Likely, the next gold mine in Everett is buried under the toxicity of 60 years of heavy industry beyond the Parkway, but the City is now attempting to sift through the sand to get to the gold.
As often happens, the future of a huge swath of the City’s most promising property – property that was once forgotten – began to be pounded out in a small conference room at City Hall Monday before the Planning Board.
At stake was the very essence of the City’s future – what and how the industrial Commercial Triangle on the Parkway would be formed in the future as development interests ready to invest major capital tug at an area that has now become highly desirable for more than industry.
As member Leo Pizzano Jr. said – and has said in the past, “Everett has been discovered.”
To keep up with the pace of development and the transformation of the City – particularly in the areas closest to Boston and Chelsea, the City presented its long-anticipated zoning changes for the Commercial Triangle. The Triangle was subject to a Master Plan process in 2015 and 2016, clueing everyone in on what will be coming. The area is bordered by the Parkway, Everett Avenue and the train tracks.
Planner Tony Sousa and ISD Director Jim Soper presented the 97-acre Commercial Triangle Economic Development District (CTEDD) plan to the Board, and also included a zoning change for the other side of the Parkway to prevent “mistakes” such as the new, large self-storage facility now being constructed against the preferences of the City.
For the Triangle, Soper and Sousa said they don’t want to just bring in huge numbers of apartments, but really create a new neighborhood of the City that can thrive on its own, attracting those passing by and those from other parts of Everett. They also were very clear in saying any use that is currently operating there can stay under a grandfathered provision, though they would become non-conforming uses if the District is enacted. That means they would need approvals for expansion or changes, where they don’t now.
“The economy of the area will see how that all works out with retail, office and residential,” said Soper. “There isn’t going to be a dry cleaner in every building, but rather many different uses. We’re really hoping a village is built there.”
To do that, the City is proposing some loose, but specific, regulations for the district to establish boundaries before any more speculation takes place for the area – which already has a hotel, a major luxury apartment building being constructed, and talk of more residential projects.
“We prefer to have a mixed-use area and we’ve put in some regulations so we don’t just bring in residential,” said Soper. “We’d like to have a situation where we have offices, restaurants, retail spaces and all within the same structure. We’re not going to tell people what floor things should be on or how to stack it, but we would like to require mixed-uses.”
Sousa and Soper said to promote this they would propose that a residential project over 50 units could be built by right if the developer has 12.5 sq. ft. of retail, office or restaurant uses per unit of housing. To qualify though, the development must be on abutting parcels.
Sousa said another ‘by-right’ feature of the district includes allowing business offices, banks, financial services, research/development facilities, retail services, and inside entertainment/recreation that are 15,000 square-feet or less. They said an example of that size would be half of the Best Buy store on Santilli Circle.
“We feel 15,000 square-feet is the right number to do this by right,” said Soper.
Special Permits would be granted for other uses like multi-family developments without retail (50 units per acre minimum), hotels, restaurants/fast food, and any of the above mentioned uses that are more than 15,000 sq. ft.
Another use allowed by Special Permit is a parking facility.
“You might see some in the future come to the City and purchase lots for parking,” said Sousa. “People will be coming here to that area to get on the Silver Line. We don’t’ want to discourage that, but we’re giving the Planning Board the ability to give relief or not.”
Some prohibited uses would be: adult entertainment, self-storage, warehouses, truck terminals, fuel stations, auto repair, auto parts distribution/sales, scrap yards, outside manufacturing, smoke shops, tattoo/piercing parlors, gun shops, motels, pawn brokers, mobile homes, check cashers, billboards and animal slaughter houses.
For the dimensions, requirements would be 50 feet of frontage and no front yards.
That brought up some questions from the Board, and the City said it was trying to create a straight line of businesses to the sidewalk.
“We want to activate businesses on a line down the sidewalk,” said Soper. “That attracts people in and prevents parking in front of the building. We want to see parking behind the building or in an accessory lot.”
Pizzano said he would like to see some measure allowed for some breakup of that design element so that a developer could put in a canopy or choose to have a small grassy area in front.
Building heights would be allowed by right up to 70 feet, but a Special Permit would be needed for anything 71 to 100 feet tall. Nothing over 100 feet would be permitted.
Parking would be governed by existing standards (two spaces per unit in most sections), but one exception would be for studio units that would have 0.5 spaces per studio.
Soper and Sousa said they are leaning towards creating a very dense area in the Commercial Triangle, which was evidenced from the regulations for Floor Area Ratio (FAR). A builder can build an FAR of 3.5:1 by right and up to 6:1 by Special Permit – a very dense development standard as compared to the existing apartment district that is 1:1.
An though many things are allowed by right within the boundaries, all of those uses still would be subject to a Planning Board Site Plan Review process.
One point of contention for Pizzano, as well, was the re-introduction of drive-thrus for fast food establishments.
He said they eliminated that once before, and now it has come back as an option.
“The drive thru is an issue we thought we had solved,” he said. “We don’t want to deny it and have to give a reason and do a traffic study when we don’t have to. It’s opening up a possibility…By eliminating the drive-thru altogether, we take it off the table.”
The Planning Board voted to continue the matter to its next meeting on June 25, citing that the proposal was very involved and they needed to study it further.
If the Board recommends the change, it would proceed to the City Council. After a 30-day notice period, the Council could vote on it. Adoption of the new district would require a two-thirds vote of the Council.
- The second change was less sweeping, but still a very important piece in adjusting the Parkway to the current development climate.
Soper said a small portion of the Parkway near the Stadium includes a rogue Industrial District – which allows buildings by right up to 100 feet tall and is the reason the self-storage company was allowed to come in and begin constructing its new facility on a very prized piece of land. It was a project the City did not support, but due to the misplaced zoning, could not stop.
“We’d like to see that stopped from happening,” Soper said.
“Certainly times have changed so this amendment would bring things up to speed,” he continued. “Heavy industry directly abutting the apartment district and even the business district does not fit.”
The matter was continued by a vote of 4-1, with Chair Fred Cafasso voted against the continuance. The next Planning Board meeting will be Monday, June 25.