By Seth Daniel
Admiral’s Hill has long been a protected area, but when a now-defunct major development was proposed last year for an open area on the Hill, City officials said they quickly realized the Hill’s protections had expired.
In July, at the recommendation of City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the Chelsea Planning Department, the City Council heard a proposal for a two-year moratorium on all development in the Admiral’s Hill area – more officially known as the Chelsea Naval Hospital Overlay District.
The development proposal, which never really hit City Hall or the public airwaves and is no longer being proposed, started the wheels of government working, amidst a lot of neighborhood concern, and in that process it was discovered that an old Admiral’s Hill Land Development Agreement (LDA) had expired.
With the project now gone and the moratorium proposed, the City is looking to institute an interim overlay district that will allow them to thoroughly catalog all of the parcels on the Hill and look to some new zoning suggestions there to replace the expired LDA.
“The proposal is part of the Zoning Amendment package currently before the City Council,” said Ambrosino. “Basically, we will put a freeze on development in this area for a short period, no longer than 24 months, while we get a consultant and figure out a better zoning for the area. In some sense, it was precipitated when we heard about a large project proposed up there. We realized at that time that our zoning in the area was no longer adequate.”
Council President Dan Cortell, who represents the Hill, said he supports the initiative.
“I think it is proper to slow things up while rules are put in place,” he said. “That will allow the City time to work carefully and thoughtfully before they move on.”
The zoning effort will have benchmarks included within it and timelines.
Within six months, the City and its consultant will have to have mapped the existing uses, the ownership, zoning and identify all uses there. Within nine months, the City and the consultant will have established re-zoning land use objectives, desired densities and uses. City hearings for any proposed changes are to be completed by 18 months, and the interim overlay district will dissolve automatically in 24 months.
“The existing underlying Naval Hospital Residential (NHR) zoning was created for the purpose to redevelop a portion of the former naval hospital site for residential purposes,” read the City’s zoning proposal to the Council. “The existing underlying Naval Hospital Commercial (NHC) zoning was created for the purpose to redevelop a portion of the formal naval hospital site for office uses, recreational uses, and related purposes. The NHR and NHC districts have undergone significant large scale development since their inception in an unplanned manner on a significant amount of space in both districts. The purpose of [the interim overlay district] is to develop guidelines that help aide in the siting of future large scale development so as to not encroach on existing development and open space.”
That said, Cortell indicated he wouldn’t be completely surprised if the study yields the conclusion that there isn’t much left to develop on Admiral’s Hill.
“It would not surprise me if we came out of this two years and said there’s little or nothing up here developable – at least on a large scale,” he said. “There might not be any buildable land with 200, 150, 75 or even 30 units in a building. There may be nothing up here. That may be ended with the Jefferson, which was the last major one up here.”
The Council will reconvene in September, and on the top of their to-do list, will be to consider many of the zoning changes submitted in June by Ambrosino – including the Admiral’s Hill re-zoning effort.