New city leaders discuss challenges at MAPC meeting

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council held its winter meeting this morning. The main event was a panel discusion with Mayors Brian Arrigo of Revere, Stephanie Burke of Medford, Robert Hedlund of Weymouth, Sefatia Romeo Thaken of Gloucester and Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino. They all took office in January. THe discusion was moderated by MAPC executive director Marc Draisen.

Draisen noted that each of them was experienced in various ways — Arrigo and Theken in their city councils, Burke as Medford’s budget director, Hedlund in the state senate and Ambrosino as a former mayor of Revere. He first asked them about the challenges, objectives and surprises.

“One thing that’s a big focus of my attention is gentrification,” Ambrosino said. “I’m challenged by the influx of professional residents.”

He said that there was an enormous pressure for development and a large concern about displacement. One of the things he’s done to address the pressure is to start work on an inclusionary development ordinance. In addition to gentrification, Ambrosino said that substance abuse issues were the most challenging to deal with.

“It’s really in your face in Chelsea,” he said. “These two issues play out within blocks of each other.”

“We have two very valuable pieces of property: Wonderland and Suffolk Downs,” Arrigo said. “We’re going to start a visioning process and have a level of community engagement we haven’t seen in a while.”

Arrigo, Thaken and Burke said that they had a lack of staff , which has hindered their work. Burke also said that Medford needs to make capital improvements for its police and fire departments and grow its tax base.

Thaken also talked about the impact of substance abuse and the need for affordable housing. She said she wanted to find a way into helping people recovering from addiction get into the workforce and was also working to promote Gloucester seafood around Massachusetts.

“We can feed Massachusetts,” she said.

“The Senate is like a rest home compared to what I do now,” Hedlund said.

He said that growing Weymouth’s tax base was a big challenge and was working on getting new developments in Weymouth Landing and Southfields done.

Dreisen then asked about more regional issues.

Burke said that the Green Line Extension was her biggest regional issue, followed by the Wynn Casino in Everett’s effects on traffic.

“We want to make sure that the Green Line can make it,” she said.

“Regionally, one issue we’re concerned about is housing,” Arrigo said. “We share a border with Boston. There isn’t enough housing in Boston. I lead a community that’s hesitant to add more housing. How do we take advantage of the development that’s out there. How do we get people aware that not every kind of housing is bad?”

Thaken said she was interested in regionalization for affordable housing and was surprised by people who don’t understand the difference between affordable housing and Section Eight.

Hedlund said that his experiences with regionalization had been far less positive. He said that collaboration had eluded Weymouth even on issues like putting up Christmas lights.

“Everyone’s out to cut their own deal,” he said. “It doesn’t serve as a model.”

“There is no good reason why three or four communities can’t sit down and cooperate,” Driesen said.

After the panel ended Ambrosino clarified his comments about gentrification.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “The city can certainly use the influx of people with disposable incomes, but rents are starting to rise.”

He said that many of Chelsea’s residents were low income and that even modest increases in rents can be devastating for them.

“I’m not sure how regionalization can help for housing [except in that] the more housing that gets built reduces pressure on us” he said. “We’re doing our fair share.”

Different cities, different regions, but many commonalities.





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