Chelsea Undertakes Public Zoning Forums

The city has begun a series of four public forums to gather input on changes to the Chelsea zoning ordinance.

The first meeting was held on Tuesday, March 29, with city officials, consultants, and partners giving the background of zoning laws in the country and locally and on how zoning affects residents.

The next meeting is slated for Wednesday, April 13 at the Clark Avenue School from 5:45 p.m. to 8 p.m. The remaining meetings are scheduled for May 4 and May 18 at the school.

The city is partnering with the Anti-Displacement Roundtable and the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) for the four-session community conversation series. The series is intended to give residents a deeper understanding of how zoning has shaped Chelsea today, and how it can contribute to a more equitable Chelsea in the future.

“Zoning is usually this very boring, mundane legalese that really shapes the world around us,” said Alex Train, the city’s housing and community development director. “It dictates how neighborhoods look, it determines whether or not folks can afford to live in your neighborhood, and it’s responsible for a lot of the displacement we are seeing across the city where rents are going up. As a result, families are being pushed out of the city.”

Train said the goal of the city and its partners at the local level is to have a conversation with the community about zoning and how residents envision their neighborhoods and what their hopes are for the city and community at large.

“It is very important for us to get feedback from the community as we think about making some changes to our zoning,” said City Manager Thomas Ambrosino. “There are some efforts we have in mind, but we certainly don’t want to do anything that’s contrary to the best interests of the residents.”

The purpose of the forums is to get input from the community before bringing any potential zoning changes before the city council.

Dana LeWinter, the municipal engagement director for CHAPA said zoning is a tool that cities should use for the benefit of their residents, even though its long history has shown that that has not always been the case. LeWinter said that early 20th century zoning ordinances were used to keep African Americans separate from whites, forcing them into more crowded and dangerous industrial zones. She also pointed to the redlining efforts of the 1930s that made it harder to own homes and increased segregation in Chelsea and other communities across the country.

“The legacy of communities that were redlined like Chelsea is that often there is a rent gap, which is the difference between the potential value of a property and what people are actually paying,” said Caroline Ellenbird, the Environmental Justice and Anti-Displacement Organizer at GreenRoots. “That makes it more attractive to professionals and developers so that rents and housing values have been going up.”

Chelsea Director of Permitting and Land Use Planning John DePriest gave an overview of the zoning districts in the city, and the role various boards in the city play in the building process in the city.

Oriana Reilly, the city’s housing and community preservation coordinator, asked that those planning to attend the April 13 forum take a photo of an area in the city where they believe zoning ordinances have been effective, and a photo of an area where they believe it has been ineffective.

“This is a way for us to gather any information for updates to the zoning code, and as a conversation starter for the next meeting,” Reilly said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *