The City Council voted to postpone a vote on the Urban Renewal Plan (URP) amendment for Lower Broadway that would include the power to take some private properties on Mystic Street, with most councilors signaling they would not support taking occupied property but would support giving the power to take the old Power Plant site on the waterfront.
The amendment is far-reaching and got approval by the Planning Board in concept a few weeks ago, and came before the City Council two times since then – once on June 23 and then on June 30. At stake is the redevelopment of the eastern side of Broadway into the Everett Entertainment Destination District, a vague plan for future development that could include anything from a stadium to a theatre and would likely by, or in combination with, the Encore Boston Harbor casino across the street.
The matter was postponed on June 30 to a Special Meeting that is called for Thursday, July 8.
Two property owners highlighted the June 30 meeting, noting their properties were on the list of four properties that could potentially be taken by Eminent Domain if the Council approves the amendment. They said their properties are not “blighted” and that they would not voluntarily leave so the casino could enrich itself.
Stephen Bosco, who owns 23 Mystic St. and lists a home address in Holyoke, said he had bought the home there more than 20 years ago and put everything he had into improving it – including climbing ladders and fixing things himself. Now, he offers the apartments in the home for reasonable rates to people that need a good place to live.
He said the plan is an embarrassment.
“I went up on a ladder and replaced trim and sided it, put in new windows and sanded paint off the floors and did it all myself,” he said. “I’m proud of what I did…I’ve read the URP closely and if I can be frank, I think it’s embarrassing…I don’t think it’s right to take someone’s home and turn it over to the casino…I would be embarrassed to do that if I were sitting in your seat…This amendment does exactly that – to take over someone’s property and turn it over to the casino.”
Rocco Vigorito, of Saugus, said he has business properties that are on the list that could be taken on Mystic Street. He said he’s run businesses on Lower Broadway since 1980, and said he wouldn’t want his property taken by Eminent Domain.
“For Eminent Domain, I don’t agree with that at all,” he said. “I would be embarrassed as well if I were the Council. I’ve been in Everett since 1970 and I’ve been running businesses on Lower Broadway since 1982. I don’t think it would be fair to take something away from me to give to someone else so they could benefit. I don’t think it’s for the benefit of the City. If the casino will benefit, I don’t think they should have the ability to take my property and do what they want and have us out in the cold so to speak.”
The amendment to the URP is one that focuses primarily on the Station Parcel, which is the unused, 40-acre parcel that the power plant once used, but no longer uses. The plan, according to Jamie Fay of Ft. Point Associates, would focus on redeveloping that parcel, as well as the three on Mystic Street – encouraging higher uses achieved through private deals and not Eminent Domain. However, Mayoral Chief of Staff Erin Deveney said to make the amendment conform to law, the power of Eminent Domain had to be disclosed as a future possibility.
She said when drawing up the amendment, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and the administration wanted to take out the part about Eminent Domain and had concerns about it, but legally could not do that. She said while Eminent Domain is a possibility, it isn’t the goal of the plan.
“Because the URP amendment would give the City that opportunity, it does need to be disclosed,” she said. “The intent of the plan is not to proceed with the Eminent Domain process. The intent of the plan is to give the City the opportunity to entertain private development that would look to change some uses that exist in the area now that reasonably could be agreed that they are not the highest and best uses of that property. At one time, it may have been, but there has been property in the area that could be re-developed for different and higher uses for the City. For Eminent Domain, it has to be identified as part of the plan, but it is not the goal and objective of the City.”
There has been a great deal of discussion lately about what, if any, plans that Encore and other partners might have unofficially for the parking lots and the remaining private properties on the east side of Broadway. While nothing is official, Mayor DeMaria has recently suggested there are some pretty interesting plans being discussed unofficially now, and as far back as when the casino was in construction, Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox disclosed to construction workers that they hoped to own or partner with others to create a destination district for the entirety of Lower Broadway.
“The Administration is aware that with development that has happened around Broadway, there is interest to develop the other side,” said Deveney. “We are aware Wynn Development has had conversations and made offers to remaining property owners, but ultimately any plan is going to be contingent on what the City end up approving…There’s absolutely interest in developing what there…”
Many Councilors were not happy with the idea of an Eminent Domain taking being included in the amendment, and particularly to potentially advance the plans of the casino.
“The word blighted is the wrong word to use because it casts dispersions on these folks and that’s not the right thing to do,” said Councilor John Hanlon. “Before we do anything further with this, we need to fully understand the entire process with Eminent Domain takings.”
Said Councilor Fred Capone, who represents that area, “If you take this plan to its logical conclusion and if there is resistance, (Eminent Domain) is going to be the last resort. I find it very distasteful you would take private property from one owner and utilize it for gain for someone else. I can’t find anything more repulsive than that in the realm of public trust. I’m not opposed to redevelopment down there, especially at the Station Parcel…but anything taking private property for someone else, that should raise an antenna.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he was also uncomfortable with it.
“I’m totally against Eminent Domain,” he said. “We’re not voting on Eminent Domain takings tonight, but it sure opens the floodgates down there for Eminent Domain. That’s the direction this plan would take…If it’s not tonight, it will be another night.”
Said Councilor Gerly Adrien, “When I hear Urban Renewal, I hear people being pushed out and that’s what’s going to happen with this person’s home and the person with the businesses and that scares me.”
Also speaking against the idea of Eminent Domain in the plan were Councilors Michael Marchese, and Rich Dell Isola – as well as Councilor Rosa DiFlorio, who said she approved of the amendment but would not vote for Eminent Domain takings in the future.
It is believed under the amendment that any takings would have to come before the Council, but there was also some skepticism about that from Capone – who said potentially a fully funded Everett Redevelopment Authority could take those properties without Council approval.
“If that’s an option available, we’ll be pushed out of the picture,” he said. “I’ve seen this City Council pushed out of the picture too many times and I don’t want to see it again.”
The Council did indicate it would support the amendment, with Eminent Domain powers, but only if the Mystic Street properties were removed. That mean they would support the amendment only with the Station Parcel included.
No action was taken and the matter will be discussed on July 8.