Major Zoning Changes Planned in Downtown and Prattville Areas

A major zoning package with wide-ranging changes from Prattville to downtown Chelsea cleared the Planning Board last week, and will head to the City Council at the beginning of next year for consideration.

The package passed muster with the Planning Board last Tuesday, Dec. 15, except for one piece from the Administration which sought to create a parking district downtown. One of the more heralded changes was proposed by Council President Roy Avellaneda to the zoning in Prattville on the Parkway. That zoning change seeks to alter the existing zoning, which is a residential district in what is mostly commercial businesses on the highway (Rt. 16). Avellaneda said he sees his proposal as tidying up something that should have been done long ago. Because every commercial use there is non-conforming due to the residential zoning, everyone has to go through a process just to locate there. Avellaneda said that leads to vacant buildings and unreasonable expectations.

“This is the third one I’ve done and the fourth zoning change I’ve proposed in four years,” he said. “this is the third re-zone change I’ve advocated for in terms of business uses…The reasons behind this one is simple. The zoning doesn’t allow for what exists there. In a couple of corner storefronts, they are left vacant because they lost the ability to transfer a non-conforming use to another non-conforming use. By properly zoning this for what they have there – which is retail businesses – we’re allowing that to happen.” He said the owners of the popular Tombo 22 Restaurant on the Parkway had troubles opening up because of this, and the old bottling plant cannot find a tenant and was just rejected by the Planning Board for a church.

“The zoning makes no sense,” he said. “No one down there will take down a convenience store and build and single-family home and live on Rt. 16. No one is going to knock down the rug store and build a two-family.” City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he agrees with the change, but pointed out his administration did not suggest it. “I think it makes sense that area, which is commercial in nature, ought to have some commercial zone,” he said.

“We’ve never pressed too hard in the past because of neighborhood concerns.” Some of the other zoning changes offered by the administration are more far reaching. •Two high-profile changes recommended by the Planning Board include allowing marijuana businesses to locate stores and delivery-only locations in more zoning areas – including the downtown business district. Delivery-only businesses would also be able to be an accessory use in any residential zone, and as a permitted use in several of the commercial zoning districts – including the Naval Hospital Residential and Commercial districts. •In another land-use change – one that Avellaneda proposed in part several years ago – Ambrosino said they are looking to spur development on the waterfront area of the Chelsea Creek. There, they would replace the Waterfront Industrial Overlay District with a new Port District and Waterfront Upland District. The change would also create a Waterfront Improvement Trust Fund, and virtually institute a type of Master Plan for the entire area – including new landscaping requirements, new Special Permit criteria and the principal uses for those areas – which mostly lie on the west side of Marginal Street. •The changes would also increase density in the two largest residential districts, which many see as appropriate, both Ambrosino and Avellaneda said. These would decrease the minimum lot sizes in the Residential 1 district, and decrease the minimum lot size and the minimum useable open space requirement in the Residential 2 District (R2).

The R2 district is one of the largest in the entire city, and includes the neighborhoods on Bellingham Hill, as well as the Orange/Addison areas. •Finally, another change would include creating a new Mixed-Use Overlay District for the area at Everett Avenue, the railroad and the Everett City Line. This district allows for much taller buildings and is seen as an accommodation to allow the re-development of the Stop & Shop to file its project in Chelsea.

That project was filed in Everett earlier this year and went through a tremendous amount of review there, and has now been fully approved. The matter moves from the Planning Board to the City Council for a final vote into law, but Avellaneda said he didn’t expect a vote until early February – noting there is a great deal to discuss when it comes to some of the changes.

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