Zoning Board Questions How Much More Development Can the City of Everett Take

By Seth Daniel

It was about 9:15 p.m. in a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting that had started at 7 p.m. when the City seemed to hit its tipping point.

That proverbial tipping point has been teetering for quite some time, but the fruits of success that have come Everett’s way in the form of numerous newly proposed developments finally collided Monday, with a new 26-unit apartment building on the bike path squaring off against the quality of life of a tight-knit group of residents on the dead-end Laurel Street.

It was to the point where ZBA Chair Joe DeSisto breeched the question.

“My opinion is the City of Everett is facing it’s most critical time since it became a City and it all has to do with dealing with success,” he said. “You’re seeing it tonight. We’ve been seeing it in the numbers of units. How we deal with success will determine if we’re successful or the City fails. That’s why you have developers coming in. They see success. The problem is neighbors are being hurt by this success…The question for our elected officials and this Board is, ‘When is enough going to be enough in affected these people’s lives (with new development)?’”

That lynchpin moment all came to a head due to a 26-unit apartment building development, with 41 of 52 required parking spots, proposed by Belmont’s Jeremy Seeger on Laurel Street – a small dead-end street off Tileston Street. The project would replace a single-family home and a noxious fuel oil truck depot, but the problem for an huge number of neighbors who showed up was how it would affect quality of life.

The opposition came from a dozen or so neighbors on the cozy street – which they said is nearly impossible to navigate now, let alone with more residents.

One of the more outspoken residents was Josiah Christian, who was at his first public meeting ever. Having moved from Dorchester with his family five years ago, the police officer said he left Boston to get away from buildings. Now, one was threatening the wonderful way of life he found with his neighbors on Laurel Street in Everett.

“I’m not a big fan of the oil trucks that are there,” he said. “I wish we had the opportunity or a say in the type of building there. We need homes, single-family homes there, not buildings. Buildings do not belong on that street…This is very, very important to me. This is my first time attending a town meeting whether in Everett or Boston. This is really very, very important to us…I am out with my three kids if this gets approved.”

A long line of neighbors also opposed the matter.

“I’ve seen our neighborhood change a lot in the 16 years I’ve been there, but this just tops it off,” said Carlos Hernandez.

“The neighborhood is saturated already, and this type of development worries me,” said Lucia Gomez of Laurel Street. “There is no extra space now. There’s no way to go in if someone is coming out. You have to wait on Tileston Street for a person to go out before you can go in.”

Arthur Bernardino, a businessman with property in Everett Square, said the parking deficit should not be tolerated.

“We need to follow the ordinances the way they are written,” said Bernardino. “They want to put 26 units in and wedge parking down the neighbors’ throats.”

Later, that elicited some pointed comments from Planning Board member Leo Pizzano Jr., who was in the audience and has been critical of the ZBA on occasion.

“This stops when this Board stops handing out parking variances,” he said loudly from the back of the room during discussion. “Excuse me for interrupting, but this Board is at fault – not the people and not the developers.”

Attorney Anthony Rossi represented Seegers, and he called for the matter to be tabled so a neighborhood meeting could take place. Even so, he said the developer is trying to work with the community and is only responding to the zoning that was put in place along the Bike Path some years ago.

“There’s a reason why that zoning was passed,” he said. “This is what the City wants to see. This is the product of success – the success of Everett. This is the intent that was in the Master Plan…They passed the 65-foot height limit, we didn’t. They passed the 70 units per acre, we didn’t. He’s a developer that actually tries. He wanted to work with the City and reduced the units.”

Rossi said Seegers can build a 20-unit building with three-bedroom and four-bedroom units by right without any public input due to the zoning that is now in place there. However, after getting City input, Seegers reduced the bedrooms to all two-bedroom and one-bedroom units – while also increasing the parking spots to 41 (with eight of them being for compact cars).

He said the area on the bike path lends to people who don’t have cars, and that there might be spaces that are empty.

The community meeting will be held in the next few weeks with the developer, Rossi said, and they expect to return to the ZBA on Oct. 16.

  • The Louis DeSanto family on Lexington Street was approved 5-0 to subdivide their large lot that contains two, two-family homes in order to sell to family members.

The matter appeared before the ZBA at the last meeting, but was tabled due to concerns by the Fire Chief over the width of the driveway. Since that time, the family took the initiative to widen the driveway to the prescribed width and then come back to the Board.

“We’re trying to figure out solutions to try to keep the property in the family and my youngest daughter wants to buy a part, but cannot afford it all…We’re doing the best we know how to divide this and keep it in the family,” said one of the family members.

Numerous neighbors supported the effort, as did many who were in the audience on other matters. The final vote brought tears to the family’s eyes, as they said the property has been in the family 100 years.

  • Three-family homes continue to plague property owners at the ZBA, with two requests coming before the Board for properties sold as one thing, but being another in the City records.

Attorney Al Farese Jr. appeared for Jean Baptiste of 207-209 Linden St. to convert a two-family to a three family, but found the petition denied 0-5. The property, he said, had been used as a 3-family since the 1920s before City inspectors ordered Baptiste to remove the third unit in 2009 and resume the legal two-family use. Since that time, Farese said, Baptiste has been saving his money to file with the ZBA for a conversion. Neighbors, however, were not pleased with the conversion due to the parking situation on the street.

Baptiste had been paying taxes for a three-family home since buying it in 2009.

Meanwhile, Sergio Morales of 863-865 Broadway was denied 1-4  by the ZBA to convert what he has thought was a three-family for the past 10 years. The legal two-family has been used as a three for many years until he was informed of the discrepancy by City inspectors last year. On Monday, he was trying to make the home into a legal three-family, with him occupying the first floor.

Members did not see the hardship in the matter, however, and denied him the right to convert.

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