Tag Archives: Peabody city council

Best wishes on a fast recovery for Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin

18 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin

Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin

Over the years, we’ve been friends and foes, agreed on some issues, disagreed on many others. But one thing I will always say or write is that Anne Manning-Martin always votes in the best interests of those residents she serves as a councilor at-large.

So, with that, I just wanted to wish Anne a speedy recovery from major back surgery, and hope that she’s back doing the business of the people of Peabody soon as possible.

After all, let’s face it, there are only two current Peabody City Councilors who are always on the side of the people they represent: Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz, and Anne.

By the way, the back surgery Manning-Martin underwent, was no minor matter.

“I really wasn’t supposed to walk again. It was kind of a Hail Mary operation,” Manning-Martin told the Salem News this week. “I just consider myself lucky and blessed.”

And Peabody residents will be lucky to have her back in there fighting for them again real soon.

Update: Here’s the reason why we don’t need an ordinance against street-side basketball hoops

24 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Although I appreciate David Gravel being a responsive At-Large Councilor, and bringing the issue of  “dangerous” basketball hoops, hockey nets, and other sports equipment to the Peabody City Council, it might be time for him and the other 10 members of our burg’s legislative body to focus on more important issues.

City Councilor David Gravel should have read the city code first

City Councilor David Gravel should have read the city code first

After all, we don’t need a new ordinance of any kind to address the issue, which put Peabody’s name up in lights this week following a report on Boston news station Fox25.  It’s already covered.

Courtesy of one of this space’s frequent visitors, I bring you what already exists in the City Code, Section 27-3:

Sec. 27-3. Removal of obstructions in streets and sidewalks.

Any fixture, structure or property as referred to in section 27-1 which has been erected, placed or left illegally in any street, highway or sidewalk may be moved by or under the direction of an officer and at the owner’s expense.

Street obstructions are also addressed in Massachusetts State Law as well. Before the TV cameras show up again, me thinks that city councilors should always check first to see what’s on the books before causing a knee-jerk tsunami.

From what I’m hearing, Dave these past few days has needlessly had his head slammed over this by pro-street-ball zealots, and fresh-air kid movements from Lake to Lynnfield Streets.  Maybe if he had read the city code, he could have had an officer take care of the situation in his neighborhood without Maria Stephanos making him look like the old guy who sits on his porch and screams “You kids betta get outta my yard!”

Overall, I still believe this is NOT a big issue on Peabody’s streets. We need to let the kids play, and then – using already existing city code – address these issues case-by-case using common sense.

If any object, whether it be grandpa’s favorite lawn chair, or the kids’ basketball hoops, should pose a risk to public safety, the cops should simply have it removed under Section 27-3. Most hoops and hockey nets are not causing any problems at all. It’s like saying, just because some city councilor might not be bright, then ALL city councilors  must be dumb too. We all know that would be untrue. And unfair! Dave is definitely an intelligent man, and a gentleman of course, too.

Simple. To the point. Easy peezey!

Instead of discouraging all of Peabody’s kids to go out and play, how about we use this common sense approach instead?

There you go, Dave, just saved you and the other councilors some time to focus on more important issues.

What’s going on with this site behind Latitude Sports Club on Route 1?

23 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

We’ll bring you more details as they develop, but for now I just wanted to give you a heads up on another quality of life, and potential public safety issue that’s brewing on Route 1.

landscape

Latitude Sports Club is to the upper right. The triangular paved area to the left is the property in question. Pine Street runs across the bottom of the image.

The developer who owns the land on which the Latitude Sports Club was developed, has leased a parcel behind the club to a landscaping company.

We hear that the landscaping company has a conditional permit from the city to operate, but that there are some serious questions about what affect this operation will have on the extensive wetlands adjacent to the site.  There are also additional public safety concerns around the fact that there is no fire hydrant on site, yet there is potential for flammable chemicals, such a fertilizer. Mulch, as we’ve seen, is also flammable. The site runs parallel to Pine Street, where there are several homes.

It also sounds like city officials, including the current ward councilor for this area, are trying to keep this quiet until a proper permit can be worked out. For example, no elected official has asked the building department to slap a cease and desist order on this company until the concerns can  be addressed. They continue to operate, which sounds like business as usual on Route 1 when it comes to developers.

We’ve also learned that people who work for departments whose job it is to protect residents and our environment, have voiced their concerns to city officials, and have been told to stand down for now.

More to come, but if anyone in our audience knows more, please send me a confidential message.

 

 

Let the kids play: Basketball hoop, hockey net ban would be ‘wicked stupid’

22 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

When we were young, not that long ago, the streets of Peabody this time of year were filled with kids playing street hockey, games of “twenty-one” on a basketball hoop hanging from a telephone pole, or killer games of “cell block” and “hide-and-go-seek.”

hoopParents actually encouraged kids to go outside, and “blow the stink off ya,” and you were happy to oblige once winter shuffled off its mortal coil, and the air on these late spring nights filled with the scent of lilacs and fresh-cut grass. The thrill of that grass, which you would roll around in while wrestling with friends, before setting up a killer three-on-three game under that street lights until being called home for some homework.

Other than the sound of early evening lawnmowers, today the streets are pretty much quiet. Void of laughter. Void of kids debating whether their line drive off the shed was fair or foul.

Despite our still very safe Peabody neighborhoods, kids, for the most part, stay indoors now.

What’s changed?

Well, certainly high-tech fun is winning out over the low-tech fun of our youth. Video games have replaced games of HORSE, and water balloon fights in the backyard.

But that’s not the only reason.

You can also blame it on the adults.

First we condition our kids to believe that it’s not worth playing if you don’t have a coach or a fancy uniform, or well-polished basketball court. We don’t let them experience the joy anymore of sacrificing the skin on their knees to invent new moves to the hoop on the Peabody’s well-worn asphalt streets.

And now comes even more lunacy when it comes to the adult killjoys.

In a move that would further discourage kids from playing outside, the Peabody City Council is considering creating an ordinance that would ban street-side basketball hoops and street hockey games.

Why?

Well, Councilor At-Large David Gravel brought the issue to the council after one of his grouchy neighbors on Tara Road began constantly complaining about a MAJOR “crime” in her neighborhood. That’s right, balls were inadvertently bouncing into this woman’s yard

To his credit, Gravel responded to a resident’s concern, but maybe what he should have done instead was tell her to calm down, and be a better neighbor. Of  course, since this story broke, we’ve heard from other Nitwit NIMBYs, who are now citing child “safety concerns” over curbside baskets and street hockey nets. Good Lord! Why don’t we all just give up already, and have our kids live in plastic bubbles?

Gravel has done his job and responded to a resident. Now the city council should do the right thing, and not even bring a formal motion on this to the floor. It is, after all, in the words of Peabody’s kids, “wicked stupid.”

Let the kids play.

Here’s how Boston TV news station Fox25 covered the story:

 

Council set to sign off on a billboard for Bourbon Street?

4 Apr

 

blank-billboardBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you live on Bourbon Street, and found the giant billboard around the corner and next to the Subway on Lowell Street offensive, get ready to be even more annoyed closer to your front door.

CBS Outdoor will go before the Peabody City Council on April 29th to seek a special permit to erect a giant, electronic billboard at 8 Bourbon Street. The billboard madness continues.

If you live in that neighborhood, call your ward councilor, Joel Saslaw, and tell him to stop voting to approve these eyesores. Mr. Saslaw, after all, has already approved THREE of these new signs in the ward since taking office in January.

Billboards gone wild: Time to push pause, decide how many we’ll allow in Peabody

12 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

billboardThe end-of-the-year grab for riches is on, and tonight the Peabody City Council will be charged with either approving or denying another one of those unsightly electronic billboards for Route 1.

I say “grab for riches,” since someone who knows tells me that – once everyone takes their little cut — the total annual windfall for each one of these roadside eyesores could be more than $500,000.

These mammoth signs – which are “blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ our mind” – mean big bucks for Route 1 property owners and developers, the sign companies themselves, the city when it comes to permitting fees, and who knows who else will have their palms “greased.”

Instead of worrying about the threat of court challenges, the city council should tonight be voting based only on the impact these gigantic billboards will have on the quality of life of residents, driver safety, and the aesthetics of our community.

The vultures are so aggressive on this one that tonight the city council will hear testimony on two separate special permits for what would essentially be bumping billboards right next door to each other. One hearing is for a billboard at 47 Newbury at a small piece of property being developed in front of the Springhill Suites hotel. The other one is less than a bag of cash throw away at 55 Newbury in front of the Sonic Restaurant. Since state regulations dictate that the two billboards would be too close to each other, the city council can’t legally approve both.

The only responsible thing for the city council to do tonight would be to vote to approve neither until we can finally come up with some rules, and a civic vision on how many giant signs we’ll allow in our berg. Otherwise, Route 1 will end up looking like the Las Vegas strip.

By the way, this isn’t about trying to ban billboards, but it is about having some sort of control on how many we’ll allow and where. Another digital billboard is currently being installed at 71 Newbury St. behind Santarpio’s and the council did approve a digital billboard last week for 200 Jubilee Dr. (behind the Extended Stay Hotel. It’s already getting out of control.

The proposal for the billboard at 47 Newbury is being presented by World Realty Trust, which has partnered with another recently familiar developer. Total Outdoor Corp, currently in court with Peabody over the notorious Lowell Street billboard would construct the sign at 47 Newbury.

The city gets $25K for the permit on each of these signs, but should everything be for sale here without first understanding what the impact will have on our landscape?

It’s time to push pause here for a moment and decide how many of these we’ll allow, and where. Otherwise, we’ll continue on this path of haphazard community development, which over the long run is going to have a major and negative impact on resident quality of life.

Time to finally get serious about the vision for downtown revitalization

10 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

SquareSo far, we’ve seen baby steps and a piece meal approach to the revitalization of downtown Peabody. But we remain without a master plan for development, and without true visionaries to lead when it comes to getting us to a place where Peabody Square is no longer a ghost town at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night.

The problem we face in moving this forward was again on full display this past week when a developer came before the city council with a plan to jam 10 apartments into an old office building at 98 Main Street. During the debate, there was talk about a lack of parking, which is a major concern overall as we try to bring people back to the square. But there was also talk about what the vision should be for all future downtown development.

Many councilors argued against creating more apartments (these ones with future Section 8 housing potential), and for the need to think in terms of mixed-use development (e.g., residential on the top floors, commercial space on the bottom). Thankfully, the bid for a special permit at 98 Main went down to defeat with a 5-5 vote.

The issue at 98 Main is simply one symptom of a much larger problem.

We have no overall strategic plan/vision for development, but even if we did … we have no one to lead it. Community Development’s push and praise for the developer’s plan at 98 Main certainly shows that no one there has the skills, experience, or juice to lead the mammoth undertaking of bringing economic life back to the downtown.

Although I believe and support Mayor Ted Bettencourt when he tells us that revitalization of downtown continues to be a focal point of his legacy, I also think the Mayor needs to do what many of us have been urging since he was first sworn in almost two years ago:

He needs to enlist more skilled movers and shakers to help us with this. We need an experienced redevelopment “czar” with unprecedented power to get things done, including overseeing a comprehensive, step-by-step vision. But first, we need that plan, which right now is beyond the current competencies of those who lead our Community Development efforts.

It’s time to look at what other communities have done here, and see which models we can adopt.

But we’re not getting there by allowing developers to jam 10 tiny apartments into a space that might be better for retail space, and the types of businesses that make Peabody Square a destination rather than a pass through.

Those who think that bringing more people to live downtown is a key to our future success here are wrong and misguided. We already have thousands of people living within a half-mile radius of Peabody Square, and what has that gotten us? More barber shops, nail salons, and liquor stores.

Meanwhile, Salem is becoming the restaurant capital of the North Shore, and a destination for people looking for a night out or a day of boutique shopping. By now, we should all be a little tired of the claim that Salem can do this and we can’t because Salem has the built in advantages such as the waterfront. Most of the new shops and restaurants in Salem are down along Washington Street, which isn’t on the water.

Salem has been able to revitalize its downtown because, thanks to its civic leaders, it came up with a comprehensive vision designed to encourage the right kind of businesses downtown, and Mayor Kim Driscoll is using her power to ensure that it gets done right.

Mayor Bettencourt has the opportunity to now do the same.

Mr. Mayor, I support you, but it’s time to bring in some more talent when it comes to your Community Development department.  Let’s find out who those redevelopment visionaries are, and let’s hire them to help us with something that would become your major legacy piece as mayor.

Update: Stonewood owner asks that hearing on entertainment license be recessed

12 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Questions abound as EOP learns that Stonewood Tavern owner Sal Palumbo will ask that a hearing on amending his entertainment license be recessed on Thursday night when the issue  is due to come before Peabody’s City Council.

For various reasons, applicants sometimes decide  last-minute not to have their issue heard. Sometimes that reason is that they learn ahead of time that they won’t have the votes necessary to gain enough support for their issue.

In this case, the city council must still vote whether to recess the hearing and table the issue for now. Stonewood was attempting to expand its entertainment license to allow full scale bands in a recently added on nightclub area. Back in July 2011, when attorney David Ankeles, on behalf of Palumbo, brought the plans for the restaurant to the city council to get approval for a special permit to operate, the only real talk of “entertainment” was an occasional small jazz band within the confines of a 95-seat restaurant.

Since opening, Stonewood had been a positive addition to this South Peabody neighborhood as Palumbo’s property helped revitalize a previously abandoned lot on Lynnfield Street. But over the past several months, and following a large expansion, the Stonewood has been featuring full-scale bands in its new nightclub, which has drawn major concerns from neighbors who were led to believe that it would only be an upscale bistro.

According to a source, more than 20 neighbors had planned to be in attendance at the hearing on Thursday to offer opposition to a nightclub that is already operating without approval of the city council’s special permit process.

The question now is what becomes of the nightclub that’s already open? One possibility is that the building inspector’s office might be forced to issue a cease and desist order, essentially shutting down the nightclub portion of Stonewood until it can properly come before the city council.

Stay tuned. We’ll have more details here as they  occur.

In a related story, two sources tell EOP that Palumbo is also looking into purchasing the nearby parcel at 143 Lynnfield Street from developer Bob Denisco. Part of Denisco’s plans for the site, which once housed an old tannery, were to rent to the Yellow Jackets Gymnastics organization. We have no details at this time as to what Palumbo’s plans would be for that property.

Stonewalling on Stonewood? Come on, guys, do it right

11 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher 

stonewood

Opening day at Stonewood Tavern

Her fears alleviated by attorney David Ankeles, the neighbor, Mrs. Trainor, seemed satisfied afterward that the nice little restaurant going in across the street from her home would actually be a good thing for the neighborhood.

Following the presentation before the Peabody City Council back in July of 2011, she felt that maybe there was nothing to fear. This wouldn’t be a situation where “they get a permit and then all of a sudden they change all of the rules on you,” she was quoted in the notes at that special permit hearing.

No, not at all, attorney Ankeles and petitioner Sal Palumbo would insist. This was going to be a nice, little bistro, with 95 seats for diners, and room for another 15 to stand and wait for the next available tables on really busy nights. As for entertainment, maybe a cool little three-piece jazz band to provide a little background music while you dined on citrus marinated shrimp or panko encrusted chicken.

There was definitely nothing over-bearing or sinister in the plans for what would become the Stonewood Tavern on Lynnfield Street. It was redevelopment of a dingy property. It was the type of development Peabody needs and wants very much as we try to get more commercial tax dollars, and stabilize tax rates on residents.

Well, we wonder how Mrs. Trainor and her South Peabody neighbors feel now.  That nice little, quiet bistro is now morphing into a noisy — and potentially disruptive — nightclub and hangout.

Ankeles and Palumbo will be back before the city council on Thursday to “amend” their entertainment license. They want to be able to have full-size bands in their new nightclub on that location. Rock? Reggae? Hip hop? A Three Dog Night Tribute band? In fact, these types of acts have already been playing there for months following a large expansion to the building. Maybe a couple of mediocre reviews about the food on Yelp made them look for an alternate revenue stream?

Clearly, they’re already not living up to the terms of what was originally agreed to in their special permit, which means the city council should do the right thing here by the neighborhood. Tell Mr. Palumbo that his nightclub needs to close its doors for now, and tell Mr. Ankeles to bring his client back for a proper special permit hearing, where the neighbors can weigh in, and where the rights of the residents can be protected.

Who knows? Maybe the neighbors like eating firecracker chicken pasta while listening to some Danny Hutton lookalike sing “Joy to the World.” But come on guys, do it right. Either it passes muster with the neighbors, or you go back to serving spicy sausage mussels without a side of hip hop or rock ‘n roll.

Re-development in Peabody should always be connected to responsibility

25 Sep

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

It was a good meeting last night at the West Branch Library. A night during which residents were presented research by a consultant on how we can revitalize Peabody’s downtown, and then asked their opinions on what should go in currently developable properties.

But there was also a moment near the end the meeting that summed up a major challenge we face as we go through the process of not only revitalizing parts of our community, but also reinvigorating our economic engine.

When the presentation was over, and all of the brainstorming done, Community Development Office official Blair Haney made a comment that spoke to something that’s unseen by many, but gotten us into past messes when it comes to development. Essentially, what Mr. Haney told the audience was that — in order to move forward — we need the full cooperation of the Peabody City Council and the residents when it comes to granting developers special permits.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I don’t think Mr. Haney was talking about granting special permits to build everything and anything developers want. After all, haven’t we recently seen the ugly side of blind cooperation when it comes to many developers in Peabody?

But it should cause us to pause, think, and ensure that we don’t get fooled again. This is indeed a cautionary tale.

Wasn’t it unchallenged “cooperation” that got us that ugly condo complex on Walnut Street, and isn’t it unchallenged “cooperation” that is causing the residents of the Winona Street neighborhood near Route 1 major headaches? I could go on and on about developers maximizing profits by building cheap, ugly projects,  grossly violating the terms special permits, and not caring about residents’ property rights.

But let’s spare you of  those gory details, and say that I don’t think there are many residents who don’t agree that we need an economic rebirth in Peabody. After all, we have a lot to pay for these days, and bringing more responsible development to the city will help us pay for capital improvements. At the same time, it would stabilize the residential tax rate. More businesses mean a lot more commercial tax revenue, which in turn means that residents aren’t taxed to death. As a result, we’d find a sane way to pay for a much-need new middle school, and flood mitigation, and all of the other improvements necessary for our civic infrastructure.

Economic development would be a great thing for Peabody, but until we get smart about it and get the right kind of development, a request for our full cooperation with developers sends chills up the spines of residents, who have had their quality of life trampled on far too often.

As a city councilor, I would most-definitely be pro-business and pro-economic development. But the rights of residents still need to come first, and those developers with a track record of violating their special permits can’t be given more chances to mess this all up again. It can no longer be a case of everything goes in Peabody, not in our downtown, and not out on Route 1.

What we need is responsible and well-planned out community re-development, and for Peabody to partner only with reputable developers to get this all done. If it’s  not the right thing to do for a neighborhood, city councilors should never fear  saying “no.”

That’s what those residents who attended that excellent meeting last night want, and that’s what they and our city deserves.

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