By Seth Daniel
The State of the City cannot be summed up in one word, as is often the case in such speeches, but for which City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he could not do during his speech to the City Council Monday night.
“Sometimes people may say we are ‘strong’ or ‘solvent’ or ‘solid,’ but when I tried to decide on one particular word for Chelsea, I couldn’t,” he said. “I have observed in my eight months here that Chelsea is a city in transition. This governing body is in transition…My office is in transition. You’ve had a long-term charismatic City Manager and now you have something different. The City itself is under great transition. The One North building is fully developed bringing professionals and new residents, yet at the same time we have a city with pockets of incredible violence and social ills.”
The 15-minute speech was an opportunity for Ambrosino to lay out his goals for the City in the coming years, and at the outset – though he didn’t intend to – he delved into the horrific shooting incident on Washington Avenue last Sunday.
After discussing his thoughts and the public safety plan, he said he wants to invest in the schools.
“When it comes to budgeting, schools haven’t always been front and center,” he said. “That’s something I want to transition more to.”
He said he would like to expand the Citizen Schools program to every middle school and every grade by the 2019 school year.
On that same youth front, he said he is proposed a new division within the Health and Human Services Department that will be called the Cultural/Recreation Division.
“This City has really been blessed by great leadership and where that leadership has been most successful was creating great financial stability,” he said. “Now is the time to take that stability and invest it in our residents so we can have that safe, vibrant, thriving and diverse city we all want.”
He told the Council he wants them to act on his Capital Improvement Plan, which invests $27 million into the City over two years. That’s far more than previous CIPs and will address everything from sidewalks to street repairs.
He is also calling for $5 million to be devoted to revamping the Broadway business district from City Hall to Chelsea Square.
He said $400,000 of that money will be devoted to planning this year.
The next year, he said, would be a matter of spending the $5 million for improvements to pedestrian access, historic lighting and other improvements.
“If the design work indicates we will need more than $5 million, I will be coming back to you for more than that $5 million,” he said.
He also spoke about economic development and the fact that the City can now choose it’s projects, and he warned of gentrification.
“The kind of development we’ve had here for a city this size is the gold standard,” he said. “It’s not a fluke. It exists because Chelsea has great geographic attributes that no other city has…The challenge for the city is not attracting development. The challenge will be making sure development coming now serves the interests of people who live here. It’s going to require an insistence that when development comes, we require things from the developer.”
In that, he rolled out a new inclusionary zoning policy which will establish, if adopted by Council, an affordable housing component in each new development. He said the City will have the choice of allowing developers to contribute to an affordable housing fund for the building of new affordable housing projects if the units are not in the proposed development.