is a parking garage on the waterfront restricts access to the water and the waterfront for a long time. It would be better on the other side and off the water.”

The Council would also have to endorse the plan, and a tentative date for the Economic Development Board is scheduled for July 23.

DePriest said a hotel developer has already expressed interest in obtaining a portion of that waterfront site to build another hotel. Word on the street is that the developer is Colwen Hotels, which has already built several hotels in Chelsea, but that could not yet be confirmed.

Another one acre site on the waterfront parcel, DePriest said, would be reserved for some sort of park or activation zone.

“We would really like residents to gain some sort of access to the waterfront, whether it’s a park or a building or something like that,” he said. “We don’t really have that access to the water now.”

On the state front, the DPA process is still ongoing and is separate from the City’s land swap plan.

The state is expected to issue a draft report on the DPA removal in October or November. That will result in a 30-day comment period, and then a Draft Final Report in December, with another 30-day comment period.

An overall Harbor Plan would likely come 12 to 18 months afterward.

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City Seeks to Make Sweeeping Changes to Chelsea Creek Waterfront

City Seeks to Make Sweeeping Changes to Chelsea Creek Waterfront

Vast changes could soon be coming to the heavily-industrial Chelsea Creek waterfront on Marginal Street as the City and state begin a process later this month of potentially changing the boundaries of the Creek’s Designated Port Area (DPA).

The City petitioned the state Energy and Environmental Affairs office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) to change the boundaries of the DPA, a zone that prevents traditional non-water dependent development from happening. A DPA requires any development in the zone to be for direct marine uses or supplementary marine services.

The state has advertised the change this week in its online publication ‘Environmental Monitor’ and has set up a public meeting at Chelsea City Hall on March 31 at 6 p.m. Any change would likely take at least six months of research and due diligence.

Sources close to the situation said a change in the boundary would likely pave the way for a plan to develop hotels, restaurants and housing on the sites near the Chelsea Street Bridge. That would correspond with the Marginal Street Corridor plan that has been floated around for several months within inner circles.

Two sources close to the matter indicated that well-known hotel developers have plans – if the boundary is changed – to build a hotel on the site on the water right next to the Chelsea Street Bridge – where hundreds of rental cars are now parked. That property, marked by a large cement-block and brick wall, would be the newest location for a hotel, it was said.

Other plans include luxury apartments or condos on the other side of the street where surface lots of rental cars are now parked.

Both plans could not be developed unless the properties were moved out of the DPA, as they are now within the zone.

Councillor Giovanni Recupero, who represents the area (District 6), said he isn’t against such sweeping change, but he would also like to see residents in his district benefit from any prosperity on the waterfront.

“Change is good in some ways, but change has to include the people who live there now,” he said. “Are they going to get to participate in this prosperity? I would like the residents of District 6 to get priority on any new jobs that all of this might bring. I’m going to be calling for a majority of the jobs – maybe even 70 percent of the jobs – to go to qualified residents of District 6.”

Roseann Bongiovanni of Chelsea Greenspace, which advocates for water access and parks, said they will be calling for a extensive planning process conducted by the City after the state process concludes and new boundaries are potentially drawn.

“The City should launch a master planning process for the Creek with significant community involvement,” she said. “That is what we will advocate for.”

A public comment period has been established for the upcoming review and will end on April 10 at 5 p.m. Comments can be sent to: Office of Coastal Zone Management; Attn: Brad Washburn, Assistant Director; 251 Causeway St., Suite 800; Boston, MA 02114-2136

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Our Own Nessy

Our Own Nessy

The elusive Mill Creek Monster has a number of curious neighbors and passers-by wondering just what it is that’s living in the Creek.

The elusive Mill Creek Monster has a number of curious neighbors and passers-by wondering just
what it is that’s living in the Creek.

Its eyes pierce through the night from deep out in the darkness of Mill Creek.

Its form can be seen out of the corner of one’s eye while driving down the Parkway or cruising the tracks on the Commuter Rail.

Its serpentine movements have been enough to distract even the most focused power walker passing by the Cronin Rink.

It’s the Mill Creek Monster, and photographic evidence unequivocally proves its existence.

Neighbors, commuters and residents have been befuddled for the past month as they pass Mill Creek and see what appears to be some strange animal swimming (or swiveling) in the Creek near the Commuter Rail bridge.

The Record has even logged a handful of hysterical calls from nearby residents who have spotted the beast and called the paper for more information. Certainly countless others driving by or riding the Commuter Rail have had similar reactions, but in a more subdued way.

Until this week, not many knew the true story of the Mill Creek Monster – as it’s being dubbed – but now the secret’s been exposed.

The creator of the 7-foot-long wooden, dragon-like monster is Bobby McKenna – who lives adjacent to the Creek in the Slade’s Mill – and he’s suddenly getting a lot of attention.

“I’ve seen lots of people pulling into the parking lot that I don’t know to take pictures of it,” he said. “A lot of people walk on the Parkway and they all stop to look out at it. I’m sure people at the Commuter Rail have had quite surprise seeing it as they go by. That’s what I expected though. I put it by the Commuter Rail tracks so the people on the trains would have something interesting to look at.”

Call it spontaneous public art, or something else, but McKenna said he had always wanted to do such a thing since he was a kid. Growing up by the ocean in Beachmont, he said he was always intrigued by stories of sea monsters and leviathans from the depths of the sea.

“When I was a kid, I always read the books by Edward Rowe Snow about the sea serpent and also books about the Loch Ness Monster,” he said. “I had seen something like this on Martha’s Vineyard 20 years ago and always said I wanted to build something like it to get everyone’s attention. I got the idea to do it here one night when I was sitting outside and watching the fog roll in over the Forbes Plant. It looked spooky and I thought it would be a cool place to put something up. This year, on Halloween, my friends pushed me to do it and I did.”

McKenna seems to relish the element of surprise, as he didn’t just drop it out on the Creek in daylight.

He said he rowed out to the spot in the dark of night and anchored down his creation, hoping to surprise everyone in the morning.

“I didn’t want people to see me out there in the middle of the day doing this,” he said. “That would take all the fun out of it.”

The Mill Creek Monster is actually mostly made of plywood and leather. It is mounted on a small platform that is anchored in the mud bottom. The two platforms hold up the plywood cutout of the monster, which lurks just above the water line. For added effect, McKenna swiveled the two pieces together so that the monster seems to slither through the water when the wind is blowing.

“It does do this sidewinding thing in the wind,” he said.

To top it off, McKenna added two small solar powered lights to act as eyes, and they come on at night and pierce through the darkness – to a very eerie effect.

Now the only piece left in the monster puzzle is to decide upon a name.

“The obvious choice is Millie, but I don’t know if I want it to be referred to as a girl, so another choice is Millhouse,” said McKenna. “I kind of just like the Mill Creek Monster.”

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Collaborative, Residents Are Still Pushing Amendment in Wake of Quebec Train Disaster

Collaborative, Residents Are Still Pushing  Amendment in Wake of Quebec Train Disaster

Organizers pause for a photo prior to delivering more than 1,000 advocacy cards. Those pictured include (left to right) Gail Miller, John Walkey, Anjie Preston, Jovanna Garcia-Soto, Attorney Staci Rubin, and Kim Fultz.

Organizers pause for a photo prior to delivering more than
1,000 advocacy cards. Those pictured include (left to right)
Gail Miller, John Walkey, Anjie Preston, Jovanna Garcia-Soto,
Attorney Staci Rubin, and Kim Fultz.

While pleased with last week’s announcement that Global Petroleum had withdrawn its proposal to bring millions of gallons of Ethanol by train through more than 90 communities across the Commonwealth, local Chelsea Creek activists remain dedicated to seeing through the amendment they have fought for and that would ensure that future projects like Global’s would remain off limits.

“Saturday night’s tragic catastrophe in Lac Mégantic, Quebec provides a horrifying glimpse of what is possible when millions of gallons of highly flammable products are railed through the middle of densely populated areas,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, Associate Director of the Chelsea Collaborative.

The derailment and explosion of several of the train’s 73 tanker cars containing pressurized crude oil destroyed 30 buildings in downtown Lac Mégantic and is being referred to as the worst rail accident in Canada in 50 years.  An exact death toll has yet to be released as bodies of over 40 missing persons have not been found and may have been completely incinerated.

“Can you imagine if the proposed Ethanol cars derailed as they went through Porter Square or through Chelsea neighborhoods?” asked Kim Foltz, Director of Community Building and Environment at NOAH.  “Thanks to Senators Anthony Petruccelli, Sal DiDomenico and Patricia Jehlen there is an amendment in the State budget that would prevent something similar to this happening on the rail lines to the Chelsea Creek oil terminals.”

After more than two years of organizing, members of the Chelsea Creek Action Group on Monday morning delivered more than 1,000 postcards signed by residents in the Metro Boston area to Gov. Deval Patrick urging him to sign the legislation into law to ensure the safety of residents of the Commonwealth from ethanol rail disasters.

Whether or not the new Chapter 91 regulations go into effect is fully up to Gov. Patrick at this point. The amendments are contained within the current Budget Proposal that the governor is deliberating upon. Many insiders believe that he is poised to strike the amendments, but he has given no clear indication.

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Marginal Street Corridor Could Be Next Hot Area for Chelsea

Marginal Street Corridor Could Be Next Hot Area for Chelsea

The turnaround story of Everett Avenue has been well documented both inside and outside of Chelsea.

Now, with that area growing unabated, City Manager Jay Ash said this week that planners would begin to focus on the Marginal Street corridor as the City’s next big boomtown.

In the next few weeks, the City plans to release a request for proposals (RFP) that calls for a study of the Marginal Street corridor – which runs right along the Chelsea Creek. That study comes on the tail end of a group of investors filing an application with the City to develop a hotel on vacant land at the head of Marginal Street, across from the new Chelsea Street Bridge.

“We met with stakeholders about 18 months ago, and decided that we needed to bring on a consultant to help us think about the future of the waterfront,” said Ash. “Certainly the news that a hotel is eager to be an anchor on Central and Eastern Avenues is great news and tells us that our hopes for a higher end waterfront is possible. The new park that Eastern Minerals is creating and the pier that Harold Kalick has restored are great infrastructure additions, as is the Chelsea Street Bridge.”

Ash noted there are some positive steps already taken on the thoroughfare, but true success such as has borne out on Everett Avenue may be some years away.

“We may be five or even 10 years away from the start of a true transformation there, but it has worked on Everett Avenue and we are equally as confident that something special can happen on the waterfront some day,” he said.

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Is There an Alternative?

Is There an Alternative?

The meeting by the State Department of Transportation on the ethanol trains coming into our community using the existing commuter rails, certainly was not what the many residents and officials wanted to hear. The state officials basically said that there is very little to be done to stop the project.

We know that we live in an older industrialized city.

We know that there exists contaminated sites in our city.

We know that we have airport noise and pollution.

And we know that we are the main freeway into Boston used by thousands of commuters from the North Shore.

However, the proposed route for the delivery of ethanol should not be something that we should also be asked to bear.

Our elected officials are opposed to the proposed delivery of the ethanol by train.

Residents in the neighboring communities have joined together to also oppose the proposed train delivery.

Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash has asked about the possibility of using ships to transport this highly dangerous cargo by way of the Chelsea Creek.

We concur that there might be another way to transport this cargo into our community.

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