Much of the public discussion over the Smart
Growth overlay district for Central Avenue over the past several months has
focused on the technical aspects of the zoning ordinance.
But Monday night, as the City Council
unanimously approved the Smart Growth zoning – which will pave the way for the
Innes Development project to move closer to becoming a reality – much of the
talk focused on the human and community benefits of that decision.
As the final vote was made official, cheers
and applause were heard from Innes residents, project development team members,
and even City Planning and Development Director John DePriest.
“This will allow for new homes that all the
residents of Chelsea can be proud to call their own,” said Ronnie Slamin, the
project director for Corcoran, the developer behind the Innes Street/ Central
Avenue housing redevelopment plan.
The special zoning designation, allows the
mixed-income project to have its own, special regulations for parking and
density and other requirements. It also unlocks $5 million in state and local
funding for the project.
Corcoran Development will assist in
developing the 330-unit community on the site of the current housing
development. Those units will include the existing 96 public housing units, as
well as 40 workforce housing units. The remaining 194 units will be market
rate, and with the state and federal grants, will subsidize the replacement of
the public housing units.
Overall, the development would have a 41
percent affordable ratio, which is three times as much as what would normally
be required by the City and double the state requirements.
For many of the current Innes residents, and
for members of the Chelsea Housing Authority, it is a major step forward to
replace the current units, which are rundown and decades old.
“It is our dream to live in new apartments
that are safe and decent for our children, elderly, and the disabled,” said
Melissa Booth, co-president of the Innes Residents Association.
The Smart Growth overlay district will cover
the current footprint of the Innes Development, and puts a premium on
affordable housing and access to public transportation.
Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) board member
Bertram Taverna said the Innes redevelopment is the kind of opportunity that
the City has not seen for decades.
“We are talking about an opportunity for
these 96 families, as well as 40 more affordable housing units,” said Taverna.
“Everybody is invested in this project and wholeheartedly all in.”
CHA Executive Director Al Ewing said the
redevelopment will give the city the ability to deliver on its promise of
providing a home where residents can be proud to live and raise their families.
“This is a win for the City of Chelsea,”
said District 8 Councillor Calvin T. Brown. “Folks are going to see that
Chelsea can do this and other cities are going to do this.”
Council President Damali Vidot said it’s
been a long road for the Innes project to move forward. The Council voted down
a project three years ago because prevailing wages for workers wasn’t on the
With prevailing wages now part of the
development proposal, the only major issue that gained any traction over the
past several months was, unsurprisingly, parking.
While the smart growth zoning is one major
step towards getting shovels in the ground for the project, developers will be
back before the Council for approval of a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) tax
break for the project. That is expected to come before the Council later in the
Vidot said that parking will be addressed in
proposing 226 on-site parking spots, with an option to lease another 50 parking
In a move to show that they are committed to
keeping residents in their homes, the Corcoran company and Chelsea Housing
Authority (CHA) have been signing Letters of Assurance with residents to
legally ensure they can return to their unit after it is redeveloped into a new
“We started signing those with residents
about two weeks ago,” said CHA Director Al Ewing. “We wanted everyone to see
that there is a commitment from us.”
Added Sean McReynolds of Corcoran, “It was
important for us the residents see we’re committed to having them return. That
is something that is usually done much further down the line. We wanted to do
it now anyway so people felt confident that commitment is there.”
Melissa Booth of the Innes Residents
Association (IRA) said many residents are relieved by the Letter, and the
Association has been passing it around in English and Spanish to get as many
residents signed as possible.
“They’re very relieved because the suspicion
is the developers would go in and move the families and not let them back in,”
she said. “We’ve been working really hard and trying to reassure everyone. No
one wants to leave the place that they’ve been living so long.”
The document, signed by all parties, is
about three pages long and clearly spells out what the residents will be
entitled to when they return.
“JJC Co. and CHA assure that all Innes
residents who are required to move for the redevelopment project will have the
right to return to a newly constructed unit in the redeveloped Innes
Apartments,” read the letter.
The two exceptions are if a household has
been evicted before returning for serious offense, or if they have a large unit
and state rules require them to go into a smaller unit than is available.
Also, it spells out that they will have the
same units as the market rate residents.
“These newly constructed affordable housing
units will be intermixed with market-rate units,” it read. “All units will be
interchangeable with the same quality in all apartments including finishes and
appliances such as washers and dryers.”
Both said they
hope to have everyone signed as soon as possible as an act of good faith to
residents and the community.
The Corcoran Development team and the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) are ready to kick-off discussion on their new plan to re-develop the Innes Housing Development into a 330-unit, mixed-income development in two phases.
The plan has been tried before, but was derailed early on, and now with a new financing plan, and some new additions to the old plan, the team believes they have something that the existing residents and the community will be proud of.
The 96 public housing units will be re-developed with 40 middle-income (80 to 120 percent of the AMI) units and 194 market rate units. The project will go in two phases to reduce relocation of residents – with none believed to have to leave Chelsea or any CHA properties.
There will be 226 parking spaces on site, and the developer has said they are willing to do traffic and parking studies to perhaps help the overall neighborhood with street parking.
“The whole reason we’re here is they need new housing for existing residents, but it’s a great opportunity to also develop market rate units alongside it and take advantage of the Silver Line,” said Ronnie Slamin of Corcoran. “It is privately funded. That helps us speed up the process so we don’t have to go through the process of applying for tax credits…We’re also going to be providing amenities and services to the existing residents to improve their schooling. We want to provide services for them to be able to go from public housing to middle income housing to a market rate unit. That’s the goal. We’re planning services like financial literacy, job training, and local hiring events.”
Resident Jean Fulco said tenants are very excited at Innes.
“There is no place to play for the kids now,” she said. “We need bigger rooms. The rooms are too small and bigger cabinets and everything up to date.”
Added resident Melissa Booth, “It would be great to get new apartments and get a new playground. I have two young children and there isn’t a lot of places for them to play here. It’s cramped at the existing playground. The new plan has a bigger playground and it will be a great place for everyone to come and play. It will become a place that kids want to come back to if they want to stay in the area.”
Each of the units will be identical, she said, and no one unit – whether public housing or market rate – will be different.
“There’s not going to be a rich door and a poor door here,” she said.
CHA Director Al Ewing said the lease will be for 99 years with Corcoran, which is the maximum allowed by law. While other such deals are 15 to 35 years, he said they have chosen to go for the maximum.
“It’s important we have this public private partnership so we can have a new development,” he said. “You can’t improve this. You have to replace it. It’s like when you have an old car. At some point, it doesn’t make financial sense to fix it anymore. You have to go and get a new car. That’s where we’re at.”
And Ewing also said there is a sense of urgency, as state monies dedicated to the project could go away soon if there isn’t movement on the project. That is why they’ve scheduled a meeting with the City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 6 p.m.
“As state financing goes, when you set it aside money they want to see it spent in a timeframe or they will want to re-allocate,” he said. “They want to see this project show some movement forward or they will re-allocate that money.”
Meanwhile, to fix the previous problems, the project will be asking for a 15-year Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) deal that will allow them to pay a percentage of the taxes in three five-year periods.
The first five years, they would pay 20 percent; the second five years they would pay 40 percent; and the final five years they would pay 50 percent. After that, they would pay the full property taxes due.
Joe Corcoran and Ewing stressed that the City would not be losing any money. Right now, as part of a PILOT program, the City would get $51,000 for Innes over the same 15-year period. Meanwhile, with the TIF in place, they said the City would receive $3.4 million in new revenues.
“Even with the TIF in place, you’re still getting $3.4 million in new revenues because the City would only get $51,000 if things stayed as they are,” he said.
The TIF will be the deal-breaker to close the financing gap and allow the project to pay a prevailing wage – which was what derailed the first project attempt.
On the matter of relocation, Ewing and Slamin said they would be building the project in two phases, with the western 48 units coming down first.
Ewing said they have enough space to house residents in Fitzpatrick and Prattville Developments during relocation in the first phase.
“We believe we will be able to house those relocated in other state family developments in Chelsea,” he said.
Slamin said the developer would pay for all moving and relocation costs for residents displaced in the first phase.
The process will kick off at the Nov. 20 meeting.