Turn Down the Volume: Car Wash Owners Scheduled to Appear for a City Hearing on Aug. 12

The most hot-button issue in the city has come at the Scrub-A-Dub car wash on Eastern Avenue, but the plethora of deep-seated issues brought about by the matter has absolutely nothing to do with washing a car.

The car wash has been allegedly host to people gathering after-hours – sometimes as late as 3 a.m. – for a number of years in the warmer months, where those gathered listen to loud music, hang out, compare show-cars, engage in rap battles and sometimes drag race on Eastern Avenue. However, with more residents now living in the area and the pandemic exacerbating most late-night hang-outs, the after-hours car wash recently began to collide with newer residents in the nearby area – and vice versa.

That has come to a head last week as the License Commission, according to City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson, has called the owners of the car wash for a hearing on Aug. 12 after having received many complaints for noise and nuisance activity from the neighborhood, including from District Councillor Naomi Zabot – whose family has deep roots in Chelsea, and who moved back here about 10 years ago.

When Zabot posted the meeting notice on a community web page and on her City Council Facebook page, the response was anything but nice.

While some argued that the car wash activities were a tradition that went far back and weren’t disruptive, but were being upended by gentrifiers who wanted to change the City to their liking, other respondents weren’t so civil about it.

One online poster under the name “Mark Suj” posted a strikingly anti-Semitic post directed at Zabot, who is Jewish, while others shared her photo and address and encouraged people to vandalize her home.

“Our city is changing in amazing ways and the community is becoming more inclusive and diverse, strengthening our community with culture, achievement, and families of all backgrounds,” she wrote in an op-ed. “This past year has been difficult for so many of us, and being in a public office, I understand that I may be on the receiving end of public discourse. And, while some of the language directed at me in Facebook posts were hurtful, including sexist and anti-Semitic comments, I remain committed to representing all of the residents in my district and advocating for everyone’s quality of life. This is a wonderful city and so are its residents. There are many changes and developments that have been taking place here in Chelsea over the past few years and with change, often comes growth, both inwardly and externally, as a community. I embrace the opportunity to grow with the city of Chelsea, the district I represent, and to advocate for the quality of life that families hope for. I want Chelsea residents to know that I hear them and respect them. I believe we can continue to voice our thoughts with understanding and respect for one another, as this is what will help us to continue to make important progress.”
One of the more measured posters advocating to keep the late-night car wash gathering was a Chelsea woman going as Boston Baked Bee. She told the Record in a phone interview that it was unfair.

She said the gatherings are a long-time tradition and were never a problem until folks like Councillor Zabot and other residents in newer buildings moved into the city – and now she said they want to change things to serve their needs and not consider the existing culture already in place.

“She’s trying to shut down a part of our culture here,” said Bee. “This has been around for years. There’s no more racing going on. People are there of all ages and backgrounds and it’s kind of beautiful…I feel they’re just trying to change everything. They come into our city and expect us to adjust to them and it should be the other way around. If you’re from Chelsea, you should know this has gone on for years. They’re trying to take over our culture here. She should have gone over and tried to compromise. See what’s going on there first.”

That part of the issue is a tough collision. On the one hand, there are young people who have gathered for a long time at what was historically a relatively desolate area where no one cared about revving engines or loud car stereos. So, such activity went on for years without a lot of problems or complaints – aside from the occasional crackdown on drag racing that popped up from time to time on Eastern Avenue.

Then on the other hand, there are residents who now live nearby in buildings that have been built in the last 10 years – or in homes that have turned over to new owners who are new to Chelsea. At night, they are noting that they hear noise on par with what would be a loud concert at a Stadium – and they cannot sleep. They also point out that the car wash activities are an act of trespassing, and the car wash isn’t permitted to have such gatherings.

It’s the ever-growing pinch point of old gritty Chelsea with the newly-desirable and growing Chelsea.

The owners of the car wash said they actually don’t like the people gathering on their property after hours.

“Definitely we’re not okay with it,” said Manager Alejandro Gutierrez. “This is a dangerous area. When we see it happening, we don’t let our employees get involved. We don’t want our employees to get hurt by someone…Unfortunately this started a long time ago before we took over the place. We are working on it with the police and City Hall…We actually believe a lot of the people who like coming here to hang out, play music and race – they are our customers. When the music is loud and we’re open, we go over politely at a distance and ask them to turn it down…Lately, we don’t think this is a safe area. We’re worried about our employee safety and don’t want them to get injured.”

He said the car wash closes operations at 8 p.m. on most nights, but there is a self-serve vacuum and cleaning operation that is open after hours. That’s when most of the group comes to congregate, and only in the warm months.

Chief Brian Kyes said they’ve been working with the management and ownership of the Scrub-A-Dub to work on innovative solutions to allow for use of the cleaning machines, but not be able to congregate.

“We are looking at innovative ways to allow those that enter the property on Eastern Avenue after regular business hours to utilize the self-service cleaning equipment to do so without unnecessarily congregating in the lot,” he said. “Some are making excessive and unreasonable noise with loud car stereos that infringe upon the peace and tranquility that is expected by the residents who live in the area.  Although the Police have been conducting multiple directed patrols on the property, we realize that a more efficient environmental design may be necessary to strike the balance between the operation of a city business and the quality of life of the residents.”

Bee said no one is bothering to see what is actually going on at the car wash, and that it is a very tranquil and inclusive gathering.

“Before you criticize or judge it, go see for yourself what’s happening,” she said. “To me, it’s over-policed. We’ve been here and grew up here and I was born and raised here. My family is here all our lives and you come into our city and try to change everything. What happened to live and let live?”

Zabot said she has apologized for the tenor of her original post, which she said may not have been very sensitive to those that have enjoyed gathering for years at the car wash. However, she said she believes a balance can be achieved if everyone comes in good faith and civility to the meeting to have their voices heard.

“We don’t want the car wash closed down; to the contrary, we want people to have the space to enjoy themselves,” she said. “I certainly do not want cultural activities to become ‘quality of life’ concerns and bring further division to our diverse city. I believe we can enjoy outdoor events, be it local, cultural, family-oriented, large or small, without it becoming a quality of life concern. Our community is diverse, beautiful, and we care for one another. I will do my part to be more mindful of how my statements and the intention behind it may be misconstrued and will continue to emphasize my commitment to a more diverse and inclusive city.”

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