State Regional Planning Effort Kicks off in Chelsea

As the habits and preferences change for where people seek to call home, state and local officials have banded together to develop a regional land use plan for nine cities and towns in a region now dubbed the Metro North.

Those cities and towns included Revere, Everett, Chelsea, Charlestown, Winthrop, East Boston, Melrose, Malden and Somerville; and state officials met with representatives from those areas (and others) last Thursday in Chelsea’s Wyndham Hotel to detail priority development areas.

Chief among the effort is the fact that municipal planners have begun to see that people are no longer flocking to the suburbs, but rather seeking to live closer to Boston and all of its amenities.

“We are all brought here because life has changed, preferences have changed, the market has changed and what people are looking for has changed,” said Marc Draisson of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “There was a time when the cities were a place to run away from as fast as you could. There were large tracts of single-family homes going up next to large industrial parks. You were to live and work as far away as possible. That has changed dramatically. Most people are fundamentally not interested in being that far away anymore, or if they are, it’s for a much shorter period of time; not in the beginning and not at the end, but only a short time in the middle. They are thinking much more about living closer to other people, and not so much about living far away from their neighbors…That change presents and exciting opportunity for these places north of Boston.”

The changes in the cities and towns north of Boston were showcased by the turnaround in Chelsea, whereby the large contingent of officials were meeting in a nice hotel in that City.

“Today we have all come together in this nice Wyndham Hotel in Chelsea,” said Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash. “Had we held a meeting like this in Chelsea 18 years ago, it would have been at the Hotel Stanley where you would have rented rooms by the hour and not the night. It would have been a place that none of us would have wanted to hold such a time as this.”

Greg Bialecki, state Housing and Economic Development Secretary, said the regional plan comes in part because the state believes that the Metro North area is poised to explode with opportunity in the next 10 to 20 years. To be ahead of the curve, they want to have a plan ready so that current residents aren’t taken by storm when change occurs.

“We need to have a plan ready ahead of time for when growth happens,” he said. “People wake up and say, ‘My neighborhood changed and my City changed and I’m not sure how that happened and I don’t necessarily like how it turned out.’ We don’t believe that is the best way to plan and we want to change that.”

Bialecki said the Metro North plan is the fourth region for which they’ve prioritized regional assets – an effort that started several years ago with the South Coast in Fall River. However, Bialecki said Metro North leaders have come together in a way that others haven’t.

“These areas are working together in a way that the governor and I don’t see in other places in this state,” he said.

Among the short-term and long-term areas cited in the plan for priority development were Revere Beach/Wonderland, East Boston’s Waterfront, Chelsea’s Everett Avenue Urban Renewal District, Everett/Malden River Green, Malden Center, Charlestown’s Sullivan Square and Somerville’s Union Square – among others.

Those leaders in attendance were Chelsea’s Jay Ash, Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, Winthrop Town Manager Jim McKenna, Malden Mayor Gary Christianson, State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, State Rep. Paul Donato, and Melrose Mayor Robert Dolan.

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