After heated debate between common council members and Mayor Timothy Stewart, the Democratic majority voted against a project calling for the sale of property for housing at the former Aquinas building on Kelsey St.
“I’m so relieved,” said Rebecca Woods, who lives on Kelsey St. “We are committed to the neighborhood and want it to retain the characteristics which it has.”
JoAnne Brodie of Community Builders Inc. of Massachusetts told the council there would have been duplex and town house style buildings with a total of 91 bedrooms including 15 for seniors 55 and older.
Alderman Mark Bernacki said for years the neighbors had yielded complaints about the blighted building.
“They asked us to do something for them,” Bernacki said. “One of the reasons the NRZ was formed was to do something about that blighted property.”
But, neighbors said they did not want this project as they submitted a petition with over 150 signatures to the council.
Kenneth Malinowski, director of municipal development, told the council that requests for proposals had been sent out to many newspapers in the state and many people looked at the property, but only one responded. He said the problem was the cost for demolition which is estimated at over $500,000. Asbestos problems would cost developers another $500,000.
“Developers hoped to save the building, but they can’t,” said Malinowski. “We put it out to bid and we are lucky to have the one bid we have.”
But, Alderman Michael Trueworthy did not agree with that statement.
“I’m sick of this being all or nothing,” Trueworthy said. “This belittles us all. Something wasn’t done right. The plan is not right or it was not put out right…I’m sick of being pigeon holed. The City is better than that.”
After asking Trueworthy to sit down and vote, Mayor Stewart responded, “Unfortunately, I live in reality and some of us don’t.”
“When we disagree with the policies this administration tells us to just sit down and vote,” said Alderman David DeFronzo. “I have many concerns about traffic, the quality of life and the neighborhood.”
Alderman Eva Magnuszewski said she had phone calls and emails from many people from the neighborhood and all were against the project.
During public audience Julie Swan who is in charge of the East Side NRZ said meetings were held between some council members and neighbors against the project. She said those voices for the project were not heard.
Neighbors said they met with council members, but it was not an official meeting.
“If the City does not do something with the project the cost to maintain the property will give added fees to the City,” said Alderman Lou Salvio. “These costs will go back to the taxpayers.”
Alderman Emmanuel Sanchez, the lone Democrat to vote for the project said, “It has not and will not change if nothing is done. I have good faith in Community Builders that they will do the right thing.”
The final vote was 9-5.