By Seth Daniel
The Chelsea City Council made no friends Monday night at its meeting when it snubbed longtime Everett Avenue developer, ACS Development, and refused to allow the company to show a presentation it had prepared to introduce discussion on a proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement.
The TIF agreement is widely believed to be a controversial discussion, as the company is asking that the City bestow a TIF for 20 years on the new FBI building in an agreement that would allow them a 50 percent reduction on the value of the building for tax purposes over 15 years and a 40 percent reduction over five years. The hugely expensive project, wrought with delays and litigation, was always expected to have a TIF agreement, but none was ever executed before the building opened and few many years ago expected it to be so wide-ranging.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he supported the TIF despite its expansion, and that the City needed to step up and keep its word with a developer that has a positive relationship with the City for decades.
That said, no one expected councillors to object to the simple presentation at the final meeting of the year Monday night.
Principals Anthony and Patricia Simboli brought a team of employees with them ready to introduce the coveted project that many say has put Chelsea on the map – spurring development around it, funneling money into local businesses and giving the City a new status. After setting up their computer PowerPoint presentation and getting ready for a detailed presentation – they found themselves going home early.
Councilor Damali Vidot quickly called out that she objected to a parliamentary procedure that would have allowed the presentation to commence.
Councilor Roy Avellaneda backed her up, as did Councilors Matt Frank and Enio Lopez.
It was a surprise to some of their colleagues, who had wanted to begin the discussion before the winter break and then continue it in a Committee on Conference in January.
However, with the objection, that wasn’t going to happen Monday.
“That pretty much does it,” said Council President Dan Cortell, quite surprised.
“In no way, shape or form is this an attack on the Simbolis,” said Vidot. “I met with them and I was inclined to support the TIF, but I was approached by a lot of residents who don’t support this. In the past, Chelsea has not given any TIFs longer than 10 years…I think we have to be very strategic and conservative as to who we give these TIFs to.”
Vidot said she did not want to have the presentation during a meeting because procedure would prevent the Council and the public from asking questions. She called for any presentations to take place in a Committee on Conference, where the procedures allow questions.
Avellaneda agreed, saying he has handouts that show what the presentation is, and he didn’t need to waste time watching the video.
“We all have the presentation in our packets,” he said. “We can look at it. There’s no need to do the slide show.”
Other councillors said they would like to have seen the presentation, and would have liked it to be televised and reported before the winter break.
“I’m a little bit disappointed we aren’t seeing the presentation,” said Councillor Luis Tejada. “As an actor, there’s a difference when you read a script and when you hear it read…It would have been to our benefit to hear it now and to hear it later.”
Councillor Paul Murphy said he would have liked the public to have seen the presentation before it went to Conference.
“I would have like to see it because of these cameras that are in the room,” he said. “The public would have had a chance to see what this is about.”
Added Councillor Giovanni Recupero, “Let them stay here and present it so the people outside can see how it is.”
Cortell said it would have been a chance to begin thinking about the issue as a community.
“The unfortunate reality is this would have given the public a chance to see it right now and a number of times over the holidays,” he said.
Councillor Leo Robinson clarified that the plan was simply to let them present Monday so councillors could begin to formulate questions, and then to have the Conference in January for people to ask questions.
The vote to send the matter to Conference passed 10-0, but with many reluctantly casting their vote. Councillor Judith Garcia recused herself from the discussion as she received a college scholarship from the company while in high school.
ACS Development did not make a statement on the matter.