The Forbes Park development proposal, with more than 500 residential units proposed for the former industrial campus, has been approved by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) after four years and two major re-designs.
The final iteration of the project includes 590 units of housing, with 60 percent of those units being condos for sale and 59 units being affordable to a range of incomes. There are also 1.6 parking spaces per unit, or 963 spaces. The project also boasts a major public access area to the waterfront of the Chelsea Creek and Mill Creek. The current project also has a very small amount of retail and office uses, with both totaling below 20,000 sq. ft.
The project, though still very large, was scaled back from the developer’s (YIHE Forbes of China) original proposal in 2015. That proposal featured skyscrapers about 21 stories tall and more than 1,000 units of housing accompanied by large office spaces and large hotels. It was rejected informally and the company eventually withdrew during a ZBA meeting that went past midnight.
The news of Tuesday’s approval of the new plan was viewed with mixed results by most, including those who had come to support the project, including City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
“I’m happy with the project even though it’s far from perfect,” he said. “Given all the concessions made since they first showed up here, I think it’s a workable project. There is lots of homeownership, with 60 percent being condos. This is the largest condo project in Chelsea for more than a decade if not longer. They also have really exciting plans for accessing the waterfront along the Chelsea Creek.”
Ambrosino said they also agreed to several affordable housing concessions. Of the required 59 units of affordable housing, the mix will include many different income ranges, including 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), 50 percent of the AMI and 30 percent of the AMI.
“That’s really deeply affordable and it assures that actual families that live in Chelsea now will be able to afford to live in the complex. That was very important to the City,” he said.
The developer also agreed to contribute $300,000 to the four schools at the Mary C. Burke Complex, which is about two blocks from the Forbes entrance.
That said, not everyone was happy with the news – and in particular was Councillor Joe Perlatonda, who represents the Mill Hill and Forbes area. He said the problem with the Forbes project is the same as it has always been, and that problem is the fact that there is one access point.
In the first iteration, City officials – including Ambrosino – had called for a bridge over the Chelsea Creek to Revere as a second access point to alleviate traffic in the neighborhood. However, this time around that was not made a requirement, and Perlatonda said he was not happy there was a concession made on that point.
“It’s a shame that no one has thought about the concessions of the residents that live in our neighborhood,” he said. “Right now, with cars parked on both sides of the street that go into the Forbes site, and what we have to go through every day. Try getting out of your driveway every day; try driving down the street when you have to dodge cars, and then add 963 parking spaces which is 1.6 cars per unit. But someone seems to forget about the cars they will have for each unit like the mother, father and kids that all have cars, not to mention the visitors or guests that will come with cars. Has anyone thought where to put the overflow of these cars? Our streets are already congested, and getting in and out will be so bad. This is just part of the nightmare.”
GreenRoots Executive Director Roseann Bongiovanni said they didn’t believe the project was perfect, but felt there had been reasonable concessions made about their concerns.
“We had a number of concerns relating to the impacts on the neighborhood, and we feel that we have achieved some reasonable concessions from the developers,” she said. “The number of affordable units, deeper levels of affordability and preference for Chelsea residents for those units – together with the mitigation for the adjacent neighborhood and the $300,000 for the four schools at the Mary C. Burke Complex are all concessions that we are proud to have fought hard for…GreenRoots is committed to ongoing dialogue – and protest if necessary – to ensure the benefits are for everyone in the community, not just the lucky few who will get to live at Forbes.”
Ambrosino said the site is very large, and that did allow the developer to be able to build large numbers of units by right if they chose to do so and could meet the parking requirements. That, he said, would have cut the City and the neighborhood out of the planning completely. He felt it wasn’t worth the risk to chance that.
“They could have gone in by right and built 450 units and 900 parking spots and got a building permit without any say from the City or the neighbors,” he said.
The project has already cleared Major Site Plan at the Planning Board, but has many hurdles to clear at City Hall in reviewing plans before they can break ground.
It is believed that the developer plans to keep three of the smaller buildings on site and rehabilitate them. The rest of the project will be new construction.