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Happy Holidays! Your property taxes are increasing for 14th straight year

22 Nov

Community development shows no vision, homeowners take the hit

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Used to be, back when our phones weren’t smart and our current mayor was still draining 3s for Peabody High’s basketball team, annual property tax increases were about as frequent as snow storms in July. They just didn’t happen, and “la, la, la, la, la, laaaaa” all was well in the land ruled by Peter Torigian.

taxIt’s only too bad that, while we were enjoying the rule of a man dubbed the Emperor by a former favorite ink-stained columnist, everyone forgot to glance at those dark clouds on the horizon.

But it’s time to pay for all of that now, Peabody.

In case you missed it, Mayor Ted Bettencourt came before the City Council on Thursday night to get another annual property tax increase. For those of you keeping track, combined between the Bettencourt and Mike Bonfanti administrations, that’s now 14 straight years of increases.

This time, the average homeowner will, they say, pay just $164 more a year. Doesn’t seem like a lot on its own, but let’s add this all up, shall we?

With the average increase the past 14 years being roughly 4% annually, that means our property taxes have increased a whopping 56% since 2001.

Blame it on those dark clouds, if you want. After all, the Torigian years were all about keeping taxes low in the 1980s and 1990s, with no one really thinking about the future when it came to building schools, and re-building infrastructure.

But while Democrats in Congress continue to say “it’s Bush’s fault,” it’s time for Peabodyites everywhere to stop blaming Torigian.

The late, great Emperor walked away at the end of 2001, and there were people who voted in the past election who are too young to even remember him as Mayor.

It’s also shortsighted to keep blaming this on a big bill from the North Shore Mega-Voke, which our City Council unwisely voted for four years ago.

And … trying to sugar coat it by saying the tax increase is kinda a good thing since our property valuations have risen? That’s, as you say, so much cow fertilizer! Unless you’re selling your home to get out or Peabody, who cares?

The true reason for these ceaseless annual increases is that the two mayors since Torigian have offered little vision for dramatically increasing Peabody’s revenues, while taking  that burden off residents.

Peabody still has no long-term plan for expanding its commercial tax base by bringing more quality-of-life-improving businesses to town. We have no REAL plan for the revitalization of our downtown, and the Centennial Industrial Park remains an out-of-date relic of the way business was done back in the 1970s.

Instead of having a long-term strategic plan for growth, we continue along with community development department leaders who couldn’t spell innovation without a dictionary, and think that jamming more tiny apartments into the downtown is the answer.

Look. I like Ted Bettencourt. I think he’s a great guy with lots of passion and enthusiasm for the job of Mayor, and have supported him personally with my votes and my checkbook. But he needs to lead here. He needs to clean house in community development, and bring in people who can help him develop a real plan for expanding our tax base without putting more of the burden on homeowners.

He needs to find out how they are doing it in Salem and Beverley and other North Shore communities, who have actual vibrant downtowns. Hey Ted, let’s go to other communities, where they’ve done it right, and try and steal away those strategic thinkers to help Peabody. It’s time to stop with the “well, Peabody still has the lowest tax rate on the North Shore” BS, and realize that it’s only going to get worse if we don’t start executing on a real community development plan.

After all, unless you call billboards and jamming more low income apartments into downtown “community development,” there really is no vision right now.

I truly am getting tired of writing this each year at this time.

But here we go again …

Happy Holidays, Peabody homeowners. You’re taxes are going up.

Cleaning out my mind: Cole on (blog) message, signing off, and don’t mess with a mom

15 Oct

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Cleaning out the notepad of the mind today while while contemplating where I can buy a hazmat suit to protect myself from Ebola …

It’s always rewarding, and also entertaining, when this space is able to force a candidate off message to respond to what’s written here, by me, a guy who’s just some snarky know-it-all from the neighborhood.

Leah Cole  loves this blog!

Leah Cole loves this blog!

You see, that’s exactly what happened last night to Republican State Rep Leah Cole, who spent much of her debate against Democratic challenger Beverley Griffin Dunne not talking about her accomplishments as a state legislator, but defending herself against what’s been written here in The Eye.

Although Cole didn’t mention this blog directly during a forum for 12th Essex District candidates at the Peabody Access Telecommunications studios, she might as well have.

After all, instead of talking mainly about her humble accomplishments the past 18 months as as Peabody’s freshman solon on Beacon Hill, there was a lot of “beep, beep, beep.”

She attempted to defend herself against me writing how she is less experienced and qualified to be State Rep than Dunne, and how Cole’s right wing tendencies make her an even less effective elected official when it comes to bringing home the bacon to Peabody.

“This time I’m the candidate with the most experience,” the 25-year-old said of her long 18 months as an elected official, a contention that I’m sure drew more than few snickers from the control room.

But the best moment in my mind came when Leah huffed that it was a “false attack” to say that she was in with the highly conservative wing of the GOP on Beacon Hill.

Come on Leah, be proud of who you are. America’s a great country, where you can be anything you want, including an angry, intolerant, sky-is-always-falling right winger. Those are you heroes, embrace them openly. After all, even some of my best friends are Neanderthals . . .

Sign of our times is going, going …

Pole dance:  This sign is going, going ...

Pole dance: This sign is going, going ….

I haven’t been past it myself yet, but a few of my “moles” today have told me that the obnoxious, giant billboard hard by Lowell Street and next to the Subway sandwich shop is finally coming down.

But while I’m sure you’ll be seeing victory dances by credit-grabbing elected officials, I’ll remind you again that the only reason it’s coming down is because the city struck a deal with Outdoor Media Corp to give them two new locations for their dirty signs.

And while we bid adieu to the Subway billboard monstrosity, we’re still dealing with other billboards, including the obnoxious digital one that somehow got approval behind the Hess gas station. That sign is just a few hundred yards away from the one that’s coming down, so enjoy your hollow victory, folks. …

This makes us all very Epi!

Kristie DeLoreto for School Committee?

Kristie DeLoreto for School Committee?

Never, ever mess with a determined mom on a mission! That’s the message I’m taking from the Peabody School Committee’s decision last night to approve the installation of Epi-cabinets in all of our schools.

These cabinets will contain Epinephrine, a drug used to save the lives of people having severe allergic reactions.

Getting the Epi-cabinets approved, and making our schools safer for children with severe allergies, was the culmination of a crusade by Kristie DeLoreto, a mom who has personal experience with the dangers faced by children who can become severely ill because of allergic reactions.

Although she had help from several moms during their campaign, DeLoreto is the driving force behind the Allergy and Asthma Awareness Initiative of Peabody.

The group fist brought this to the attention of the school committee back in January, and kept on our elected officials to get it done.

“Peabody is going to be a pioneer in the raising awareness around asthma and allergies,” DeLoreto wrote on her Facebook page this morning. “The support we have received from the Superintendent, the Mayor, the school committee, the school principals, the school nurses, the teachers, staff and parents and students is nothing short of remarkable, and I’m so proud of all that we’ve been able to do!”

Now, here’s hoping that Ms. DeLoreto, who’s involved in several Peabody activities when it comes to improving quality of life for young families pulls papers next spring to run for school committee herself.

Great job, Kristie and company!

New live ‘You Make The Call’ show tonight

Got nothing to do tonight betweem 8 and 9 p.m.? Then tune into PAT Channel 99 for a new, live “You Make The Call” show. I plan to take that curmudgeon Dick Jarvis to task on several issues. :)

Follow Bob on Twitter @eyeonpeabody

While a new obnoxious billboard lights up our life, we wonder how it got approved

20 Sep

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

For more than a year, we’ve wrung our hands over the giant billboard monstrosity hard by the Subway restaurant, just yards from Lowell Street. But now, as we wait for promises to be fulfilled, and for that massive misplaced sign to be removed, a sequel plays out just a couple of hundred yards away.

billboardCall it “Son of Giant Billboard,” if you like, but have you noticed the obnoxious electronic sign that now towers over the Hess gas station, making that stretch look more like Las Vegas Blvd. than Lowell Street?

I know that ugliness and obnoxiousness is in the eye of the beholder, but this Hess billboard seems even more intrusive than the one next to Subway that they’re promising to take down.

Not only that, it appears that we have a problem here, Peabody.

I recall  the Peabody City Council giving approval at this location for a less intrusive static sign.  Seems to me  that the Hess sign is technically not adhering to the terms of the city council’s vote. How does this happen?

If you know the answer, please let me know.  But it appears that the “billboards gone wild” era continues here in Peabody.

Potential catastrophe averted in Presidential Heights fire

27 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

 

More details will emerge here, but The Eye has learned that the fire at 13 Madison Ave in West Peabody last night was no ordinary garage fire. Turns out that the owner of the property was likely storing a large amount of chemicals in the structure as part of a swimming pool service company.

FF

The fire caused a strong odor, and a series of small, but frightening explosions before the Peabody Fire Department arrived.

 

Were it not for an outstanding job by the PFD, this could have spread to nearby homes, resulted in major property loss, and perhaps injuries to residents living in this Presidential Heights neighborhood.

 

“You could see the black smoke and the smell was really bad,” a neighborhood resident told us this morning. “There were a few explosions as well. It was very frightening.”

 

According to city records, the property is owned by Joseph Carpenito, who also owns Pools Unlimited. On its website, the company lists 13 Madison Ave as its office.

Below is a Google Earth image that shows the location. Note the close proximity of other homes. The large garage that burned is to the back right of the property.

madison

More housing downtown doesn’t equal a sensible plan for revitalization

1 Aug

Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you saw the local Beverly-based “newspaper” with Salem at the front of its name this morning, you might have thought that Peabody Square is now a trendy place to live,just like South Beach in Miami, or in one of those million dollar lofts above some shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

SquareThere is was, a huge spread, complete with room-by-room photos of new postage-stamp-sized apartments at 11 Main Street. But there are granite countertops, so who am I to talk?

There are also panoramic views of Peabody Square out the windows , where you can watch the sunset over lovely beauty shops, liquor stores, and vacant store fronts. I’m sure this will cause young professionals to flock in a frenzy to rent these new digs.

First off, congrats to developer Norman Lee for talking the local bugle into a huge kiss-ass spread on what are essentially 11 small apartments that might be occupied by middle to lower-middle class residents who are looking for affordable housing. Then again, as someone who previously worked for small, struggling newspapers, my guess here is that this article  was one of those “bought-and-paid-for” services. The newspaper in question, after all, is on death’s door, so why not disguise paid content as real news once in a while?

But I digress.

The reason for my rant this morning is that, what you see at 11 Main Street is right now Peabody’s idea of how we should re-vitalize the downtown. Let’s jump at every chance to allow willing developers to turn old, dilapidated spaces into small one-bedroom apartments. Yeah, right, that’ll bring people with money to spend into the downtown.

We’ve seen this before with those ugly apartments on Walnut Street, and seen other greedy, slip-shot developers come and go before the city council requesting special permits to build “lavish” apartments. As a way to re-develop downtown, this strategy has failed miserably while adding to the city’s stock of Section 8 housing.

I’m not saying that  Lee is “slipshod” or “greedy.” After all, he’s a businessman, and he saw an opportunity. These teeny-tiny apartments look kind of nice from the kiss-ass photos I saw, but why would “young professionals” want to live in Peabody Square right now?

I come back to this again and again in this space, but the beat goes on when it comes to Peabody not having an overall strategy to turn things around downtown. Someone in community development needs to FINALLY understand that turning prime locations in the downtown into lower income housing is NOT the way you create economic development that will have a positive impact on our tax base and our community.

We continue to have what amounts to ill-advised patch-work tactics rather than an actual, sustainable, actionable community development plan. We have a passionate mayor who I feel truly wants to get things rolling downtown in an effort to create more revenue for the city, and take some of the burden off residential payers. But then we also have a community development department that totally lacks vision.

So, we all watch as our taxes rise, and we continue to approve unsightly billboards as a way to create much-needed revenue for infrastructural  improvements, a much-needed new middle school, and to pay for a regional vocational school that is part grandiose educational facility, part scam to feed the state’s hack-o-rama.

So, congrats to Mr. Lee on his wondrous new apartments, which I hear have a trendy new address: 17 Peabody Square. After all, it’s not his fault that this is what passes in Peabody for sensible city planning.

Update: All-Pro given yet another chance to clean up its messy situation

24 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The saga continues in the case of All-Pro Landscaping, which — courtesy of Peabody’s good ole boy political network — got  treated with kid gloves again last night.

tank

A large chemical storage tank on the All-Pro Landscaping property.

The Conservation Commission says it will give All-Pro Landscaping, which is polluting wetlands with asphalt and other debris, another 45 days to clean up its mess. While All-Pro has been ignoring  calls to clean up its mess, the city has allowed them to continue operating behind Latitude Sports Club.

For those keeping score, the Con Com issued the same exact edict on All-Pro at its June 11th meeting. But move along … there’s nothing to see here.

There was also a further smoke screen laid down last night by some Con Com members, who tried to deflect responsibility from All-Pro by asking  if they should instead fine the actual property owner. All-Pro is just a tenant on the property.

So why is the city dragging it’s feet, and  sitting on it hands here with what seems like a fairly straight forward set of violations?

A lot of people are wondering if it has anything to with the fact that the ALL-Pro owner and his family are as politically connected as it gets in Ward 5, where this situation exists. For months, the ward councilor has been working behind the scenes to ensure that certain city departments take it easy on All-Pro, and last night the same councilor was at the Con Com meeting trying to smooth things over again.

I guess that’s the type of personal constituent service you get for putting up hundreds of his campaign signs, and working behind the scenes to ensure that developers get on board and help elect a guy who will keep the good times rolling up on Route 1.  With this councilor, it seems like the rights of developers come first, and your quality of life isn’t really all that important. But we Ward 5 residents are used to it. After all, that kind of approach has been going on here for more than 25 years.

If you are a developer or a  buddy of the ward councilor, you get what you want. If not, it’s like a scene from Oliver Twist. “Please sir … I want some more.”

Last night, they even brought in another one of the ward councilor’s buds, a Pine Street neighbor, who told  the Con Com that the owner of All-Pro was a wonderful neighbor. Yeah, we hear he rescues cute little stray dogs in between spraying lawns with chemicals.

By now, feel free to say that my rant here is also politically motivated. You may be partly right, and that’s OK to say.

But then there are those pesky little things called the facts:

DelNegro  isn’t involved with Peabody politics, and is just trying to do her job, which is to protect our environmental health and welfare. She says that All-Pro is NOT in compliance with the law, and hasn’t been for several months. She seems frustrated over the situation, and who could blame her at this point? The woman is just trying to do what we pay her to do.

So now, All-Pro gets one more chance.

Who knows? Maybe in 45 days the Con Com will give them another chance, and another 45 days. And when they do, maybe they’ll tell the All-Pro guys this time we REALLY mean it!

I guess there really are two sets of rules in Peabody. One special set for those who are politically connected, and another set for the rest of us.

Until company addresses environmental concerns, Mayor needs to request cease and desist order

11 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

At this point, if I were conservation agent Lucia DelNegro, whose job it is to protect Peabody’s environment from intrusive and excessive development, I’d be marching up to Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s office to ask him to explain again what my role with the city is supposed to be.

Time for Mayor Bettencourt to step in here

Time for Mayor Bettencourt to step in here

After all, obviously most city officials don’t seem to care about what she continues to, over and over again, say about a property known as 190 Rear Newbury Street. The small work yard, behind the Latitude Sports Club, is where a company called All Pro Landscaping stores equipment and other materials associated with its business.

But there’s an environmental issue, and Ms. DelNegro has been pointing this out for several months, her words falling mostly on deaf ears at City Hall. All she’s just trying to do is the job that we the taxpayers are paying her for.

First off, there are questions over All Pro not having all the proper permits to operate on the site it leases from an oftentimes slipshod, but politically connected developer.

But as Ms. DelNegro continues to point out, there are also concerns over the company potentially infringing upon the wetlands adjacent to the property, something that could pose a danger to Peabody’s drinking water supply, and something over which she has  issued an Enforcement Order (EO)

A few weeks ago, after her EO continued to be pretty much ignored, Ms. DelNegro presented her evidence before the Conservation Commission. Here’s some of what this city official — whose job it is to look out for Peabody’s environmental well-being — said on the record:

  • “I was just out there a couple weeks ago with Bill Manuell the wetland scientist. None of the punch list items on my Enforcement Order (EO), except for the fact that they filed an RDA, pretty much nothing has been done.”
  • “The asphalt is still in the wetlands. The guardrails are still broken and they are still in the wetlands. This is on both lots back and front. The front is the guardrails. There is still asphalt and all sorts of debris everywhere. It looks like the piles just keep getting bigger and closer to the wetlands.”
  • “I do not believe this is meeting stormwater standards. I also think there is debris buried under the parking lot. Looking at the edge where the pavement meets the earth you can see objects (car parts) protruding out. “
  • “I have a really big issue with what is possibly under the asphalt. I really hope I am wrong. I do not think it is meeting stormwater standards. They really have not been cleaning up nor doing anything with regards to the EO. There is one part that really bothers me on the front lot; the asphalt piles that were pushed into the wetlands. It looks like the asphalt that was used for this back parking lot.
  • “I am assuming what happened was in the winter the plows came and pushed it into the wetlands. Now that they never got the asphalt bits out it is going to be a Pandora’s Box. We have growth coming out of it. If you try to scoop all that up you are going to have an unstable bank. It is a pretty big mess.”

If nothing is done under the Enforcement Order, the Conservation Commission discussed fining All Pro at the next meeting on July 23 “

And we REALLY mean it this time,” should have been the next line in the public record.

The site leased by the landscaping company in question

Google Earth image of the site leased by the landscaping company in question

If we really meant it, Mayor Bettencourt right this second (or maybe months ago) would be asking the building department for a cease and desist order, just like he once did with a notorious developer further along Route 1 near Winona Street.

All I know is that the owner of All Pro is the son of a guy who worked night and day on the campaign of the current freshman Ward 5 Councilor. Remember the hundreds of blue campaign signs on the properties along Route 1 during the last election? How do you think they all got there?

The family of the owner of All Pro was also a huge supporter of the former Ward 5 Councilor. The owner of the property All Pro pays its rent to is also a very active supporter of the last two ward councilors.

You think nothing being done here might be related to Peabody’s good ole boy political network, where there’s a “wink, wink,” and developers are allowed to run amok? Per usual, many of our elected officials could care less about your quality of life.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions in the comments section.

 

Giving unauthorized signs no latitude on bike path

8 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

POLEIt’s always rewarding doing this blog when we’re able to be a watchdog, and elicit change. It’s happened numerous times since we started here more than two years ago.

And today, we bring you the latest example. We helped stop some possible shenanigans on the bike path, where certain powers that be allowed a free ad on public property for the Latitude Sports Club. This sign, which got Latitude’s name in front of thousands exercise fans, who are all potential customers for the club, was attached to a PMLP light pole.

SIGNAfter seeing it exposed here, the power company has done the right thing, and removed the unapproved sign. Looks like who ever put  up that sign will have to blow kisses at the developer in question in some other way. Wouldn’t it be nice it they could actually get the club to pay the city for sponsoring a section of the bike path, with the money going to help up keep of the path? After all, the last thing we want is to risk anonymous envelopes landing in someone’s mailbox.

Call this one a victory for the people of Peabody.

Caption the photos on the right “gone today, here yesterday.”

 

Update: PMLP taking down sign with curious ad for a local sports club

7 Jul

SIGNBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Less than a week after we pointed it out here on The Eye, we’ve learned that the “curious” sign on a bike path poll, advertising a local sports club, is being taken down by the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP).

Turns out that the sign (seen here on the right), was put on the light pole owned by PMLP without permission.  The Light Commission got wind of the sign, and  has asked that it be removed, and no one is sure how the blatant free ad — located just a few hundred yards from the bike path entrance to Lt. Ross Park — got there.

But all of this leads  us to believe that some good ole boy shenanigans continue in Ward 5. The “perks” continue for developers, who have  run amok in this part of the city for more than the last 25 years. This particular sign got the name of this sports club in front of thousands of walkers, bikers, and runners each day for free, and likely resulted in more memberships for the Route 1 club.

If you’re wondering how the sign got there, feel free to fill up Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw’sinbox with your question at jdsaslaw@gmail.com

A guide to Peabody’s July 4th ward celebrations

1 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Fourth of July ward parties. They’re not exactly on the same scale as Boston’s Esplanade celebration, or fireworks on the National Mall in Washington. But Peabody’s unique celebration of our nation’s independence is as local, and as all American as it gets.

flagsEach of the city’s six wards will again play host to parties that continue to be idealic throwbacks to a simpler time in our nation, and they’ve been going on now for more than 50 years. I even participated in the Ward 6 bike contest as a 6-year-old, while my kids later enjoyed the party in Ward 5.

They are all unique, and well worth some of your time on Friday morning,

Here’s a quick look at the schedule for Peabody’s ward parties on the Fourth of July:

Ward 1: Takes place at Raddin Road Park at approximately 9:20 a.m., and will include music, games, face-painting, foot races, and a pie-eating contest. Lunch will include free hotdogs, chips and drinks.

Ward 2: At the Welch School. Registration for a parade of decorated bikes, scooters, wagons and carriages starts at 9:15 a.m. There will also be foot races, a performance by the band Sea Bees, raffles, and a pizza lunch.

Ward 3: Will take place at Connolly Park. There will be a horribles parade, races and egg toss, hot dogs, cotton candy, popcorn and drinks.

Ward 4: At Emerson Park. There will be a horribles parade of costumes, and a doll carriage, bike and wagon parade, and a pie-eating contest. There will also be a 1.2-mile road race. Lunch includes hamburgers and hot dogs. Activities get underway around 9 a.m.

Ward 5: Takes place at Lt. Ross Park (Cy Tenney). The bike and doll carriage parade kicks iff at 10 a.m. at the Rosewood Nursing Home. There will be a DJ, games, races, hot dogs and pizza to follow at the park. There is no truth to the rumor that there will also be a balloon ride tour of the new billboards on Route 1, and the meter reader relay race has been canceled. :)

Ward 6: At Symphony Park. Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz is your host for West Peabody’s most-popular ward party. Registration for the traditional doll carriage, bicycle and tricycle parade begins at 8:30 a.m. Entries should be decorated with a patriotic theme. The parade starts at  9 a.m. Other activities include face-painting, moon bounce, basketball free throw shooting, and an appearance by Curios Creatures. Pizza is on the menu for lunch, which will be served at 11:!5 a.m. If you can help out, Councilor Sinewitz is also still looking for volunteers. Give him a call at 978-535-2283.

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