By Seth Daniel
The Zoning Board of Appeals denied zoning relief to the ABCD Head Start program that would have allowed them to build a playground in a current parking lot on Victoria Street behind Everett Square – a piece of relief that would have unlocked the organization’s ability to expand its services to low-income families in Everett.
The Board voted 0-5 to deny the proposal, saying it just wasn’t the right place for a pre-school/daycare center.
“It’s a tough spot,” said Member Michael Dantone. “You want to help the City out, but you’re not helping the neighborhood. If you were a parent who needed this daycare, especially, you would be all for this. We have to consider that too. But it is a tough spot.”
“This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to speak against,” said Councilor Michael McLaughlin, who represents part of the Square. “The organization is great. They can do nothing wrong, but the site just doesn’t make sense. We want to work with them. I hope we can work with them to find another site.”
Peter Solaro of ABCD explained that the organization took over for Tri-Cap three years ago when that organization folded, and now ABCD operates the Head Start program in Everett. Head Start is a federal program offering daycare school and pre-school for low-income children up to age 5, and in Everett, there is quite a waiting list.
Solaro said they were able to leverage federal and state funding to expand their current 20-student school on Liberty Street. The expansion would accommodate 60 students from ages 2-5 and 16 students that are infants and toddler.
The idea was to put the expanded facility at 11 Vitoria St., which is the old Malatesta Market. However, due to state regulations about outdoor recreation for Head Start students, the school needs to have a 2,000 sq. ft. playground, and ABCD was proposing to take their eight-spot parking lot and turn it into a playground and drop-off area.
The plan called for 10 teachers and hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the additional funding was a $2.5 million grant over three years.
Solaro said neighbors on Victoria Street supported the plan, as did the School Department.
However, not all neighbors agreed, and certain the business community and elected officials didn’t agree.
Arthur Bernardino owns commercial property next door, and said losing parking in the Square is not going to work.
“To take parking away and put pressure on the existing parking that is saturated by people working and going to shop in the Square isn’t a good thing,” he said. “If they had to take a couple of spots, ok, but not eight. Head Start is a fantastic program, but do it in the property the way it is, or if you can’t, find another place…It’s a business district and a business community there.”
Councilor Rosa DiFlorio also opposed the plan.
“This is really not the area for that,” she said. “It’s hard to go against this, but it’s a dangerous situation there.”
Councilor Richard Dell Isola said he was also against it, and suggested looking into taking the children to a nearby City park instead.
Solaro said they looked all over the city, and were assisted by the Mayor’s Office and others. He said the property values are so high that they are restricted as to where they could go. Victoria Street, he said, was one of the only options that made sense.
“They were showing us places down on Second Street,” he said. “That wasn’t going to work.”
Building Inspector Jim Soper said the school can locate there by right, but they cannot build the playground without the ZBA approval.