ROADBLOCK:ZBA Rejects Request for Housing Project

A lot at the corner of Broadway and Clinton Street has sat empty for more than five years.

That site will remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future, as the Zoning Board of Appeals rejected a request for a special permit to build a four-story, 42-unit affordable apartment building at 1001-1005 Broadway on Tuesday night.

This coming just as the project cleared state environmental hurdles on Wednesday – seemingly all for naught.

The proposal was a partnership between the Traggorth Companies and The Neighborhood Developers (TND) to build 33 affordable and nine market rate one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, along with 1,100 square feet of retail space.

Needing four votes out of five on the ZBA to garner the special permit to cover rear setback, parking, and maximum lot coverage issues, board members Henry Wilson and Arthur Arsenault voted against granting the permit.

The future of the site is up in the air, according to David Traggorth of the Traggorth Companies. During the hearing, Traggorth said the partnership with TND to provide affordable rental units was the only feasible plan for the site.

“We don’t have a project,” said Traggorth after the meeting. “We weren’t kidding. We have to assess our options.”

Previously, Traggorth and TND worked together to create the Box District, with Traggorth developing the Atlas Lofts project within that district.

During the public hearing, many of the usual suspects of residential development were brought up by residents, including traffic and size of the project.

But underlying the typical concerns was a larger debate about the need for affordable rate rental units versus affordable home ownership in the city. While there was a general consensus among all attending the hearing that the need for affordable housing is among the city’s greatest needs, there was a difference of opinion on how to go about achieving that goal.

“We’ve been hearing this conversation about what we are building in Chelsea for a while now,” said City Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda. As a councillor, Avellaneda said he has been a big supporter of affordable housing, sponsoring the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and supporting inclusionary zoning.

But Avellaneda said the pendulum has swung too far in the city toward providing only affordable rate rental units, and not building any affordable units for ownership.

“I am asking the board to say no to this project because it is not an ownership project,” he said. “Every parcel where we build a rental project is another lost opportunity for home ownership in this city.”

In the past decade, there have been 3,500 affordable housing units built in the city, all of them rentals, Avellaneda said.

“Affordable home ownership is being forced out; we’ve built affordable rentals but nothing for affordable ownership,” he said. “If you get the message out that we want ownership, it’s going to happen.”

The councillor noted that at many city meetings, those who come out and participate in the community are homeowners and not renters. Avellaneda said the two districts in Chelsea with the highest voter turnout are the two with the highest rates of home ownership.

However, several people spoke of the efforts of TND to get renters involved in the community process, and that the greatest need for affordable units is for rental units.

Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of Chelsea community organization GreenRoots, said her group supported the Broadway project.

“Seventy-five percent of people who live in Chelsea are renters,” she said. “We need is what the developer is showing.”

City Manager Thomas Ambrosino also voiced his support, noting that in his three years in the city, he has heard from no other developer with a plan for the vacant lot.

“This proposal meets the most critical need in the city, which is affordable housing,” Ambrosino said. “The complaint I hear most often in my office is the lament of the lack of affordable housing, and it is mostly renters who are being displaced. Many of those renters are long-time Chelsea residents.

“If you reject this, you are simply eliminating an affordable housing opportunity, and you are not providing an affordable housing ownership opportunity.”

The ZBA’s decision can be appealed in Superior Court or Land Court, according to John DePriest, the city’s director of planning and development.

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