After more than 10 years of inaction, the Caddy Farms project in North Revere got a groundbreaking zoning change at Monday night’s City Council meeting, much to the displeasure of scores of Saugus residents who were in attendance.
The Council voted 10-1 to approve the new zoning, which will make the Caddy Farms land and a couple of privately owned parcels into a Highway Business District – hopefully capitalizing on a newly proposed direct access point to Rt. 1.
Councillor Stephen Reardon voted against the measure.
A spirited Zoning Committee meeting under Councillor Reardon took place in advance of the Council meeting, with numerous Saugus residents proclaiming that the new zoning – going from a residential district to a highway business district – would destroy their neighborhood.
The Caddy Farms location has been owned by the DiNanno family of Malden for some 50 years, but has been maintained as a wooded, vacant parcel of about 19 acres. The unique aspect of the project is that the only access to the Revere territory is by going through numerous quiet, residential streets in Saugus.
The City of Revere has fought back many proposals from the DiNanno Family for the land over the last 10 years, including a single-family home development and a large affordable housing apartment complex.
As introduced at the public hearing, the new twist on Caddy Farms is that there is possible Rt. 1 access through property owned by a trust controlled by Revere developer Stephen Ciambelli. That kind of access would open the 28 acres of vacant land up to possible large commercial projects.
City Councillors have maintained that such a change would be in the best interests of Revere taxpayers, and could unlock some major new commercial tax revenues.
Saugus residents have just as unyieldingly proclaimed that the change will ruin their quiet neighborhood.
Though many tried not to let things go that way, the discussion ended up being a Saugus versus Revere issue.
During the meeting a selectman from Saugus proclaimed that he and the rest of the board were prepared to do whatever it took to protect the interests of Saugus – which could include blocking approvals for access to Rt. 1.
“The project definitely has to get access to Rt. 1; that’s the only way we’ll allow this to happen,” said Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Patch. “I understand where the Saugus residents are coming from, but we stressed at the meeting more than once that there is no way those side streets in Saugus will be used for any potential development there. It’s just not possible, but I don’t think we could get through to them.”
Patch also said that if the Rt. 1 access is not attained, he would advocate for leaving the property vacant.
In another twist on the matter, there was a great deal of discussion about the fact that the Revere Planning Board had voted unfavorably on the zoning change.
One piece of the puzzle in the change was that the DiNanno Family had asked – through their attorney Larry Simeone – to put an exemption on the Highway Business district that would allow residential development only if there were 10 contiguous acres of land – and then only by special permit. Currently, Highway Business does not permit residential development, but at the same time the DiNanno’s can build an affordable housing project on the land by right and without any zoning changes.
Simeone said they were looking at the exemption as a compromise.
Councillor Reardon called for an amendment to be added to the zoning change that would up the acreage from 10 to 30, which was suggested by City Planner and Planning Board Clerk Frank Stringi.
Simeone then proceeded to call it an 11th hour change that put a gun to their heads. He also said that Stringi had acted in the most unprofessional way he had ever seen at the Planning Board meeting last week.
“He all but called it a pipe dream,” charged Simeone. “He made more representations in one sitting than in the 35 years I’ve observed him…It was probably the least professional I’ve ever seen a city planner in my career as an attorney. It was sad.”
Reardon countered that Stringi’s suggestion was actually made in October, and not at the 11th hour.
In the end, the amendment failed, and when Reardon tried to block it through Parliamentary Procedure, his protest came about one second after the gavel had been pounded.
So, instead of the measure being tabled for a week based on that protest, it was instead allowed to go up for a vote.
At that point, it prevailed 10-1.
The DiNanno family intends to work on getting Rt. 1 access and then begin marketing the property to potential commercial developers.
Councillors, attorney say contributions made no difference
In the 10-month period that the DiNanno Family has been working on their Caddy Farms zoning change with City officials, they have also – for the first time in recent history – given the maximum campaign contribution to seven of the 11 sitting City Councillors.
City Councillors and the family attorney, Larry Simeone, said that the contributions had zero influence on the vote, which took place Monday night.
“Of the 22 years I’ve been doing this, I can remember no contribution to any city councillor that made the vote any different than it might have been,” he said. “Nearly 80 percent of that money goes back to charities and groups in the city. When a businessperson comes to the city, I recommend they make a donation to the campaign because it helps the charities the city councillors help. Ultimately, they follow that advice…If any businessperson thinks that by giving to a councillor they are changing votes, they are sadly mistaken. I believe that.”
The Caddy Farms project has routinely been opposed by the City and by City Councillors for the past several years, mostly because it was strictly residential. A new twist has taken the property towards a more palatable commercial use, but at the same time, campaign contributions also began to come in.
In July, as the project was in its formative stages with the City, Joe DiNanno gave the maximum annual contribution, $500, to Councillors John Correggio, Arthur Guinasso, Bob Haas, Stephen Reardon, Charlie Patch, Dan Rizzo and Tony Zambuto.
None of those councillors received campaign contributions from DiNanno in either 2010 or 2009.
Reardon voted against the project on Monday, while all of the others who got contributions voted for it.
Meanwhile, Councillors Ira Novoselsky, Richard Penta, George Rotondo, and John Powers did not receive those campaign contributions. They did, however, vote in favor of the project.
Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Patch said the contributions are a show of support for the community rather than any kind of vote swaying instrument.
“No, that doesn’t affect my decision at all,” he said. “That just helps me support the community. Whatever money I get just goes to youth groups, churches groups and high school groups…That contribution has nothing to do with the development. If this isn’t the right development when they get something more concrete before us, I will still vote against it if it’s not right for Ward 6.”
The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) said that accepting a campaign contribution from someone with pending business before the City is perfectly legal.
“The Campaign Finance Law would not prohibit such a contribution,” said Jason Tait of OCPF.
Meanwhile, an inquiry into the state’s Conflict of Interest Law also shows that it is a perfectly acceptable practice. It is allowed because contributions go to a campaign committee and not directly to the candidate.