A tortilla factory will not be moving into the former Kayem site on Winnisimmet Street following the unanimous decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals which denied five special occupancy permits that were being sought at a crowded hearing in Chelsea city hall Tuesday night.
About 65 men and women from the neighborhood attended. More than 20 chose to speak out either for or against the proposed project. Proponents were outnumbered by opponents.
The meeting brought out the passion in nearly all of those who spoke.
Opponents largely believed that the neighborhood would not be enhanced by the tortilla factory. They said en masse that odors, noise from exhaust fans, proximity to residential housing and truck traffic would likely change the delicate balance that exists in what is arguably one of Chelsea’s most attractive neighborhoods.
Proponents argued that a tortilla factory would not radically alter life in the waterfront district. They said the district’s shipyard and a local lobster company proved that the area is partly industrial and that odors from a tortilla factory would not effect the quality of life.
Local resident Richard Smigielski summed up the feelings of many who live in the historic neighborhood by the water when he told the board: “This is the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Zoning Board Chairman John DePreist said he was disappointed and frustrated by a lack of details from the Chino Family, owners of a local restaurant Cinco De Mayo, and owners of the proposal to turn the former Kayem site into a tortilla manufacturing factory.
“I would have preferred a plan that had more detail,” DePreist said during deliberations with his colleagues.
Chino Family attorney Richard Clayman made an extraordinary plea to the board before they voted.
The noted local attorney and real estate developer said the board received less information in this instance because the Chinos are good people, honorable people, who were going to do the right thing.
“You’re not going to get a perfect project,” he said. He also paid homage to the Monkiewicz Family, owners of the 16,000 square foot structure who have been trying for more than two years to sell the property where sausages used to be manufactured and stored.
“The Monkiewicz’s are heroes and warriors in this city. They paid money to the city and helped to keep it going when Chelsea went broke ,” Clayman said.
Zoning Board of Appeals member Janice Tatarka and James Mahoney both voted against the special permits being sought.
Tartaka said: “I needed more information.”
Mahoney said that granting a special permit for a factory would be a fait accompli for the neighborhood.
“The noise from exhaust fans and other concerns are real for residents living within proximity of the proposed factory.
“I would hate to be living in such a place if a factory came to be on that site,” he added.
The board’s denial of the permits caused a round of applause from proponents.
For the Monkiewicz Family, it is back to the drawing board.
Patrick Monkiewicz, one of the leaders at the food producing giant, seemed unphased by all the hubbub.
The owners of the Kayem Company are the largest employer in the city. They are willing to lend a helping hand to the right buyer for the property.
However, this was the second time in two years that development projects were shot down because of neighborhood concerns.
A local developer had tried to gain special permits to build more than 20 units of residential housing on the site.
That effort was rebuffed as being too dense. And now the tortilla factory as a development venue has been denied.
The concern for potential buyers and developers is that the neighborhood must be faced each time a portion of the property is going to be rented or listed for a use – making it virtually impossible for developers to plan out a winning strategy.
According to ISD Chief Joe Cooney, no occupancy permit for any use will be issued by his office until the zoning issue is resolved.
“They may have a building that can’t be sold,” said a local resident who wished remain unnamed.
The property is assessed at almost $800,000.
The Chinos were apparently going to pay $750,000 with the Kayem Company giving the mortgage.
Many of those who spoke against the tortilla factory said they would work with Kayem and the Monkiewicz Family to get the right tenant.
Smigielski, speaking a second time, said the project did not make sense.
“This would be a step back. Please don’t set us back,” he pleaded with the membership of the board before they voted.
“Don’t drive me, my family, and many others out of this city. Please deny this proposal,” he said.