Forbes Owners Back to Conservation Commission to Start Over

Forbes Owners Back to Conservation Commission to Start Over

The owners of the old Forbes Lithograph property on Chelsea Creek have completed an initial meeting with the Conservation Commission that signals the beginning of a new process on the property.

City Planner John DePriest said the owners, Yihe of China, came before the Con Com at the end of last month for a very technical determination of the property.

“It is the beginning of a process there,” he said.

The Con Com hearing regarded a determination of where environmental areas exist, such as coastal flooding areas, tidal flats and salt marshes. Knowing that, he said, gives them a better idea of where they can construct and what they would possibly have to mitigate.

There were no development plans included in the package filed with the Con Com, and that’s something that everyone is waiting to see.

A few years ago, Yihe filed a gargantuan development project that included skyscrapers, hundreds of residential units, hotels, restaurants, retail facilities, public open space – and all with one entrance and exit into the Mill Hill neighborhood.

It was quickly dispatched despite some of the best architects, engineers and lawyers working on the project.

Since then, nothing has come forward, but it seems like the process is now starting again.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino has said he expects Yihe to file a residential project that is much smaller than the previous project. He said he expects that in the summer.

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Chelsea’s Dockside Restaurant to Close, Will Reopen as a Mexican Concept

Chelsea’s Dockside Restaurant to Close, Will Reopen as a Mexican Concept

After six years of hosting diners from Chelsea and the surrounding areas, the Dockside location in the Mystic Mall announced this week that it would close as of this Saturday, April 7.

Jack Urbaczewski and his daughter, Lisa Urbaczewski McKenna, made the announcement on Wednesday.

“I think we are very grateful to have had the opportunity,” said Lisa. “It’s bittersweet in a sense. We’ve had some really great employees and customers there. The business can be very demanding. Where we are a family business, it makes sense to consolidate. As this chapter is closing, my dad is just really enjoying more family time and being a grandfather…Chelsea is very special to our family.”

Jack had operated a restaurant in the old Mystic Mall many years ago, and he also served on the Chelsea Police Department for 20 years. When he created Dockside Restaurants in Malden and Wakefield, then City Manager Jay Ash recruited Jack to be part of the new Mystic Mall shortly after the new Market Basket opened.

“Having grown up across the street from this spot and serving 20 years on the police force, our time here in Chelsea will always have special meaning to me,” said Jack. “I, along with our entire Dockside family would like to sincerely thank our regular guests for their patronage, our hardworking staff for their dedication and the entire Chelsea community for their loyalty and support over the years. We are very grateful to Market Basket and former City Manager Jay Ash for this opportunity.”
The business will not become vacant, though, as Lisa said they have sold it to a Mexican restaurant from Malden that they are familiar with.

The El Potro Mexican Grille will open in the spot soon after Dockside leaves.

Lisa said they will continue to support efforts in Chelsea like the Boys & Girls Club road race, and the Salvation Army on Chestnut Street.

A farewell get-together for the Dockside location is planned for Saturday, April 7, from 1-3 p.m.

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On the Books:Council Votes to Limit Recreational Marijuana with Zoning Ordinance

On the Books:Council Votes to Limit Recreational Marijuana with Zoning Ordinance

The City Council voted in favor of a proposal put forward by City Manager Tom Ambrosino to limit the siting of recreational marijuana retail stores and cultivation facilities.

The vote came on an 8-2 majority after an amendment by Councillor Roy Avellaneda failed to get the eight votes needed for passage. Avellaneda and Councillor Calvin Brown voted against the City Manager’s proposal. Councillor Luis Tejada was absent from the meeting.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they have limited zoning areas for retail establishments to the Industrial Zone and the Highway Business zone. Marijuana cultivation and lab facilities would be limited to the Industrial Zone only.

The state Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has issued regulations regarding the numbers of facilities allowed in each municipality and Chelsea could have up to four retail licensees. The CCC will begin accepting application on April 2 and will potentially begin issuing them on July 1 – though the July 1 date is still very much in the air at the state level right now.

Ambrosino said it was imperative for the City to get something on the books now to limit the locations for these establishments.

“I have proposed an ordinance to try to accommodate this new industry in a way I think is reasonable,” he said. “You do need to pass some ordinance to regulate this new industry to ensure the entire city isn’t open to establishments in this new industry.”

There was a great deal of discussion, though, before the vote was logged to pass Ambrosino’s proposal.

Avellaneda had an amendment that would have eliminated the Industrial Zones as an area for retail, and would have included the Shopping Center district instead – which is in places like the Mystic Mall/DeMoula’s and the Parkway Plaza.

He said siting cultivation facilities in the Industrial Zone is a no-brainer, but he said retail of any kind, even marijuana, doesn’t belong in an industrial area.

“This will be a storefront,” he said. “You don’t picture this in the middle of some warehouse where there are no stairs and a loading dock and lifts for pallets in front. When you think about the retail, we think of this, we should think of it like a jewelry store…You have no public transportation in the Industrial Zone. You’re not taking the bus down Marginal Street or Eastern Avenue…This proposal is drawn up by individuals thinking about this like it was 20 years ago and not today.”

Avellaneda had some measured support for his amendment, but it did eventually fail, getting only six of the eight votes needed.

Those voting for his amendment included Councillors Enio Lopez, Yamir Rodriguez, Bob Bishop, Giovanni Recupero, and Judith Garcia. Those voting against it were Councillors Damali Vidot, Calvin Brown, Leo Robinson, and Joe Perlatonda.

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Acorda Therapeutics Looks at Major Expansion on Everett Avenue

Acorda Therapeutics Looks at Major Expansion on Everett Avenue

Riding on the heels of what is expected to be the approval of a new Parkinson’s disease treatment drug, Acorda Therapeutics of 190 Everett Ave. has announced a proposal to significantly expand its existing operations.

The company has been located at its facility for some time, and operates under a lease from a New York company that is very active in Greater Boston. Now, however, they received good news from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the likely approval of its new drug INBRIJA, a drug that delivers relief to Parkinson’s patients through an inhaler rather than a pill. It is expected it could be approved in October, leading to the need to ramp up manufacturing of it by 2019.

“Acorda Therapeutics seeks to expand operations at its manufacturing site at 190 Everett Avenue where it will support the global market for the Parkinson’s disease treatment INBRIJA and will ultimately provide the capability to support simultaneous manufacture of multiple products…The proposed project is an immediate expansion and upgrade of manufacturing and warehouse space. Acorda anticipates that the project will create 20 to 25 full-time, well-paying new jobs with targeted construction completion by Quarter 3 2019. This is a first step toward a long-term master plan vision that could ultimately create 100 new jobs and include a substantial capital investment.”

A spokesman for the company declined to comment now as it was too early in the process.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he is 100 percent in favor of the proposal and will speak in favor.

“I am hoping that it will be nothing for smooth sailing for them,” he said. “This is a very exciting proposal and I am 100 percent in favor. It has a lot of potential for Chelsea.”

The project includes a new manufacturing fit out of existing space in one of the buildings to house specialized equipment. It will also include the demolition of the 115-foot smoke stack and a demolition and reconstruction of another existing building on the site.

The manufacturing building will be unchanged in its footprint, though more than 2,000 sq. ft. of space will be added to the top floor for manufacturing.

The reconstruction of the demolished building will add nearly 4,000 sq. ft. of new floor area for manufacturing, shipping and warehouse space.

The identify that the new configuration will have at least 121 parking spaces, and they will require a zoning variance for the building height of the warehouse – where the requirements are no higher than 25 feet and the new building would be 66 feet. The existing building is now at 44 feet tall.

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Greeters Ready to Welcome and Assist at City Hall

Greeters Ready to Welcome and Assist at City Hall

The newest initiative of City Manager Tom Ambrosino has everything to do with being hospitable and nice.

Fatima Melara and Tania Ceja have recently been hired to serve as greeters at City Hall, helping residents to find the right place to go and to get things done faster. The new initiative is one that City Manager Tom Ambrosino proposed in mid-year budget requests last December.

Fatima Melara and Tania Ceja have recently been hired to serve as greeters at City Hall, helping residents to find the right place to go and to get things done faster. The new initiative is one that City Manager Tom Ambrosino proposed in mid-year budget requests last December.

Kind of an oxymoron in New England, but that’s just what is happening at Chelsea City Hall where two new greeters have been hired to welcome those coming in to conduct business with the City.

“I have long stressed to Department Heads and Employees the critical goal of providing customer service to our residents and the need to make City Hall more ‘user-friendly,’” he said. “It is still the case that many visitors to City Hall wander our corridors searching for their desired destination. They often end up asking for directions or assistance in other offices unrelated to their needs, creating frustration for both visitors and our staff. We have installed an information desk in the foyer area and have staffed it with personable, bi-lingual employees.”

Walk into City Hall now, and a new desk sits right at the main entrance.

Behind the desk will sit either Fatima Melara or Tania Ceja – both who have lived in Chelsea more than 10 years and are familiar with the community.

Melara, 20, is a student at UMass-Boston and has lived in Chelsea for 11 years. She attended high school in Chelsea and has been very involved in the community. She speaks both English and Spanish.

Ceja, 24, has lived in Chelsea since she was 4 years old. She speaks both English and Spanish and said she wants everyone to have a great experience at City Hall.

“As a greeter at City Hall, I’m hoping to make everyone’s visit with us pleasant, faster, and easier,” she said. “My goal every day is to ensure you leave with a smile on your face.”

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Councillor Punts on Residency Ordinance, Sent to Committee

Councillor Punts on Residency Ordinance, Sent to Committee

Just when it appeared that Councillor Giovanni Recupero might finally get a version of his long-sought-after residency ordinance passed on Monday, the votes quickly disappeared – causing him to have to pull the measure before the vote and send it to a Committee on Conference.

“Why are these councillors so opposed to it?” he asked. “Everett has it. Boston has it. Revere has it. Everyone has it, but we don’t because some councilors say we’re wasting our energy and wasting our money. In the end, the people want this. Everett is 2.4 sq. miles and they have it. That’s only a little bigger than we are. If it’s good enough for me to live here, it should be good enough for the police…It’s good enough for these councilors to ask for the people’s vote and say they will represent the people, but then they do this and don’t represent the people right. I speak to my constituents all the time. This is what the constituents want.”

Recupero had ordered two weeks ago that the City Solicitor’s Office draft a residency ordinance that would go into effect on April 1 and would be for only new hires of the Police and Fire Departments. Any new hire would have to live in Chelsea for five years after being hired. Currently, any new police officer or firefighter gets preference in hiring if they’ve lived in Chelsea one year before applying.

There is, however, no residency requirement.

Recupero has been pushing some form of a residency requirement for about four or five years. On Monday, he seemed to be at the brink of getting something passed.

With only eight councilors in attendance, the votes seemed like they might line up. However, as discussion went on, he lost some key votes and was going to only end up with three or four in the affirmative.

That’s when he decided to pull his request for a roll call and send the matter to a Committee on Conference.

Part of the problem was that many were confused by what the new ordinance would cost – as it would require the City Manager to collective bargain the new provision with the Police and Fire Unions. That would mean to get the new work condition – meaning the residency requirement for new hires – exisiting police and fire would have to be paid more money contractually.

“I think the situation deserves a little more attention and discussion,” said Councillor Luis Tejada, who has supported the idea in the past.

Councillor Calvin Brown, who filled in as Council president on Monday due to President Damali Vidot being ill, spoke on the matter and said he couldn’t support it.

“I don’t think I’m ready to vote on this or have enough information from the unions,” he said.

Councillor Judith Garcia said she believed that focusing energy and money on residency was a waste of time.

“If our main focus is to have some of our own in the Police Department and Fire Department, the we should focus our attention on recruitment,” she said.

The matter was sent to a Committee on Conference.

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Owners of Forbes Site Likely to Bring New Project This Summer

Owners of Forbes Site Likely to Bring New Project This Summer

The owners of the old Forbes Lithograph campus on Mill Hill will likely propose a new project to the City in the coming months, like this summer, said City Manager Tom Ambrosino.

The Chinese company once proposed a gigantic campus development with skyscrapers, a hotel and more than 1,000 apartment units in a multi-phase development with one small entrance coming in through the neighborhood. It was vociferously opposed by most every resident and elected official in the City.

That was a couple of years ago, and since that time the company has been laying low and preparing to propose something a little more modest.

“My guess is perhaps they’ll be in front of us this summer,” said Ambrosino.

He said the development could likely be by right, meaning there might not be any reviews or public hearings necessary for the project to go forward.

He said the numbers of units would be far smaller than previously proposed and much less dense.

However, parking requirements for the district are two spots per unit, which might be hard for the developer to achieve by right. That would mean a parking variance would be required, triggering reviews and public hearings.

The issue of accessing the site still hasn’t been resolved.

Previously, Ambrosino had made a point of requiring that the company look into providing access via a bridge over the Chelsea Creek to the site from Revere. In the previous proposal, he had said he or the City would not support any proposal that didn’t include that access point.

It is uncertain at this point if that’s still the case with the smaller project that is believed to be coming.

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State of the City:Ambrosino says City Needs to Continue Spending on Residents

State of the City:Ambrosino says City Needs to Continue Spending on Residents

City Manager Tom Ambrosino delivered his State of the City address on Monday night, Feb. 26, prior to the Council meeting, and he implored the Council that the time to fill the storehouses is not now.

Ambrosino once again – as in the previous two State of the Cities – praised the former City governments for putting the City in a firm and solid financial position with a lot of reserves and savings.

However, he said the City just received $34 million in Free Cash from the state, and having that kind of money to save doesn’t sit well with him.

“Now, I give full credit this Council and others that preceded you for that incredible financial stewardship,” he said. “But, having that level reserves has to give us a little pause. There’s always been something just a little unsettling to me about this City having that much money in reserve. Government is not intended to be a profit making enterprise.  Our goal isn’t to make money year after year. As a local government, our goal, our mission is to provide services to our residents. So, it is my strong opinion that with this level of reserves, we have an obligation, a fiduciary duty, to start investing more in our City. And, that will be something you will see from me this year and beyond.”

One of the major examples he quickly turned to was the $11.4 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that he proposed two weeks ago to the Council – a plan that calls for more than $4.5 million in Free Cash to get started. The CIP plan focuses on projects like water and sewer repairs, sidewalks, public parks, street repairs and public building improvements.

Beyond those nuts and bolts spending measures – which Chelsea has neglected for many years – he said he will present plans in the next few months for things like more youth programming, a local workforce training program to prepare for the coming casino jobs, standardized trash barrels to reduce rodents, and a pilot program for Senior Citizen transportation.

“All of these are ideas that cost money to implement, and, if they are approved, they will reduce our reserves,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, we’re not going to be judged by how much money we have in the bank. We are going to be judged by whether we improved the lives of our residents. That is my overriding motivation as City Manager.”

Another piece of investment he noted – and one that Ambrosino will likely focus on more than any previous City Manager – is investing in the School Department.

“We have to avoid the temptation, which often happens in Massachusetts Municipalities, of looking at it as just another department competing for limited resources,” he said. “Instead, we have to consider it as our co-equal partner in making our community better.”

He said he wants to do more to help the students in the school system from the City’s reserves, and he rolled out an idea that would use City funds to pay for Chelsea High students to achieve higher education.

The program, he said, would be a pilot program for any Chelsea High student already enrolled in the dual enrollment program with Bunker Hill Community College. Under the pilot, any student in that program could go on to complete an Associate’s Degree at Bunker Hill after high school at no additional cost. City funds would cover the cost of students to finish that degree they started in high school.

“Again, I don’t look, and we shouldn’t look, at funding for the School Department needs as a burden,” he said. “Instead, it is a pure investment.”

Another area he said he would like to think about spending more reserves is in the possible acquisition of properties in the Broadway business district in order to build mixed-use affordable housing. Such an acquisition was successful at the Salvation Army Store on Broadway last year, and the City hopes to find a developer to complete the job this year.

He said if the City buys property, they can control the affordable component. That, he said, could spur large amounts of affordable housing that will sit aside what is expected to be a lot of private market-rate development on Broadway in the coming years.

“Because we own it, we can dictate the level of affordability in any development,” he said. “Maybe we consider other similar acquisitions, particularly in the Downtown, using either Reserves, as we did in acquiring the Salvation Army site, or through a tool we now have for the first time, Community Preservation Funds. I don’t have anything specific in mind at this time, but if another opportunity presents itself, particularly on Broadway, a further acquisition is something I might advocate to the Council.”

When it comes to development, Ambrosino was upbeat as well, saying there is great interest in the City.

On the Chelsea Creek, he announced that in the next few months, he would announce a significant mixed-use development for the Forbes Plant site. Much of the development, he said, is expected to be as of right and would need no extra relief at the Zoning or Planning Boards.

“Our goal for that project there is to ensure that the public benefits, particularly the public access to the waterfront, are not just significant, which they will need to be, but are also early action items, so that our residents benefit from the very start of the project, not just when the project is completed years from now,” he said.

On the same front, that being the waterfront, Ambrosino said the long-awaited Municipal Harbor Plan effort has finally moved forward. He announced that a contract has been signed with Utile Design of Boston to conduct the plan, and they are waiting for the Notice to Proceed from the state. He expects the first public meeting on that plan to take place in the spring.

With the Silver Line starting full operations on April 21, he said there is and will be great interest for development along that new public transit corridor.

“Developers have already been in to see us for parcels on Cottage Street and Sixth Street, and there will inevitably be more,” he said.

In conclusion, he said that he has enjoyed the “unique cohesiveness” that continues to exist in Chelsea.

“It’s why I love my role here; it’s why I’m optimistic; and, it’s why I can say without reservation that the State of the City in 2018 is very, very solid,” he concluded.

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Council Calls for Ordinance to Be Drafted on Residency Restriction

Council Calls for Ordinance to Be Drafted on Residency Restriction

The Chelsea City Council voted 9-1 on Monday night to call for City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson to draw up a new ordinance requiring a five-year residency period for all new police and fire hires.

The controversial move was brought for the umpteenth time by Councillor Giovanni Recupero at Monday’s Council meeting, and it had been highly anticipated by the membership for several weeks.

Recupero’s plan calls for any new hire of the Police Department or Fire Department to live within the city for five years after being hired.

Currently, there are no such restrictions, but Recupero has been on a mission for more than five years to get something drafted and passed.

His order on Monday simply called for the Solicitor to draft up an ordinance and have it ready for Council consideration by the next meeting.

“For many, many years I’ve been trying to have people who work here live here,” he said. “Other cities do this. We should too. The residents like us love our city. It’s not to say they don’t love the City, but there’s a little extra care when you live here…Life is not what you want. Life is what it is. If you want to work here, you live here.”

Many had been interested to see what new Councillor Bob Bishop might think of the matter, as it was the first time it had been before him. And he made himself quite clear that he supports residency.

“I’m very upset on payday in Chelsea because three-fourths of our paychecks go to Saugus or Lynnfield. We don’t get an economic bang for that buck because that money of ours isn’t circulating in Chelsea. If you’re hired in Chelsea as a firefighter or police officer and you don’t want to live here, then don’t take the job. Someone else will. I think it’s a good thing to have police and fire live here.”

Councillor Roy Avellaneda was the lone lawmaker against the measure this time, and said he thinks the Council should focus on other things.

“I’d rather focus  my energy on making Chelsea a better place to live than a place to be forced to live,” he said.

Councillor Judith Garcia didn’t vote on the matter as she was absent.

Fisher Watson said there are concerns that any such ordinance would conflict with collective bargaining agreements, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to produce the new ordinance.

Recupero said that any such conflict does not exist and the ordinance can be written up and considered. He said after the Council passes the ordinance, it’s up to the City Manager to negotiate the collective bargaining to include the new requirement for new hires.

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Clarifying My Real Comments to John Ruiz

Clarifying My Real Comments to John Ruiz

On Jan. 22, 2018, City Council unanimously adopted an order introduced by Councilor Leo Robinson requesting a Sub-Committee meeting. The meeting was to discuss a proposal by John Ruiz requesting a grant of $475,000 from the city to establish a youth center at the CCC (Old YMCA building). The three-year pilot proposal suggested project activities included boxing, basketball, volleyball, dance/aerobics, STEM-Focused Lewis Latimer Society Exhibitions, and drop-in programs as necessary.

The process of selecting non-profit recipients for grants is a function of the City Manager’s office. When a need in the community arises that the City is unable to meet, the City Manager’s office solicits proposals from non-profits and makes a final decision. Once a grantee is chosen, the City Manager requests funds from the City Council to cover the cost. This is otherwise known as the RFP process (Request for Proposal).

During the Sub-Committee meeting last week, I referenced the process of soliciting proposals, as the involvement of City Council so early was uncommon. If there was a pool of money available to grant for a potential teen center, then all non-profits should be allowed the opportunity to apply. Procedurally, the only time the Council has a say is when it is time to appropriate the funds for the chosen non-profit, after the City Manager has concluded his decision. With the understanding that the burden of decision-making rested with the City Manager, I saw no point as to why this was before us.

However, for the sake of open and honest debate around investments in our youth, I welcomed the dialogue.

Mr. John Ruiz gave an impassioned speech about wanting to give back to the community and councilors did their due diligence in asking questions to gain clarity around this proposed project. Balancing the needs of our youth and where to invest taxpayer dollars is a delicate situation. Yet, as representatives of the community, it is our duty to ask the proper questions to settle concerns.

My personal comments commended the former heavyweight-boxing champ in wanting to give back to the city. I made clear that all proposals were subject to a formal RFP process and encouraged Mr. Ruiz to have conversations with stakeholders (youth, youth organizations) to familiarize himself with the community again and better assess the popularity of boxing. I also suggested that if the champ wanted to give back to the community, he should consider investing in the Explorer Post 109 (which is currently housed in the CCC building). Ruiz’s contribution as a former member of the Post 109 could go a long way for the struggling, 62-year-old youth organization.

Let’s be clear that the City Council does not decide whether we grant Mr. Ruiz funds for his proposal.

That decision-making process rests solely with the City Manager.

The City Council as a body then votes on the appropriation of requested funds in which I am one out of 11 votes. Unfortunately, following the meeting, Mr. Ruiz allegedly chose to turn to social media and misrepresent my comments. At that moment it became clear to me that residents deserved more clarity around the facts as to how things transpired.

As a longtime boxing fan of Puerto Rican roots, I was ecstatic to meet the first Latino heavyweight boxer of the world. However, my fandom doesn’t equate to disregarding my role as a public servant. It is imperative that we continue to secure a fair and transparent process in the allocation of taxpayer dollars. As a longtime youth worker, I am appalled that someone who is proposing to manage a youth center would not look for better ways to demonstrate leadership. I cannot take responsibility for the advice given to Mr. Ruiz prior to the meeting; I did however encourage dialogue and identified ways in which Mr. Ruiz could seek out community input.

Moving forward, I have made it clear to the City Manager that future efforts must remain in his office as it is outside of the scope of Council’s responsibilities. As representatives of our community, we are always available to provide input. However, before anything comes before the City Council a system of checks and balances must be well outlined (budget, zoning, permitting and/or compliancy).

As I look back at where we are, I am proud to see the amazing work we’ve accomplished in the past couple of years. Reestablishing the Youth Commission, reviving our Recreational Dept., increase in youth programming across the city, and creating mentorship for our youth is a testament of our commitment to our future leaders.

This is what’s right about Chelsea.

The mere fact that we are discussing the empowerment of our youth and their need for services speaks volumes as to how far we’ve come. There will be minor setbacks as we strive toward a government that is transparent and inclusive of all. The true test is in how we learn from these experiences and rise above it all. I have the utmost faith in this community and feel confident that we will stand stronger as a result of these conversations.

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