Council President Blasts Colleagues, Activists for Turning Away Zoning Changes

Council President Roy Avellaneda blasted his colleagues on Monday night at the City Council meeting for voting against Councillor Leo Robinson’s motion to reconsider zoning amendments that were voted down in the last month – saying many of them weren’t controversial and he had hoped to have a vigorous discussion on all of them in the March 22 meeting, but was instead blocked on false procedure.

Chief among his concerns were amendments in the residential neighborhood – proposed by the City Manager Tom Ambrosino – that would have allowed more density for increased housing production. Those amendments were controversial and drew the ire of housing and open space activists like Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots – voices that helped to defeat the proposals in early March. Under the reconsideration on March 22, Avellaneda said he planned to introduce critical information showing many homes historically – more than 1,000, he said – had been built on much smaller lot sizes. However, he said he was blocked by improper use of procedure regarding the handout that contained the information – and then the reconsideration matter was quickly voted down.

“When my former colleague (Bongiovanni) comes up here and says she has a single family home and has a yard and isn’t it great her kids can play in the back – yea that’s great,” he said. “What she’s not talking about is when I helped her buy that house 12 years ago.. That single-family home with a yard is now unattainable for 90 percent of the people living in Chelsea. You are creating an economic injustice. Single-family homes are going for $550,000 and by saying ‘no’ to density, you think you’re helping? You’re not helping. You’re being irresponsible to our residents that want to live here. The density they approved 50 years ago is what is affordable to our families today…(What happened March 22) was a mistake. It was a mistake what happened here.”

Beyond the change in zoning density, Avellaneda and Robinson were advocating for the Mixed-Use Overlay District in the industrial areas west of Chelsea High School – particularly at the Stop & Shop. That district was voted down due to it being lumped together with all the other changes, and its reconsideration was blocked March 22. On Monday, Ambrosino re-introduced it and it now goes through the long journey once again at the Planning Board and public hearings.

The chief concern is that the Stop & Shop is being demolished and a large mixed-use development is being built there in its place – a project already approved in Everett. On the Everett side of the property, the zoning is more favorable to the developer, and the object of the Overlay District was to try to salvage lost tax dollars as the buildings shifted more to the Everett side and less to the Chelsea side. When the store was built in 1999, former City Manager Jay Ash was able to convince the company to build on the Chelsea side and keep the parking lot on the Everett side – allowing Chelsea to reap lucrative tax dollars.

Avellaneda said by turning down reconsideration of that, Chelsea might have lost 145 affordable housing units and large amounts of property taxes.

“I tried to stress this, but this Council voted ‘no’ to affordable housing and ‘no’ to all these tax dollars,” he said. “When they go forward, they’re going to tear down the Stop & Shop and build everything on the Everett side. I don’t know if there’s time to salvage it, but developers do what they want…When I get a packet from the City Manager for all these expenditures for beautification, for scholarships and for senior citizens…and you say ‘no’ to a mixed-use overlay, you have to come back and connect the dots. If you say ‘no’ to that, then don’t come back here asking for money.”

Finally, he said he was upset by not being able to share information with the Council – as it was a simple handout that the body ruled out of order and a ‘Late Communication.’

“What I expected is we would have a debate and a discussion about all these items under reconsideration,” he said. “I had information and I wanted my colleague to have information – a handout. When we have meetings we get handouts all the time and they’re not considered communications.”

The zoning density for housing matters have not been proposed again by Ambrosino, as he said he was not “tone deaf” to the outcry against them. However, he has re-proposed the zoning changes for the mixed-use overlay and another commercial zoning change in Park Square.

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