ZBA Grants Parking Variances Despite Neighbors’ Opposition

The Revere Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) held its regular monthly meeting last Tuesday, June 18, in the City Councillor Joseph A. DelGrosso City Council Chamber in Revere City Hall.

Member John Lopes presided in the absence of chair Robert Tucker. Fellow members James O’Brien, Arthur Pelton, and alternate member Peggy Pratt were on hand for the entire session and were joined by fellow member Aklog Limeneh about two-thirds of the way through.

The first matter of the evening was a request by Eight Avon, LLC, 1040-1048 North Shore Road, Unit B2, for variances to enable the construction of  a contemporary, five-story, residential apartment building with 12 units at 8 Avon Street.

Atty. Gerry D’Ambrosio represented the applicant, James Russo, who has developed many similar projects in the city. “This presently is a dilapidated, two-family structure, built in 1900, and sits on a parcel of about 4000 s.f. in the GB district, which allows apartment buildings as a matter of right,” D’Ambrosio told the ZBA members. “The reasons for the variances pertain to the complex soil type located in this parcel and the irregular grading, as well as the economic hardship that came with the site plan work that is considerably more expensive because of the sand-like soil.

“It is within one-half mile of the Wonderland T station, which qualifies it as a Transit Oriented District (TOD). There will be six one-bedroom and six three-bedroom units that can house families, which is what the city wants,” D’Ambrosio continued. “The fourth-floor units will have a loft that will provide a different design that is quite unique. This will be a beautiful new property in this area that will fit in well with the other buildings there.”

D’Ambrosio noted that there will be only five on-site parking spaces, but the property is within walking distance to the Wonderland T station. “Ward 5 Councillor Angela Guarino-Sawaya supports this,” D’Ambrosio added.

A resident of Avon St. spoke in opposition to the application. “We are worried about the parking,” he said. “We’re having trouble parking there now. I’ve been here 55 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

Another resident added, “We’re already struggling with parking. My driveway is blocked almost every day. Imagine if more cars come to the street? I don’t want to have to deal with that. I call the police all the time. It’s getting worse and worse.”

After Lopes noted that the residents of the building will not be eligible for the city’s residential and visitor parking sticker program, which will be up to the city to enforce, the ZBA members unanimously approved the application.

The board next took up a request from Zepaj Development, LLC, 78 Mill Street, Middleton, for a variance of Section 17.28.020 (minimum parking requirements for apartment use) to enable Zepaj to construct a 25-unit apartment building at 344 Salem Street.

Zepaj originally obtained a number of variances, despite opposition from some neighbors, in October of 2022. However, a parking variance was not one of them because Zepaj represented at that time that the project would include what is known as a mechanical parking system for 50 spots that would provide stacked parking. Without the stacked parking system, there would be only 31 parking spaces, which is less than the two spaces per unit required by the city’s zoning ordinances.

However, this past November, Zepaj came back to the ZBA seeking a variance for relief from the parking zoning ordinance “because the ongoing development of the site has revealed that mechanical parking is not feasible because of the complex soil conditions, high groundwater, and its proximity to wetlands,” said Zepaj’s attorney, Nancy O’Neil, at that time. “The development of the site has become extremely expensive. Mechanical parking spaces have been rendered financially impossible.”

O’Neil said that the 31 surface spaces for the 25 units would be more than sufficient for the building. O’Neil presented a parking utilization chart per the Metropolitan Area Planning Council that measured demand rates in the city. She said that a non-TOD building typically averages 1.06 spaces per unit, and the 1.24 spaces per unit for this project exceeds those recommendations. She also noted that this building lies in a TOD district (because of its proximity to MBTA bus stops) for which the parking rate is even lower, at 0.59 spaces per unit. “The parking modification will not impact the neighborhood,” O’Neil added, noting that residents of the building will not be eligible for the resident parking program and that the rental agreement will limit the ownership of cars by tenants.

Two abutters, who initially opposed the project in October of 2022, said at the November meeting they were in favor of the new proposal at the November meeting.

James Vasquez of 21 Clifton St. (which abuts the property) said he was opposed to the original mechanical parking “stackers” because of the noise, but was in favor of the modification, which eliminates the mechanical parking. Mike Migliozzi of 347 Salem St., another original opponent, also spoke in favor of the new modification.

However, then-Ward 6 City Councilor Richard Serino said he “was disappointed that 13 months after the initial hearing, the applicant now is seeking  a parking variance.”  Serino said that visitors of the tenants will park on the nearby city parking areas for the rail trail. Serino also said this is not a TOD project and that the developer should have come to the ZBA for the parking variance prior to pouring his foundation.

“This neighborhood should not have to bear the burden of the lack of parking of this development because of the economics of this gentleman’s business,” Serino added.

In addition, a host of neighbors opposed the request in November.

John Riccio of 21 Franklin St. said that the developer “had the duty of due diligence and should be held to his original plan. Financial hardship is for widows and children, not profit-making developers. That is not the duty of this board. He can reduce the number of units to 16. None of you should be in the business of making more money for developers. You should be in the business of the people. Only in rare exceptions should you change things to make more money for developers.”

Chris Jacob of 1 Clifton St. said, “How many variances are you going to give out? This property already has four and that’s enough.”

Vanessa Biasela of 10 Roberts St. chimed in, “This has been going on for way too long. Financial hardship on the part of the developer is not your concern. He can reduce the units and find a solution that doesn’t involve us. This should not fall to us. This is his problem.

“Everyone’s watching,” Biasela continued. “This entire city has had enough of developers’ interests coming before the people who were born and who live here,” adding that the traffic back-ups that already exist in the area will be exacerbated by the development.

A resident from the Saugus side of Clifton St. also opposed the variance, stating that the lack of parking will impact his neighborhood. Serino then added, “With Saugus right there, the lack of parking for the project will have an impact on the Saugus side of Clifton St.”

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the request, with Tucker and O’Brien opposed. However, since variances require a supermajority of the ZBA for approval, the application failed.

Ordinarily, a rejected applicant has to wait two years before he can resubmit his application. However, pursuant to state law, the applicant may reapply prior to the expiration of the two-year moratorium period with a new application if the new application is substantially different than the one that was rejected.

That statute reads as follows:

“No appeal, application or petition which has been unfavorably and finally acted upon by the special permit granting or permit granting authority shall be acted favorably upon within two years after the date of final unfavorable action unless said special permit granting authority or permit granting authority finds, by a unanimous vote of a board of three members or by a vote of four members of a board of five members or two-thirds vote of a board of more than five members, specific and material changes in the conditions upon which the previous unfavorable action was based, and describes such changes in the record of its proceedings, and unless all but one of the members of the planning board consents thereto and after notice is given to parties in interest of the time and place of the proceedings when the question of such consent will be considered.”

After a hearing before the Planning Board and a subsequent opinion from the City Solicitor’s office indicating that Zepaj’s new application met the requirements under the law, Zepaj came back before the ZBA with his new proposal last week.

 “The new application contains significant and material changes to the original plan,” said D’Ambrosio, who represented Zepaj. “The new changes were submitted to the Planning Board, and the City Solicitor’s office approved the new amendment despite the moratorium, which now includes two-units of veterans housing at affordable rates.

“The reality is that in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts we are in a housing crisis and we have pressure for the creation of new units. I understand neighborhood concerns and protests, but the building already is up and it is beautiful. It will be an asset to the neighborhood. The basis for the application here is economic hardship. We are asking merely for an adjustment to allow the stackers to be removed from the plan and we still will have 31 spaces for 25, one-bedroom units in a TOD area.

“This project will produce a fraction of the traffic that a commercial use would have generated,” D’Ambrosio added.

The ZBA, per the law, first had to take a vote to allow the application to come forward within the limitation of the statutory moratorium period.

Reading from a prepared text, chair Lopes said, “I find that there are specific material changes that would allow the project to come before us. The changes will result in a less-intrusive development with additional screening, privacy hedges, soundproofing material, and reconfiguration of the parking area, plus the designation of two affordable units for veterans. These represent a substantial modification that allows the applicant to come back before the ZBA.”

The board voted unanimously to allow the application to come forward and then opened the meeting to a public hearing on the merits.

Vasquez of 21 Clifton St., the direct abutter, once again told the ZBA that he was opposed to the stackers in the original plan, but is in favor of the new proposal without stackers. “The stackers are loud and dangerous,” he said.

City Councillor at Large Marc Silvestri spoke in favor of the project. “I was initially opposed to this, but I met with the developer and walked the site, from what was there prior to what is there now. With the addition of the veterans housing units, I support it,” Silvestri said, further adding, “We have not held any developer to the standard of two parking spaces per unit in a long time.”

Residents of the neighborhood once again expressed their opposition. “I was at the Planning Board meetings and the chair said these changes are not sufficient to send it back to the ZBA,” asserted Riccio. “The stackers have been reneged on, as well as the promise to repair a culvert. I also question whether there is economic hardship.

“This has been an unfair process and unfair processes do not help a city — they hurt a city,” Riccio said in conclusion.

Residents of Franklin St. also spoke against the proposal.

“What was agreed on as to the parking should be maintained,” said one resident. “The parking congestion already exists in the area. We have cars on the sidewalks, cars on the grass, and there is nowhere to walk. I don’t understand why we are changing this. Now the building is built without the stackers and they want to make changes from what they originally agreed to?”

Another resident of the neighborhood, who lives in Saugus, added, “I love the building. It will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, but I want the law to be followed. We have a parking problem. The stackers will have no problems.”

However, Lopes noted, “This is a public meeting for Revere residents only.”

Councillor at Large Michelle Kelley spoke against the proposal. “I want to go back to some basics,” Kelley said. “The zoning regulations have the purposes and objectives of lessening congestion in the streets, preventing overcrowding, avoiding the undue concentration of population, facilitating the provision of open space, encouraging the most appropriate use of land throughout the city, conserving health, securing safety, and providing adequate light, air, and space. But I would argue that this project doesn’t fulfill any of these purposes and objectives. Issuing yet another variance will erode these purposes and objectives even further.

“In addition,” Kelley continued, “as appointed members of the zoning board, the purposes and objectives of our zoning ordinances should be yours to uphold and should be the utmost of your main concerns and priorities.

“Issuing another variance where there is such incredible public opposition is contrary to the purposes and objectives of the city of Revere’s zoning ordinances,”  Kelley added. “This is not about residents simply not wanting changes. Their concerns go beyond not simply liking change. I’m extremely happy about the veterans housing, but that should not come as a trade-off to ignoring the zoning laws and ignoring what was originally agreed to. This project does not benefit the city. How is this benefiting the city?

“This application is in opposition to what our zoning ordinances stand for,” Kelley concluded. “I don’t see how you can continue granting variance after variance. All of the variances are getting ridiculous.”

Christopher Giannino, the new Ward Six Councillor, also spoke against the proposal, noting that he had spoken to the residents of the neighborhood and that he too, has reservations about the parking issues. “We had an agreement. Let’s stick with it,” he said.

After closing the public hearing, the board, without discussion, voted unanimously in favor of the proposal with the condition that the residents of the building will not be eligible for the city’s residential and visitor parking sticker program.

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