By Cary Shuman and Adam Swift
After garnering a positive recommendation from the Planning Board last month, the developers of the public-private Veterans’ Home in Chelsea redevelopment project will be before the Zoning Board of Appeals for a potential final vote on a special permit on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
However, there are still some city officials and residents who live near the site of what has long been known as the Soldiers’ Home who still have concerns about the scope and specifics of the project.
There will be 241 units throughout the redeveloped property, and Pennrose representatives stated that all 121 veterans currently living on site will be able to remain on the property during construction and will have a place in one of the newly updated units.
Veterans will have 100 percent preference for the affordable units at the redeveloped Veterans’ Home, according to Karmen Cheung, a senior developer for Pennrose.
There will be centralized social services provided onsite provided by Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization that provides veterans services at similar locations, according to Pennrose.
Pennrose is preserving all nine buildings that are on the current Soldiers’ Home site, with the only scheduled demolition set for the one-story incinerator building.
The new construction for the project includes 18 units of townhouses, a two-story cafe and community building, and a new building on the east parcel at the corner of Hillside and Crest Avenue.
Several of those residents with concerns about the project gathered at City Hall on Monday evening to discuss their issues.
“We are neighbors to the Veterans Home at the top of Powder Horn Hill and we have a lot of concerns about the construction,” said Eleanor Road resident Constantinos Boussios. “One big concern is that we were never invited to be part of the plans. In fact, I
spoke on the phone with Abigail Vladeck, the director of DCAMM (Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance), and
I asked her why we were never invited to participate in the design of this project.”
According to Boussios, Vladkeck told him that the Zoning Board and Planning Board meetings are what the state considers to be the place for the neighbors to be heard.
“When something is about to affect our lives so dramatically, we were not invited to the table,” he said.
Boussios said he and some of the neighbors also have other concerns,including limited parking built for the buildings.
“There’s only going to be one parking spot for every two apartments,” he said. “It’s a recipe for disaster in the neighborhood.”
Eleanor Street resident Victor Tiernan said he was concerned about the services for the veterans that will be provided when the redevelopment is underway and completed.
“All the veterans that we have from Afghanistan, Iraq, and even the first Gulf War – that maybe the intensive care and support they will need as they age, and as the damage to their bodies becomes more and more of an issue to them, they’re going to need a lot of support,” said Tiernan. “And this model of studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, independent living – it’s going to be good for a portion of them, but there’s going to be a fair amount who won’t have anything in this model, and they’re kind of abandoned.”
City Council President Leo Robinson, a veteran himself, has been vocal about his concerns over the project, including the care of the veterans in the development.
“To me, the veterans are being negatively affected by this proposal,” said Robinson. “There are 125 veterans (and) I don’t see any guarantees on the table for any subsidy so far. I haven’t seen any communication between DCAMM, the Secretary of Veterans Services, and Pennrose.”
Robinson said the Secretary of Veterans Services should be advocating at Housing and Communities to make sure that the veterans are going to get subsidies.
Tiernan said he is also concerned about the potential loss of green space.
“Chelsea is a very dense place, and greenspace is very precious,” he said. “And we stand to lose a significant area of green space that is a precious pocket of land for the neighbors and the veterans. It’s got a view of the harbor, and we know that veterans go there for peace and quiet, and they want to put a 36-unit building and eliminate that whole area.”
Recently elected School Committee member Sarah Neville said she feels like the redevelopment is being pushed through without all the details being worked out.
“The thing I’m most concerned about is the fact that services are going to be removed from veterans because they’re changing the model,” said Neville. “They’re changing the model away from dormitory-style living – where you have three meals provided – to something that’s more independent, where each veteran has their own condo with a kitchen, and they’re responsible for cooking their own food.”
Neville said when asked what services are going to be provided and if there is going to be some sort of system for veterans who have relied on those prepared meals, the developers can’t say what the project will look like or what is going to happen.
“The people who are living there now – if they have services that they were expecting to receive for the rest of their lives pulled out from under them, what’s going to happen is they’re going to have to leave their homes,” said Neville. “Some of them will have to leave because they need a supported environment.”
At the beginning of last month’s Planning Board meeting, Robert Engell, the executive director of housing for the state’s Executive Office of Veterans Affairs and the acting superintendent of the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, spoke in support of the redevelopment project.
“We do believe it will be both transformational for our campus and supportive of our current resident veterans, as well as future generations of veterans who will be more comfortable in their own affordable housing units,” said Engell. “The Commonwealth does remain committed to serving our veterans and Chelsea and across the Commonwealth. The Community Living Center that just opened last week and this project are two leading developments that we are using to better meet the needs of veterans today and in the future.”
Engell said that all the veterans who currently live on the campus will have a place on the campus throughout construction and once the new space is developed.
The Executive Office of Veterans Affair will continue to work closely with Pennrose, and perform annual reviews to make sure the development is meeting the needs of the entire veterans population, Engell said.
But those with questions about the project said they still need more answers.
“We want to have some input in the project,” said Tiernan. “We want to support the project, but we feel like we’re being ignored.”