By Adam Swift
Councillors and residents are taking steps to make sure city neighborhoods do not have to face the type of development recently proposed for Arcadia Street.
At Monday night’s meeting, Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo introduced a motion asking the mayor to request the city’s state legislators bring into question the Dover Amendment. That legislation has been on the books since 1950, and was used by developers to try to build a 24-bed homeless resource facility at 84 Arcadia St. under the definition of an educational facility.
Under the Dover Amendment, the developers would not have needed special City Council or zoning approval to build the facility. But the Oak Island neighborhood banded together to protest the development and worked with the developers and their attorney to return to a five-unit townhouse proposal for the property.
“This motion was put in in response to a project that was proposed down on Arcadia Street,” said Rizzo. “The neighborhood pulled together like nothing I have ever seen and made their voices heard in virtually every single corner that they could possibly have access to, and ultimately worked out an agreement with the owner of the property … to look at alternative plans, which, God willing, the City Council will be supporting in the not-too-distant future.”
Rizzo said it was a situation where the council wants to help people who need it, but that the city has to be more strategic about where it places facilities like the one that was proposed for Arcadia Street.
He also noted that the Dover Amendment, which stipulates that educational and religious facilities be given more favorable treatment than other uses, was enacted during different times.
“I just think that the legislature, I don’t have any specific suggestions to the legislature unfortunately, but I know that it needs to be tweaked,” said Rizzo. “Right now, I think we are in a situation where if developers know that if they can implement the Dover Amendment in virtually any neighborhood that they want to build in, they can use this as leverage to get what they want to go forward with plans that might otherwise be declined by a local city council.”
Rizzo said the amendment needs to be looked at so that other neighbors and residents don’t find themselves in the situation the Arcadia Street neighborhood found itself in.
Ward 5 Councillor John Powers said he supported Rizzo’s motion, and also suggested that there be a way to better notify residents when a project under the jurisdiction of the Dover Amendment or similar act is proposed.
Councillor-at-Large Steven Morabito noted that there should be some more detail about proposed changes to the amendment when it is sent to the legislature. He also said that cities should have more control when development is proposed for a residential dead-end street.
“I think getting in front of our state delegation is an absolute must,” said Council President Patrick Keefe. “We get threatened all the time, people come up and say we are going to do a 40B (affordable housing development). Up until a month ago, I didn’t know what the Dover Amendment really was, I don’t think half the council really knew what it was.”
After Keefe and other councillors read up on the amendment, Keefe said it was definitely something that needs to be adjusted for current times.
“We hate being threatened by ‘this is going to happen and you have no say,’” said Keefe. “Every community, every direct abutter, when they buy a home … when they buy a business, should have a direct say in what happens next door to them, because it’s not right.”
Keefe and several other councillors said they were glad the Arcadia Street neighbors were able to have their voices heard and worked together with the city and the developer to stop the project.
While the homeless facility looks to be off the books for Arcadia Street, many of those neighbors said they will continue to work together and are forming a new Oak Island Neighborhood Association to address issues in the neighborhood.
“From the beginning of this, my feelings have always been that we should take care of our most vulnerable and put them in a location where they can succeed,” said Arcadia Street resident Stephen Fiore. “Arcadia Street is a thickly settled neighborhood full of kids and seniors with no grocery store, drug store, or hospitals nearby to access for those men and women. We are so excited that the developer and the city chose to go a different direction with this facility.”
Fiore said it was a neighborhood-wide effort to help make the change, with hundreds of emails, phone calls, text messages and a social media campaign that the entire neighborhood took part in. He also thanked all the elected officials who worked behind the scenes and negotiated for the neighbors during the process.
“I am still a little disappointed in how this process was handled regarding the lack of transparency and community input,” stated Fiore. “We are the residents, the taxpayers, and this is our neighborhood. At bare minimum we should be notified of what could potentially be going on in our neighborhood. The next time any project is in the pipeline, we can only hope that the residents of Oak Island are included in the process.”
One of the positives of the effort was that everyone came together as a neighborhood, planting the seeds for the Oak Island Neighborhood Association, which held an initial meeting last Saturday.
“This is in hopes that something like this can never ever happen again without the neighbors having input,” said Fiore. “The neighbors hope they can potentially have a seat at the table with the city and their elected officials every few months. Again, this is a true team effort. There is not one person that can take credit for this, and we’re just so grateful our elected officials gave us the opportunity to be heard.”