By Aaron Keebaugh
Last week, city councillors approved reductions for a planned apartment complex to be constructed close to B.J.s Wholesale Club on Ward Street. But the 8-3 vote reflects differences of opinion as to the potential stress the proposed building will have on the city's crowded schools.
William Thibeault, manager of Everett-based Rumney Marsh View, LLC and owner of the Ward St. property, filed an application on June 18 to reduce the size and number of units on his proposed apartment complex. In August 2007, city councillors approved a permit for 281 units in two nine-story and one eight-story buildings. 258 of those were planned as 2-bedroom units.
Thibeault's new application requests 261 total units in three L-shaped buildings of four stories each. In addition, the new proposal cuts the number of 2-bedroom units nearly in half to 123.
After delays and deliberation between project representatives and members of the Zoning Subcommittee since the reduction plan first arose at the July 23 council meeting, council members finally approved the new plan last week. Councillors Arthur Guinasso, John Powers, and Stephen Reardon cast the dissenting votes.
Speaking in support of the downsize, Mayor Dan Rizzo told the councillors that the new building plans will offer less chance for more children to come into the city's schools. "We're not anti-children," he said, "we're just concerned about the stress on our public school system."
Rizzo said that the petitioner approached him about the plan to build the original 281 units. But the mayor requested a compromise, asking the applicant to reduce the number of units, Rizzo said.
Council Present Richard Penta commended the mayor on the compromise, and a number of councilors voiced support for the scaled-back plan.
Councillor-at-Large Jessica Ann Giannino said, "If we vote no, we're already permitted for a (nine)-story unit. A vote of yes will give us a say in the scale-back. I would rather see a four-story single-unit building than (the larger) one."
Councillor-At-Large Robert Haas said that he was proud to cast his vote in favor of B.J.'s in 2007, calling the plan "an asset coming into Revere." "Hopefully this will develop quickly," he said.
Councillor-at-Large John Correggio added that he supports the downsized project, but continued, "I don't think the city needs any more apartment buildings." With that, he suggested that the council should place a moratorium on new apartment complexes from this point forward.
Ward 5 Councillor John Powers held firm to his original position, having voted against the project back in 2007. "If the developer were really interested in the city, they would use the area for commercial development," he opined.
"I don't want to see more apartments go up in this city," said Councillor-at-large Brian Arrigo, adding that he was envious of Powers' 2007 vote not to support the project. But he said he would vote in support of the scale-back because voting it down would be "a gamble."
Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Reardon responded: "It's smaller, but it's still more units (for the city). I don't believe it will be built. I'm prepared to take that gamble."
The biggest change, perhaps, came from Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso. In a July public hearing over the Thibeault’s application, Guinasso told Bernkopf and Goodman Attorney Richard Bennett, spokesman for the project, that he appreciated the plans for the reduced size.
But since then, the seeds of doubt have been sown.
"I've spoken to everyone in Ward 3 with interest in the area and they-re all against it," he reported to the council last week. He went on to say that the council, when presented with the original project, had a metaphorical gun held to its head to "take B.J's or else."
"I'm not going to let my Ward down," Guinasso added.
"B.J.s was the right thing to do at the time," opined Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto. "To not vote for this is irresponsible. We're playing Russian Roulette if they vote this down," he said, warning the council that the original permit would still stand.
"It baffles me how you could be against this," said Penta. He reasoned that, according to statistics, apartment units do not attract families with large numbers of children. "There is probably one kid per hundred units," he said, claiming the ratio as statistical fact.
"That's not what our records show," wrote School Superintendent Paul Dakin in an email to The Revere Advocate on Monday. He said that 52 of Revere's public school students come out of the 99-unit complex at 250 Broadway alone. And the over- 700-unit Alterra at Overlook Ridge apartments in North Revere, site of the old quarry, already contains 29 students, he added. "Wait for 5-10 years from now. . . It will be like 250 Broadway with many coming from there."
Dakin went on to say: "For years my position has been that any development has to be well thought out with the impact on the schools and other departments and infrastructure issues considered. I know, unless it’s done without the schools involved, there has been little planning relative to these issues. We have addressed the obvious building issues replacing 100 year old facilities and added more seats each time we have replaced a school, but because of these building projects and the different use of the existing housing units, we are up in enrollment."
This year, Revere public schools enrolled record 618 students in kindergarten, 119 more than last year, Dakin noted. The Superintendent said that he is in favor of a moratorium on apartment and condo development in the city until all city departments can create a plan to address the pressures of increased population on the city's infrastructure.