A recent Chelsea Community Workshop on the Community Preservation Act (CPA) witnessed a vibrant community come out to speak about future investments they want to see in their respective neighborhoods, and the newly-established Community Preservation Committee (CPC) said they are there to help residents accomplish those goals.
Taking place in the main room of Chelsea’s senior center, residents poured in at on Sept. 27, and listen to local committee members present the growing potential of tax revenues collected as part of the CPA, which was passed in Nov. 2016 by Chelsea voters. To date, there has yet to be any projects designated for development by CPA funds.
Jennifer Goldson, founder and Managing Director for JM Goldson, presented the main purpose of the community workshop. Goldson presented the most viable options to the community and get them the most for their money’s worth, while also collecting their opinions on the matter to engage the community’s wants directly.
“We have to prioritize how we use that money and be smart about it,” Goldson said.
Goldson said an estimated $1.46 million has been collected from taxpayers for the CPA in 2017-18, and is available for future investment possibilities.
The CPA, which was passed with 66.5 percent of the vote, allows Chelsea to have direct control over tax revenue collected through residential and commercial properties at a rate of 1.5 percent, which is also matched by state government assistance. This new tax revenue requires a 10 percent commitment to three categories: historic preservation, community housing, along with open space and outdoor recreation programs.
Totaling 30 percent for these three mandatory categories, the CPC presented varying ideas to the community about how they’d best like to allot the remaining 70 percent.
“As time goes on the priorities of our communities change,” Jose Iraheta, chair of the CPC stated as he greeted the crowd in both English and Spanish, adding “We really need your help to pick between the three brackets.”
Iraheta addressed those in attendance coming in by asking them to tally a total of seven points into the three categories presented for allocating the appropriate tax funds for Chelsea to choose from. Residents walked up to tally their choices with the overwhelming majority of these votes going to community housing funding.
Voting for specific returns in the community proved popular amongst those in attendance, with Goldson conducting a series of small polls to gauge what the public felt was most necessary to invest in from each of the three categories. Additionally, Goldson also asked everyone in attendance to write down their ideas on the paper table covers in order to later collect them and determine which ideas were most eligible.
Presented in a matrix of potential possibilities Goldson displayed a few of the options residents could choose to focus on, including: new housing, home ownership programs, preferences for low-income families, stewardship of historic buildings, creating community gardens or waterfront access, improving existing parks, and preservation of natural resources.
Bea Cravatta, director of Chelsea’s Recreation and Cultural Affairs division, collected information about the demographics of the meeting through a 10 question poll.
“Great turnout today, a good mix of ages, profound interest, and collaboration has been the most exciting thing for me to see,” Cravatta said.
During the last half hour, residents were allowed to take the microphone to represent each table they were sitting at.
Some residents, like former City Councillor Matthew Frank, raised valid concerns.
“Instead of creating new open space, we need to clean up what we already have,” Frank stated in reference to existing open space problems the City already has on the Harbor Walk and other locations.
The CPC must present any and all ideas before City Council for approval after creating a Community Development Plan. The City Council retains the power to approve, deny or lower the allotted funds for project ideas.
The CPC will convene again in November at a date to be announced, and will present their viable future investment options in December.
Chelsea School officials are looking for one last vote from the City Council in order to restore several cut positions from the existing School Department Budget, this after getting nearly $1 million in additional funds from the state recently.
Supt. Mary Bourque said it was nice to get the additional monies, but she didn’t want anyone to think that it has ended the funding problems in the Chelsea schools.
“We were actually not ‘held harmless’ because that fund was only funded at 56 percent,” she said. “We should have received $1.1 million if we were really held harmless. I’m thankful, but they are still not addressing the funding gap. We’ve applied a very small Band-Aid to a large wound…I don’t want the community to think we fixed this. This is $900,000, but we had a $3.2 million budget gap.”
Supt. Mary Bourque said a combination of additional monies came in in September from State Legislature appropriations for English Language Learners and for the “hold harmless” fund to help districts with uncounted low-income students.
Bourque said Chelsea was able to get $630,000 for ELL students, and another $296,000 for the “hold harmless” account. That equaled $926,000 that they were able to appropriate to restore “painful” cuts made during last spring’s budget process.
Bourque said with the ELL money they were able to bring back two crossing guards, restore one yellow bus route, a special education teacher at the Clark Avenue Middle, a special education paraprofessional and intervention tutors.
Meanwhile, she said the “hold harmless” monies will be used to, among other things, restore a full-time librarian that will operate at Chelsea High School 75 percent of the time, and the Mary C. Burke Complex 25 percent of the time.
The librarian cut was controversial because it accompanied cuts in the previous years to librarians at the elementary school. The restoration allows a librarian presence at both the high school and elementary school once again.
“The reason we split the time is because two years ago we cut the elementary librarian completely and we’ve gone a full year without a librarian down there,” she said. “I’m all for the digital technology piece, but I also feel you instill the love of reading in children when you put a book in their hands. The 25 percent at the Complex isn’t enough for me and I want more time there going down the road.”
The School Committee has approved the acceptance of the additional monies, and the Council has had one reading on the issue. They are expected to vote on it at their Oct. 15 meeting.
MCAS results at Chelsea High reflect high dropout rate from surge of unaccompanied minors
The School Department has received the public rollout of the MCAS results for the district and the schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent of districts statewide, with Chelsea High School particularly cited for having a high dropout rate.
Supt. Mary Bourque said five of the district’s schools did well, with two flatlining and Chelsea High declining.
The results have qualified the district as one of 59 statewide that are required to have state assistance.
Bourque said the dropout rate hasn’t been a major issue at CHS in the past, but she said the change comes as a result of the unaccompanied minor surge that happened about four years ago. The dropout rate is a four-year look at the students starting and graduating.
“The kids we’re getting now are from the major surge we had four years ago and that’s the reason we’re seeing the graduation rate issue,” she said. “You don’t feel that for four years down the road. However, we’re going to continue to feel it.”
A new function hall is slated to open at the site of the former Polish American Veterans Hall at 35 Fourth Street.
At its most recent meeting, the licensing commission approved restaurant and entertainment licenses for the proposed hall.
The applicant, Emiliana Fiesta, LLC, also applied for a wine and beer license, but will have to wait until there is an available license in the city. However, one-day liquor licenses can be granted for the weddings, birthday parties, and other functions planned for the facility.
The Polish American hall had a capacity of over 500 occupants for the two floors of the building. But based on concerns voiced by police officials, the licensing commission approved the restaurant license with a capacity of 250 occupants, limiting the functions to one level of the building, while the basement level can only be used for storage and kitchen purposes. The owners will also install licenses at all entrances on both floors of the building.
Even with the limitations on use, police Captain Keith Houghton said he was wary that the use of the building could tip from being a function hall to operating as a full-blown night club.
“This is going to be a challenge,” said Houghton, who also requested that the opaque outside of the building be replaced with clear windows and that a floor plan be provided to police and the licensing committee.
Broadway resident Paul Goodhue said he also had concerns about the proposal.
“I’ve watched the police clean up that corner of Fourth and Broadway,” he said. “You’re going to be opening up a can of worms if that ends up being a nightclub.”
Commission member Roseann Bongiovanni said she understood the concerns of the police and neighbors.
“We do not want this to turn into a nightclub, that’s not an appropriate function,” she said.
But with the proper conditions in place, Bongiovanni said the new owners of the building should have the chance to give the function hall a go.
“They bought (the building) with the same use,” Bongiovanni said. “I feel like we should give them a shot.”
Licensing Commission Chairman James Guido also stipulated that live bands can perform during functions only and that for functions of over 100 people, a police detail should be requested.
The approved hours for the function hall are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sundays.
Sen. Sal DiDomenico recently announced that his amendment providing $50,000 for CONNECT in the city of Chelsea was included in the final Fiscal Year 2019 budget. As Assistant Majority Leader of the Massachusetts Senate, DiDomenico was able to secure a number of amendments for his district in the Senate version of the budget, including this $50,000 for CONNECT. After filing this amendment in the Senate budget, he worked to advocate for it’s inclusion in the final version of the budget.
CONNECT helps people achieve sustainable living wage jobs and financial health and well-being by partnering with local agencies to provide essential skills, knowledge and social capital in one central and supportive location.
“CONNECT does great work for our community, and I am very proud to support them through the work that I do in the Senate,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico. “I know that this additional funding will go a long way towards aiding their ability to empower individuals and help our residents achieve economic stability and financial well-being.”
Ron and Veronica Schmidt on a bicycle built for two during Sunday’s Ride for REACH, the annual fundraiser for Chelsea REACH program. Several riders turned out to the PORT Park for the fundraiser and rode across the city.
Chelsea resident Fredy Martinez shows off a new-found friend, Cain, a baby squirrel he nursed back to health while walking through Bellingham Square last Friday afternoon. Martinez said the squirrel has become very calm and is in great health after several weeks of touch-and-go.
Franco Mendoza and his son, Davian, rooting hard for their son and brother during the annual Kiwanis Races at the Burke Complex last Saturday morning, Sept. 15. As usual, all proceeds from the races go towards scholarships for Chelsea High students.
In the wake of massive gas line explosions in the Greater Lawrence area last Thursday, Sept. 13, the Chelsea Fire Department jumped into action and responded to Andover High School to support first response efforts.
Chief Len Albanese said that the Tower 1 apparatus responded to an Andover Staging Area at Andover High School as part of Metro Structural task Force 13.
Greater Lawrence’s normal mutual aid capabilities were taxed to the breaking point, and so the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) began to request structural task forces from other regions, including Chelsea.
“Our Tower Ladder responded to multiple calls for odors of gas and the like in the structures,” said the Chief. “They did not respond to any structure fires. They were back here in the city by 9 p.m.”
The Chief said it was an incredible job by the state and local operations to coordinate so many responding helpers.
“This was an enormous mobilization of resources,” he said. “Lawrence, Andover, North Andover and MEMA with the help of all of the other agencies involved, including multiple law enforcement agencies did an exceptional job of meeting this most unique major fire/ emergency operation.”
The Chelsea Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on Sep.11 saw a focused gathering of concerned Chelsea residents fighting against YIHE Forbes, LLC and their new construction proposal, among other Chelsea zoning appeals.
Hosted at the Senior Center across from City Hall, the proposal attracted a larger audience as the ZBA meeting slowly proceeded from appeal to appeal, but more attendants poured in as Forbes’ lawyer Paul Feldman began speaking.
The planned project would be located across the train tracks opposite of Crescent Avenue on Forbes Street, providing only one entrance and exit and limited space for development.
“A $25 million investment doesn’t work on this size of space,” said Feldman in reference to previous 2015 plans that called for a much larger project with skyscrapers and hundreds of housing units.
Returning with a new plan from a similar proposal in 2015, YIHE presented their renewed project for an estimated 18 acre total reconstruction of Forbes Street in Chelsea to provide 630 residential units across roughly 700,000 sq. ft. with a 3-acre reconstructed public waterfront pathway for public use. There are a planned 80 studios, 330 one-bedroom, and 220 two-bedroom apartments to be available.
Feldman estimated that there would be approximately a $1.7 million tax revenue return for Chelsea.
“There are going to be $3 million in building and department fees estimated,” Feldman added.
Those opposed to the developing project also raised concerned criticism at the lack of transparency with the official costs and how exactly the tax revenue will be invested back into local community needs, with residents pointing out a lack of outreach to local schools.
The new plan cuts the 2015 sizing plan to less than half its original size (approx. 1.5 million sq. ft.). However, Chelsea residents continue to express their discontent with the project.
RoseannBongiovanni quickly fired back after Feldman, chief project engineer Richard Salvo, and traffic engineer Jeffrey Dirk completed their respective informational presentations concerning development.
“I’m offended by so much of what you’ve said here tonight,” Bongiovanni began, adding “I can’t go [to the new development] because I have two children. Because you are not family friendly.”
Bongiovanni is not the only concerned Chelsea resident; Crescent Avenue homeowners are worried about future traffic being even more congested, while others see a combination of other problems unfolding.
Among the major issues that locals raised included: an additional estimated 170 cars added to local transit, insufficient emergency egress, lack of community consulting, transparency of project plans, an 80 percent calculated median average income based cost for the proposed studios and apartments, parking, lack of community investment, a very low-height seawall (11 ft.), and the size of the infrastructure.
“Every time the community has raised a concern, it’s fallen on deaf ears,” Bongiovanni stated.
Many residents said they don’t believe a vast majority of the community could even afford to live in the new development, leading to even less of a desire to accept the proposal.
After more than two hours of presentations with strong appeals from both sides, the meeting concluded.
The project will be revisited and decided upon at the Oct. 9 ZBA meeting.
CLOSET DRAWS CONTROVERSY
In other matters, a total of nine projects were presented, with three approved by the board and five others continued to either the Planning Board meeting on Sep. 25 or the next Zoning Board meeting on Oct. 9.
A noteworthy case was 34 Beacon St. and Carol Brown’s plans to create an extended closet in very limited space between her property and neighboring 32 Beacon St.
Brown appealed that she retained the right to remodel her property and create the extension, while two neighbors retained that due to flooding problems and snow accumulation on the planned closet, it shouldn’t be allowed.
“We have bent over backwards for these neighbors,” stated Brown.
There seemed to be a neighborhood blame game being thrown back and forth between the three homeowners. Despite Brown’s two neighbors declining to going on record, the tension between the three was palpable.
The project was approved with conditions, especially concerning sitting and freezing water on Brown’s property.
TEMPLE ON GARFIELD AVE WITHDRAWS
Of interest, the previous ZBA meeting on Aug.14 had seen TapanChowdhury introduce a project for a Buddhist Temple on 165 Garfield Ave., but the appeal for that project has since been withdrawn.
The remaining appeals that were approved had conditions set upon them, while the remainder of the appeals were moved to subsequent meetings due to needed revisions for the project.
The ZBA will be meeting again on October 9 at 6 p.m. in the Senior Center.
When Chelsea’s Bob Fortunato found a closed sign on the front of Wonderland Dog Track in 2010, it was a hard road ahead for he and his family, and the end of a career in the pari-mutuel industry.
Now, however, as one of students in the first class of the Greater Boston Casino Gaming Career Institute – a partnership between Cambridge College in Charlestown and Encore Boston Harbor – Fortunato might once again be joining the gaming and wagering industry.
On Monday, the first day of the so-called ‘Dealer School,’ Fortunato was one of 167 students who have enrolled in the first-ever session of classes to learn how to professionally deal Blackjack and poker games, potentially for the Encore casino that is only a short drive away from the school in Charlestown.
“It’s a new experience for me and a process that could lead to a good job,” he said. “I was at Wonderland Greyhound Park for a long time before it closed. Since then, I’ve worked several jobs doing a lot of different things. This is a great opportunity for me to start a new career.”
A new career is something he didn’t think he and his family, which operated Fortune Kennels, would ever have to do.
“It was tough,” he said. “At Wonderland, I had worked there for 12 years as a greyhound trainer. My family worked there and my family was in the business for 40 years. For me, it’s a great opportunity to be a dealer, and I’m very excited to be involved on the sports betting end of it if that comes to the state.”
Fortunato said he reached out to the Wynn organization from the start, and was in their network. He saw advertisements for the school and heard about it also in an e-mail and jumped on the opportunity.
“I looked into it and decided to go for it,” he said.
He was not alone on Monday, as 166 other students entered their first day of classes along with executives from Wynn and Cambridge College.
Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox was on hand Monday with Cambridge College President Deborah Jackson to open the doors on the area’s inaugural class of prospective dealers for the Encore Boston Harbor casino.
“Today is the first day and we have more than 100 people kicking it off today,” said Maddox before cutting the ceremonial ribbon. “We believe in investing in the communities around us. That’s what makes a successful enterprise – when you invest in your community and the people that work for you.”
He was joined by state delegation members State Rep. Dan Ryan and State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, who gave their blessing to the new operation.
Fortunato joined about 50 members of the new class that chatted with Maddox and the media before starting their first day of class in the afternoon session of dealer school.
Cambridge College President Jackson said the Dealer School was a great addition to their curriculum and fell in line with the mission of helping adults find training for good-paying careers. Cambridge College recently moved its entire school into the Hood Park office complex, and was in a great place to be able to expand and utilize space for the Dealer School.
She said they had 1,900 applications for the school initially.
“This has been a long time in the making,” she said. “We have been working on it for about a year. As is the case with all good outcomes, it is the building of great relationships that gets you there.”
She also credited Cambridge College personnel Phil Page and Mark Rotondo with getting the school off the ground successfully.
Encore President Bob DeSalvio said it was the realization of a commitment to the people of Massachusetts – particularly those around the casino – to train and employ them in good-paying jobs.
“This is a big step towards our commitment to train those in the community to work at Encore Boston Harbor,” he said.
The Greater Boston Gaming Career Institute, as the Dealer School is officially known, welcomed more than 165 local students to its Bet On U program, which was created by Cambridge College in collaboration with Encore Boston Harbor. The institute was formed under the leadership of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The Bet On U program is designed to train qualified, employment-ready gaming professionals who are interested in starting exciting new careers as one of the more than 1,100 full- and part-time dealers at Encore Boston Harbor when the resort opens in June of 2019.
“The dealers who will be working at Encore Boston Harbor when we open our doors will have more than just jobs, they will have well-paying careers,” said Maddox. “Many of the top executives in our company started as dealers; we hope students from this course will progress the very same way. It’s always been our belief that true success comes from investing in your employees, and the communities where we live and work in.”
‘Mastering Blackjack’ and ‘Perfecting Poker’ are the first two games being taught at the institute. Students can prepare for a career as a blackjack dealer in nine weeks or a poker dealer in 14 weeks, with classes available at various times on weekdays and all day on weekends. Each class is taught by professional casino dealers using the latest tables and gaming equipment.
The cost for each game is $700 with 50 fully-funded scholarships from Encore Boston Harbor available for eligible local residents who require financial assistance. Half of the scholarships will be awarded to women. Students must be 18 years or older to apply to the Institute and work as a dealer in Massachusetts.
The second semester of the Greater Boston Gaming Career Institute will start in January of 2019, with applications being accepted now. The institute is located at HYPERLINK “https://maps.google.com/?q=510+Rutherford+Avenue&entry=gmail&source=g” 510 Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown at the Hood Executive Park, less than two miles from the Encore Boston Harbor Resort and easily accessible via the MBTA’s Orange Line.