The RiverFront Overlay District proposal, part of the RiverFront Master Plan that will transform 20 acres of waterfront land into a new development and re-establish the “northern gateway to the city,” will remain in the Council’s Zoning Subcommittee after a dramatic and unexpected 3-3 deadlock at Monday’s meeting.
The Planning Board had earlier approved the overlay district at its Feb. 25 meeting.
After hearing councilors praise developer Damian Szary of Redgate for his other successful properties that have risen in Revere and his plans for the G and J Towing site, the matter came down to the sixth and final vote by Ward 4 Councilor and Subcommittee Chair Patrick Keefe, who joined members, Ward 6 Councilor Richard Serino and Councilor Gerry Visconti, in voting against the approval of the overlay district.
Council President Anthony Zambuto, Councilor-at-Large Jessica Giannino, and Ward 3 Councilor Arthur Guinasso voted in favor of the overlay district.
Early in the one-hour meeting, Ward 1 Councilor Joanne McKenna said she was originally opposed to one of Redgate’s now-successful and aesthetically pleasing developments (One Beachmont) because of traffic and other concerns, but she has since come to admire the beautiful residential building and the adjacent Holiday Inn Express that has also greatly enhanced the former Shaw’s (and Cerretani’s) property).
Council President Anthony Zambuto said he was the deciding vote on the One Beachmont project. “I did what was best for the city. I think it’s a beautiful project as all the projects this developer has done,” said Zambuto. “So I’m totally comfortable that the site is going to be transformed as the whole area is going to be transformed by this [RiverFront] Master Plan. I think it’s going to be gorgeous and this project will be no different than any project that Damian has been involved with and so I’m comfortable with supporting this tonight. In this business, respect is earned, and you [Damian] have certainly earned it.”
Ward 5 Councilor John Powers, who has been a strong supporter for the project and the construction of a community boating center on the adjacent Thayer Area boatyard property, said he was “100 percent” behind the new overlay district.
But the momentum of the discussion shifted after Tapley Avenue resident Eric Lampedecchio, a member of the Riverfront Development Advisory Group, delivered his remarks.
Though Lampedecchio initially praised the project as “truly incredible and absolutely transformative to that part of the city,” he then raised a number of concerns about the property, including the number of residential units that will be constructed on the G and J Towing property.
Lampedecchio cited as concerns: the existing flooding in the area and the project’s impact, the noise created by the construction, the lack of general awareness (public relations) and the need for a neighborhood meeting, the necessity for the new Point of Pines fire station to be built, the number of residential units and parking spaces on the property.
“And this is my personal feeling – this whole conversation about the Overlay District is premature,” concluded Lampedecchio.
Chief Planner Frank Stringi countered that “all these other elements are very important and they are all in motion right now.”
“We will have an appraisal very shortly on the boatyard site,” said Stringi. “Once we have an appraisal, we are teed up with the Economic Seaport Council for funding to go after grants through them and a number of other sources to construct that maritime center on that site.”
He said the city is also pursuing grants for the roundabout transportation issues, park improvements, and a comprehensive flood protection and resiliency plan for the area.
Keefe said his concerns with the project are “the city’s side of it.”
“We’re talking about this notion of purchasing land to convert – I imagine it’s dirty land and I imagine it’s going to take a lot of time to remedy that land and make it usable to the public, especially for recreational space – what’s the cost of it and what’s the price of purchasing this type of land?” asked Keefe.
“This isn’t personal. The public doesn’t move as quickly as the private, we have a lot of steps to go through,” said Keefe. “So I just don’t know if there are enough assurances to say, ‘hey, we’re going to go forward and this park is going to be in immaculate condition before those units open up’.”
In other remarks, Keefe did praise Redgate, “who has been nothing less than a terrific partner. The entire process has been top notch. But we have an obligation to protect and secure assurances on the whole project. That’s my only intention and concerns at this point.”
Szary told the subcommittee that Redgate is going through an extensive permitting process with the state as it relates to MEPA and Chapter 91. “Nothing is being done, but without the zoning approved, we cannot even start the MEPA process,” said Szary. “We can’t do anything. Everything is going to stall. This is the first step toward a long line of other things that need to happen, so I just wanted to make everyone aware of that. This is not an approval of the project. The public-benefit stuff that has been expressed tonight is equally important to us and everything is moving forward as quickly as we can. And we have a lot of confidence because we have great team working on it, both publicly and privately.”
Bob O’Brien, director of strategic planning and community development, said of the project, “We are not basing our plans on hope. We are basing our hope on plans. We are not naive about the issues that have been raised.”
O’Brien cautioned the committee that “in my own professional opinion that if this overlay district does not get improved, everything that you want to happen for the rest of the Master Plan will be fundamentally compromised.
“If it is approved, all of those goals will be advanced – if it is not, they might well be lost,” concluded O’Brien.
Despite O’Brien eloquent summation, the Zoning Committee voted 3-3, thus denying the approval of amending the ordinances relative to the establishment of the Revere Riverfront Overlay District and halting the advancement of the proposal to the City Council for a vote.
“This ordinance will remain in committee,” stated City Clerk Ashley Melnik.
The Zoning Subcommittee will hold a special meeting on Monday, March 15. Subcommittee meetings are usually held before City Council meetings, but the Council’s next meeting isn’t until March 22.