The Chelsea Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved a new apartment building project at 25 Eleanor St. on what is currently an industrial building with parking lot.
The approval came during the Nov. 14 meeting and the project is championed by Eleanor Street Associates LLC – headed up by Michael Massamino.
Currently the building houses 12 offices and two conference rooms and a parking lot. The new project will be a three-story building with 20 units and 28 ground floor parking spaces – 14 of them covered spaces. The building will house 10 units on the second floor and 10 units on the third floor. There will be no open space.
It was approved with standard conditions.
In other matters before the board.
24 Tudor Street: A neighbor spoke in opposition to the conversion into three units. The Board will continue the hearing on December 12.
145 Cottage Street: continued discussion on December 12.
67 Jefferson Ave: Approved.
73 Broadway: The owner wants to keep it two units and maximize the space. A neighbor from 62 Beacon St. spoke in favor of the work as good for the neighborhood.
94 Fourth Street: Patricia Simboli spoke on the project, calling it “highly challenged” because it’s a direct abutter of Dunkin Donuts. She referenced parking issues, and suggested renting spaces elsewhere. It was continued.
After hundreds of athletic banquets, wedding receptions and a whose who list of Chelsea political functions, that history all came tumbling down last Friday when the French Naturalization Club on Spencer Avenue was demolished for affordable housing.
Crews secured the area last Thursday, and began the demo on Friday – taking down the old Function Hall that many had known from the old days of political times or youth sports banquets. By the end of it’s stretch, though, it had seen better times, as a man was murdered in the Club during a party a few years ago.
That led to the Club’s end, and it became vacant until The Neighborhood Developers (TND) purchased the property for an affordable housing development.
That development was controversial when Mill Hill neighbors learned late in the game of TND’s plans to put up the housing.
That sparked a vigorous debate throughout the community two years ago, and led to a scaling back of the project and a return of the Spencer Avenue Extension to the City so cars could continue using it.
Now, the project will include 34 units of affordable rental housing in a brand new building that will feature a community space on the bottom floor and the activation of the sidewalks with front porches on ground-floor units.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said TND has its permits and its financing in place. They are ready to commence the construction phase now.
This week, almost a month into work, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) is pleased to report that the critical Runway 4R-22L Resurfacing and Approach Light Pier Replacement Safety Project is progressing on schedule and will result in the rehabilitation of one of Logan Airport’s key runways and the replacement of a light pier used in operations.
The runway is expected to reopen for use by June 23.
This project is necessary to maintain the high standards of safety at Logan, MassPort said.
The runway reconstruction project began in mid-May with the closure of Runway 4R-22L and is expected to continue through June 23 as critical work is done to maintain and repair one of Logan’s major runways. The paving in the majority of the phases has been completed, with pavement markings, landscaping and lighting work remaining.
Additional work not requiring the extended closure of 4R-22L will continue through November.
The continuous work schedule and closure was agreed upon in consultation and coordination with the airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration enhances safety and will reduce the overall construction timeline, bringing normal operations back faster. This important project is running on schedule and Massport expects Runway 4R-22L to be open again for use at the end of the day on June 23.
“Safety is Massport’s top priority,” said Massport CEO Thomas P. Glynn. “While routine, this project will repair one of our critical runways ensuring the safest environment for the traveling public, our employees and communities. We appreciate the patience of our neighboring communities and the traveling public as flight patterns have changed and apologize for any inconvenience this work may have caused.”
This work is part of routine, but essential, safety maintenance projects that occur annually throughout airport property. The main goal of this project will be to replace the asphalt pavement that has deteriorated. The pavements were last rehabilitated in the years 2005, 2006 and 2008.
This project will include work both on the runway and at the runway’s end to replace the light pier. The existing wooden pier will be replaced with a concrete pier designed to last 75 years; the current pier was originally constructed in 1955, with repairs last made in 2016. Work on the approach light pier replacement is progressing according to schedule.
Massport Community Relations can be reached at 617-568-3711.
It was even earlier than the early shift as dozens of volunteers, City officials and state officials filed into the Chelsea Police Station on Thursday morning – some time just after 3:30 a.m.
The goal was to complete the first-ever Chelsea Homelessness Count – an effort championed by Rev. Sandra Whitley of the People’s AME Church and the Project Opening Doors in Chelsea volunteers. It was officially sanctioned by the state and by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
In the end, some 14 men were found and counted – all of which were offered services and help if they wanted it.
For Ambrosino, the first count was inspirational.
“I know we had expected to find between 15 and 20 and we found 14 throughout the city, though there are some we could have missed,” he said. “We are trying now to provide services to these folks, but frankly some don’t want any services. In that case, we make sure we can help them with blankets and gear to survive the cold weather. I was very surprised in a happy way at the numbers of volunteers there who went in the middle of the night to help us. It’s another example of the great spirit of this community that continues to amaze me. I am so impressed with the amount of people here who want to come out and try to do good.”
Whitley said she was grateful for the volunteers as well and deemed the first effort a success – noting that the numbers found were reported to the state agency, as were other similar efforts in Boston and other locales last week. The annual homelessness survey is carried out annually in the last week of January all over the nation.
“I thank the Lord for 25 volunteers showing up and getting engaged,” she said. “I was in my zone with others of like-mindedness — people helping others with a good spirit about it all. I had a wonderful time with Chelsea family coming together around what we can do to help somebody, in this case the homeless. Of course, the City Manager and city leadership support and presence made it all the more worthwhile because they are in the position of making decisions on how to genuinely put faces to and find ways to help the less fortunate…Chelsea cares about those less fortunate than ourselves.”
Before filing out onto the streets to find the homeless individuals living out in the elements in places such as under the Tobin Bridge or on the waterfront or in certain alleyways, volunteers took a training course. They were also instructed to let the homeless they encounter know that there are services available.
Not only does the state offer services and shelter from the cold, but also the City is now getting into providing such services to help folks who want to get off the streets.
In the community room of the police station, 25 volunteers divided up into groups of six, named Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot. They practiced asking the pertinent questions and also how to make sure they were safe above all things.
From around 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., the teams searched the areas that the homeless within the city are known to congregate and to sleep.
Two men were observed and counted, while 12 men were interviewed for the official survey.
Volunteers and coordinators plan to schedule a meeting afterward to discuss the methods used and organize for next year’s effort.
In Sunday’s Globe, there was a highly negative article about the quality of life in Chelsea. While the article did point out many positive construction projects in place or being built, the gist of the article was negative about our City citing household incomes, poverty rates, low education levels and the number of newly arrived immigrants into our City.
The issues that were mentioned are apparent in the everyday fabric of the City.
However, these issues are not solely in Chelsea, but also exist in many other communities in the Commonwealth and throughout the nation. For example one only has to drive 15 minutes to Harvard Square in Cambridge where homeless people and drug addicts walk the same streets as well heeled college students and professors. However, these problems are not acknowledged or addressed by these local government officials.
Chelsea has always been a Gateway Community (before that catch phrase came into being) and has always had its share of problems that come with any new wave of immigrants whether those immigrants came in the early 1890’s from Eastern Europe or Ireland or whether the immigrants have arrived from Central America in the last two decades.
Chelsea City officials and local organizations have acknowledged the problems and are implementing solutions to address them. Some of the problems are beyond the financial scope of any municipality to address such as the methadone clinic that draws more than 700 patients a day who come from many of the surrounding communities. But problems like the homeless are being addressed. Project Opening Doors will be doing a count/outreach on Tuesday. City Manager Tom Ambrosino will be offering free services in Bellingham Square along with CAPIC and Bay Cove to residents who need help.
No one can deny that we have problems, but we are not ignoring these problems either.
The first-ever homeless count and survey will take place in Chelsea at the end of the month, sparked by a growing group of volunteers focused on ending homelessness in the city.
A group of about 30 volunteers shown here gathered on Monday night to listen to advice and get training from Melissa McWhinney of the state Department of Housing and Community
Development (DHCD). The plan is to gather on Jan. 27 at a time and place to be determined to walk around the city and engage the homeless population.
The annual count is a nationwide effort and seeks to offer ways for homeless folks to find permanent housing. The effort in Chelsea is sponsored by Project Opening Doors, which is aligned with the People’s AME Church and Rev. Sandra Whitley.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino is supporting the effort, as are city councillors such as Damali Vidot.
More volunteers are needed and those interested should contact leaders by Jan. 20. Contact
information is (617) 336-7177 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Apollinaire Theatre is well underway to becoming a hub for Boston’s experimental theatre scene right in Chelsea Square with a major renovation of the Theatre’s spacious facilities.
Danielle Fateaux Jacques, Apollinaire founder and owner, and Development Coordinator Trip Venturella officially announced the plans and treated the Record to a behind-the-scenes (no pun intended) tour of the project on Monday. The announcement was in conjunction with an announcement by MassDevelopment of a $250,000 to support the project.
“We sort of started this theatre as a way to take the energy of Apollinaire Theatre and create a center of artistic energy and vitality in Chelsea Square and this is expanding it to spaces that weren’t fulfilling that desire,” said Venturella. “It was an artistic no-brainer to me. Of course, you want to bring in these innovative companies. Way back when Danielle bought the building (in the early 2000s), I think she had the vision of making this into a community hotbed for performance. This corresponded with that vision. It was sort of us seizing the moment. We are really excited for the project. It’s going to be transformative.”
Venturella outlined that the major renovations will not take place in the main theatre on the second floor of the building, which is in quite good shape. Aside from a few bathrooms to be added, it will remain the same.
“The idea is that the upstairs has an Old World elegance and downstairs would be a funky burgeoning art space,” he said.
The changes come on the first floor, where Apollinaire is constructing a full Black Box Theatre space where a furniture store used to be. Next to that, in another storefront, there will be a full youth theatre space for youth programs and youth performances – something Apollinaire has done for years.
Venturella said Apollinaire will not be using the Black Box for its own productions.
Instead, they will be renting out the space to theatre groups that have – in recent years – found themselves homeless.
Venturella said there is an explosion in theatre companies and works in Boston, but there are few places for them to perform. Many are doing innovative works, creating weird and unique productions, but having nowhere to present that artistic work.
Apollinaire looks to fill that void.
“There is plenty of spaces in Boston that are huge – like 3,000 seats,” he said. “There are plenty of spaces in Boston that are 200 to 300 seats. But, there are no spaces in Boston under 99 seats. There are only a very few. One place is a repurposed building and looks it. Some of the other places are adventurous places to do theatre, such as arcades, churches, or found spaces. The Charlestown Working Theatre and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre are great, but they tend to have their own productions. There are just a lot of gypsy companies that don’t have space and have incredible potential.”
He said one part of that equation is that rents are going up in so many places, and apartment buildings or other spaces where theatre was done is no longer welcome as redevelopment happens in formerly undesirable locations.
Also, there are so many groups forming in the Boston area that space is hard to book.
“There is an explosion of small theatre companies and I don’t know why that is,” he said. “Maybe there are more people moving to Boston who are interested in theatre. We hope that some of those companies would want to come here and use these facilities. We’re ready to welcome them. We hope it becomes a hub not only for Greater Boston performance, but also a cultural hub for Chelsea.”
Because Apollinaire owns the building, Venturella said those renting the Black Box Theatre can take advantage of the many underutilized spaces within the building – including areas to rehearse lines and areas in the basement to build sets. They can set up, he said, and use other parts of the building while they prepare for the actual performance.
He said they envision renting out the Black Box on a weekly basis.
A Black Box theatre is a minimalist production where there is not main stage and the audience is very close to the performance, which happens literally in a black room with dramatic lighting. The focus, obviously, is on the acting and the writing rather than full production values like sets and costumes.
The Youth Theatre is something that Apollinaire always planned to do, reserving the first-floor space for a similar small theatre, along with a gallery/foyer area and rehearsal space.
Right now, the spaces have been fully gutted, and workers are framing the spaces and exposing unique elements like a brick wall that still appears to have baked-in soot from a fire long ago. Venturella said the key date to finish is in August, as that’s when the new theatre season will start.
“This has to be completed by the summer,” he said. “The big date for us is late A
The beginnings of the Black Box Theatre in a former storefront that once housed a furniture store.
ugust – August 28. Companies start their seasons on a school schedule. It’s very important for us to have that season booked in August.”
Funding comes from a variety of sources, including the major MassDevelopment grant announced last week. Other funding sources came from the City of Chelsea, from a refinancing of the building, from Chelsea native Benson Riseman and from local business owners and long-time supporters.
There was nothing rough around the edges about the presentation by Yihe Forbes LLC at Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on Tuesday night.
In fact, the polished attorneys, architects, engineers and consultants were pretty much the best team that money could buy in Boston.
Even so, neighbors and elected officials said over and over again there was such an outlandishness to the 534-unit, 253-room hotel with 25,000 sq. ft. of retail space – all coming in over one small bridge and through the Mill Hill neighborhood – that many simply laughed the proposal away or began to think about possible conspiracy theories.
“I was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and the MTV camera crews to tell us all we’d been ‘Punked,’” said Councillor Dan Cortell, referring to the popular practical joke television show. “The proposal sounds like Station Landing and Assembly Row stuffed into one spot, but with only one entrance and exit. They were taking notes during all the comments the whole way through, but at some point you just have to highlight the whole book. The City Manager asked for a second or alternate egress as a conversation starter and they had nothing to offer. How surprised could they have been by what was said?”
Said neighbor Betty Richards of Hooper Street, a normally very vocal voice at ZBA meetings, “I can’t even speak words about how bad this is. This is so asinine and stupid and I don’t know know what planet this is coming from.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino lent the strongest voice against the plan, calling for it to be dispatched at the earliest point possible. He said he has worked with the architects, attorneys and consultants on the Waterfront Square project in Revere Beach from when he was the Revere mayor, and was surprised at their conduct on this project.
“These are great folks on the team,” he said. “I’ve worked with them before and we had meetings with the developer and the City for four years before we even got to a hearing at the ZBA. There’s none of that with this proposal. I’ve been in this business a long time. That’s how it’s done. When a project is proposed without any of that, I question the seriousness of it. I urge you to shoot this down at the earliest point possible and they can go back to the drawing board because they are capable. Then, they can engage us.”
Very importantly, Fire Deputy Chief Paul Giancola said the CFD is absolutely against the plan because they can’t handle it and have issues with the access.
“We oppose this project totally,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. We can’t handle it…You can’t have one bridge to get in and out. The second bridge you have on the plans for emergency access says it’s a pedestrian bridge…We just don’t have the manpower to handle this, and the 27-story building is just too high.”
The plan by the Chinese company – which looks to spend in the ballpark of $500 million to make the project on the old Forbes Industrial site a reality – is very ambitious and has drawn attention since last summer when it was submitted due to the large number of units and the 27-story skyscraper that is the centerpiece of the project.
While the density is an overriding concern, a more critical concern has been access to the site. Right now, the only access is via Crescent Avenue off of Eastern Avenue – taking a small bridge over to the island-like spit of the vacant, 18-acre former home to the world-famous Forbes printing company.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino has told the developers that a good starting place would be to develop an alternative access point that doesn’t travel through Mill Hill. He has been a proponent of tying into Rt. 1A via a small bridge that would span the Creek and lead to Railroad Avenue in Revere.
However, project Attorney Paul Feldman said they had explored the idea of putting a bridge across the Creek with the MBTA and it was shot down.
“We have done some exploration of alternative access,” he said. “I can say to you that alternative access doesn’t work. We have to be straight up and transparent. We can’t tell you there is an alternative access that is available, but what we can do is make the site work. We have enough confidence to invest a half million dollars that this will work without an alternative access.”
It wasn’t good enough for Ambrosino.
“There was just an appalling lack of attention to the desperate need for an alternative access,” he said. “I really don’t think there was sufficient energy spent to explore alternative accesses to the site.”
He said though it presented problems and expense, it’s what major developers do to move along big developments like the Forbes.
The developers also proposed that there would be no traffic in the neighborhoods off of Crescent Avenue, zeroing out any traffic impacts on streets like Clinton Street and others.
“When Eastern Avenue gets backed up like it always does, everyone is going to go on the side streets,” said Clinton Street resident Christine Barnes.
“That’s unrealistic,” added City Planner John DePriest.
And as a bone thrown to the neighbors (which turned out to be a rotten tomato), Feldman proposed completely rehabilitating Crescent Avenue – replacing the water mains, building sidewalks where there are none and reconstructing the street. Within that plan, they proposed taking away parking from the western side of the street to widen the road. Instead, the developer would create two neighborhood parking lots on property he owns by the Burke Complex and the entry way to Forbes. There would be 32 street spaces lost, but 40 spaces in the parking lots gained. Unfortunately, that plan would call for long-time neighbors to not be able to park in front of their homes any longer.
“These are people’s homes and many of them have lived there a long time and they want to say we can’t park in front of our homes anymore,” she Richards. “They want us to walk all the way down the street now and park in a lot they’re going to provide for us so they can have their development.”
Prior to the big whiff by Yihe Forbes, Feldman and the team – who have put together projects such as the Cambridgeside Galleria and Patriot Place – presented a spectacular presentation regarding the plans for the site. It included the massive amounts of residential apartments and condos built in five phases with seven acres of waterfront open space for everyone to enjoy. There was far more parking than required in a garage deck that would sit under a large, raised plaza – with the hotel and retail portions being right at the entrance to the site. The plan was drawn up using the City’s 2004 Planning Document with its recommendations for 500 units on the Forbes site, Feldman said. He also added that the project when fully built would result in $6 million per year in property taxes – a hefty sum for a small City like Chelsea.
There were plans for 20,000 sq. ft. of landscaped roofing, car sharing services on site, fine restaurants, a shuttle service and, perhaps even, an ice cream shop for neighbors to frequent as they perched on the waterfront for a picnic lunch.
Sounded great, but it was just a little too far-fetched for most neighbors to take seriously – and the seriousness of the project was probably the greatest critique during the meeting, which stretched on until almost midnight.
Councillor Matt Frank urged the ZBA to dispatch the plan immediately.
“You can put $500 million on the table and if it blows the community apart, then it’s really not worth it,” he said. “If the MBTA can say ‘no,’ and the MassDOT can say ‘no,’ then the City of Chelsea can also say ‘no.’”
Added Council President Leo Robinson, “We don’t need to jump at the first thing thrown at us. We should be able to control what goes there. Something significant is obviously going to go there, but we can sit down and get a better deal than this.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino has put in a request to the City Council for an appraisal of a home at 29 Tudor St. – next to the new Clark Avenue School.
Ambrosino said he would like the City to take the property by eminent domain if, and only if, the owner is amendable to the deal. He said the new school project is just too close to her property and would be a real hardship upon her.
“She’s in a tough spot,” he said of the owner. “Even after construction is completed, she’ll be very, very close to the dumpster, the music room and the loading dock. She’s right on top of this project, unfortunately, in a way that no other abutter is.”
Ambrosino requested $2,500 for the appraisal, which is the first step towards acquisition of the property.
He wrote the Council that he saw the property as problematic from his first days.
“I have been convinced form my first days here that this house should be considered for acquisition, provided that the owner was amendable,” he wrote. “In recent conversations, the owner of 29 Tudor St. has indicated at least a willingness to consider a purchase by the City. But, before any serious discussions about acquisition can occur, the City needs an independent appraisal.”
Ambrosino said there is no guarantee that t
This home on Tudor Street is literally engulfed by the Clark Avenue School, and City Manager Tom Ambrosino is advocating the taking of the property if terms can be agreed upon with the owner.
he City will be able to reach an agreement with the owner. He also said they will not proceed without her permission.
Oftentimes, land takings are necessary when working on an urban school project. However, they are more expensive than a traditional sale price and are not reimbursable with state funds. That would mean any costs incurred from any possible taking would fall on the City’s portion of the project budget.
After a fast and furious opposition emerged from Mill Hill neighbors to the 60-unit affordable housing apartment building proposed at the French Club over the past month, The Neighborhood Developers said it will take comments to heart, but defended the need for affordable housing in that neighborhood.
“We’ll spend the next month revising our plans and hopefully correct the problem areas and address them and continue our effort to create affordable housing for people who are living her and want to continue living her, and simply continuing Chelsea’s great revival,” said TND Director Ann Houston this week. “Clearly we’re a little surprised at the response because we know how much Chelsea needs affordable housing. We’ve been hearing from so many residents in Chelsea and city officials about the need for housing affordable to Chelsea residents who have been here. There is a growing concern about gentrification.”
She cited that the last affordable housing project they did in Chelsea garnered 1,200 applications – many more than the number of units available.
TND has been active in Chelsea for many years and successfully developed The Box District and other smaller projects in the central part of the city. However, when acquiring the French Club and its parking lot and beginning to develop near a much more traditional residential neighborhood – that being Mill Hill – the affordable housing developers ran into a wall of sudden opposition.
TND purchased the former Club for $975,000 in September 2014, and purchased the parking lot next door this past March. An extension of Spencer Avenue running between the Club and the parking lot was discontinued by the City Council in early May – and many neighbors have said they were not apprised of that change.
Hundreds of neighbors have signed petitions against the project, and many believe there is already too much affordable housing in Chelsea. Others have said they would like to see home ownership opportunities at the site.
Councillor Matt Frank, who initially supported the project, said last week that he has withdrawn that support because his constituents are so adamantly opposed to the project and because he doesn’t believe there was enough communication.
TND folks, however, said that the average income in Mill Hill is $57,000 and that’s well-within the limits for affordable housing. They also said that most of the development in that area of the City has been market rate housing, and other such market-rate developments threaten to drive up rents all over Chelsea.
“There has been right around the elementary school a fair amount of housing developed, but not for families or children,” said Houston. “We were and continue to be very excited to develop housing at this site that is really affordable to families in Chelsea and is able to get children right across the street to the Burke elementary complex. We do have to continue to make sure we have housing for people who have been in Chelsea and have been Chelsea residents and who we fear will be pushed out. We see a proposal for a 692-unit apartment complex that’s all market rate on Everett Avenue. That can help drive up rents across the community.”
Aside from that, though, Houston said they have heard Mill Hill loud and clear.
“We have heard concerns neighbors have raised and we’re taking them very, very seriously,” she said. “We wish we would have had the opportunity to talk outside a public meeting. We appreciate that didn’t happen and will find other opportunities to sit down with the neighbors.”
TND’s Emily Loomis said they believe there was good communication on the project, something TND has been criticized about.
She said they knocked on doors, had conversations and answered questions. If no one answered the door, they left fliers with information about the proposal.
Another point of contention has been the discontinued street on Spencer Avenue, which many Mill Hill residents use to get to the City Hall area without having to go all the way down Broadway.
“I’m not sure if people realize there’s still a cut through on Toomey Street,” Houston said. “Taking the street was in line with the other sorts of actions the City has done to help development, particularly private development. I am sure if you’re used to the cut-through, it feels significant, but taking Toomey Street curve will quickly become the normal driving pattern and won’t represent a problem.”
Finally, TND said it didn’t believe there were any conflicts of interest that played a part in the development of the French Club.
Planning Board Chair Tuck Willis is on the Board of Directors for TND and, thus, was listed on the deed for the entity that purchased the French Club. That said, Willis recused himself from the proceedings, and other members of the Planning Board with ties to TND are simply volunteers.
“I think the state Conflict of Interest law is very, very clear and mean to protect against these things,” she said. “I think you saw that when the one member with ties to TND recused himself in a good and forthright manner. One other member of the Planning Board volunteers with TND (Henry Wilson) and was frankly one of our toughest questioners. I noted members nodding in support of neighbors. I am sure when they’re ready to make a decision, they’ll make an unbiased suggestion…We don’t think we have a tight ‘in’ with either of the boards. We think people have been operating in a very forthright manner.”
The matter will be addressed at the Zoning Board of Appeals on July 14, and then again at the Planning Board on July 28.