In what will be a keystone decision for the future of Everett Square, the City Council on Monday approved the vast and long-term Urban Renewal Plan (URP) for the Square – a plan that includes public amenities, eminent domain takings and street improvements over a period of 20 years.
The Council approved the URP for Everett Square by a vote of 7-2, with a few caveats that included oversight by the Council for any proposed land takings. Councilors Michael McLaughlin and Fred Capone voted against the URP as they said they didn’t have enough time to review it.
“The real goal is Braza Grill and the Bouvier Building that we’re targeting to do something there first,” said Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “We had meeting with them. Everyone has shown up. The only ones who have not shown up is the liquor store and the Middle Eastern restaurant that is empty… A lot of this came from meetings we had with the Council about doing something in the Square – working collaboratively to bring some vibrancy there.
He said the first piece of action is likely going to be along the left-hand side of Norwood Street and that corner. He said no businesses would be displaced if they want to stay.
“We want to put something out for the left side of Norwood Street,” he said. “To be able to put an RFP on the street with any teeth, we need to be approved for this plan…For instance, if we want to do an RFP on the street and we want to keep the 8/10 and Angelo’s Barber and the show repair, we just put that in there. We can RFP that they stay in there.”
City Planner Tony Sousa said it is all about creating momentum and getting the first investor to buy into the Square.
“It’s all about creating momentum,” he said. “If we get one major project, it builds momentum. We haven’t had a large project in the Square for so many years. All we need is one. I’m reminded of the Commercial Triangle and the EnVision Hotel…A couple projects with a new development will release a lot of momentum in the Square.”
The URP was the product of several other studies that were used as reference models, including the activation study done by Utile for the Square in 2016. The URP has 20 action items, some of them small things like reconfiguring the streets to actually taking property and rebuilding structures.
The concept plan proposes for the Everett Redevelopment Authority (ERA) to acquire 29 properties or portions of properties and transfer 11 municipal properties to the ERA. That assemblage of property would result in 10 parcels ready for redevelopment.
The plan also recommends that 10 new buildings be constructed on those parcels, and that 18 existing properties be rehabilitated.
Another key part of the plan focuses on the schools in the area, including the Whittier School and the Old High School. DeMaria said they are thinking about taking the pre-school overflow classrooms at the Old High School and at the Webster School and combining them with the Whittier in a new building. He said that would open up new sites for development in the corridor.
Mayor DeMaria said there were no homes identified in the plan to be taken, except for one home on Hosmer that had asked to be included in the URP.
“I don’t think we’ve identified any homes from the circle down except the one on Hosmer,” he said, noting that no families were going to be removed from their homes and forced out.
Several councilor were in favor of the proposal.
Councilor Wayne Matewsky said it was time to move forward on improving the Square.
“I can say the (Bouvier Building) is a blight,” he said. “That isn’t an insult to anyone. I have a vested interest. I want the City to move forward.”
However, many in the audience that had come to speak on the plan were against it.
Sal Sacro, owner of Sacro Plaza in the Square, said he did not want his property involved in the URP. The plan had included an empty retail space on his building’s first floor as part of the plan, but he said he didn’t want to have government dictating what he does with the property.
“We’d like to participate in revitalizing Everett Square and bringing some subsidy to Everett, but we don’t want somebody taking control of our first-floor property and having the authority to convert it to condos.”
Sacro’s first-floor space was later taken out of the URP before the Council voted to approve.
Resident Gerly Adrien said she is worried about luxury housing replacing and displacing people who live in the Square now.
“I sadly oppose this,” she said. “The idea of having luxury condos concerns me. Gentrification is real. I’m nervous families I know and grew up with will be pushed out further where there is no public transportation…I want to make sure we keep Everett our city. Our city where we live and not a city where other people can come in and control it.”
Samantha Lambert said she has been to many of the ERA meetings on the Square, and hoped that there might be more opportunities for small business and retail. She said she hopes it doesn’t turn into several national franchises that destroy the historic integrity of the Square.
“I remember taking my money down to Albie every week at Everett Music,” she said. “That’s really what I would like to see in the community so it’s not just franchises. My fear is it could be Station Landing or Assembly Row along Broadway Everett and that would destroy the integrity of Everett Square.”
The plan now is submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), where they will have 60 days to review it and make a decision on it.
If approved, DeMaria said the City would begin taking actions on some of the initial steps in the plan.