Amid uncertainty over the fate of proposed casinos that could bring millions of dollars worth of public improvements to Everett and Revere, the two cities are taking steps to bring new vitality to key sections of their communities — with or without a gambling facility.
Everett’s City Council recently adopted a new zoning district for Lower Broadway. In addition to accommodating the casino Wynn Resorts seeks to build on the former Monsanto chemical factory site, the change aims to spur and better control new growth in the entire neighborhood.
The council also approved the creation of a redevelopment authority to foster commercial and housing projects in distressed areas, including Lower Broadway.
Revere was awarded a $1.5 million state grant toward upgrades along the Broadway business district aimed at promoting growth in the downtown economy and attracting more housing.
The initiatives come as both cities continue their push to land a casino, with Everett officials backing the proposed Wynn Resorts development on the Mystic River, and Revere leaders supporting the proposal by Suffolk Downs to locate a gambling facility on its property.
“I am extremely pleased that the City Council has voted to move forward with the redevelopment of Lower Broadway by accepting the new zoning regulations,” Mayor Carlo DeMaria of Everett said in a prepared statement. “It is a result of years of hard work, public meetings, and a commitment from my administration to make Lower Broadway a highlight for the city of Everett and an entrance to the city that makes us all proud.”
The zoning overhaul was a recommendation of a 2012 master plan for Lower Broadway, the Broadway corridor south of Route 16, according to James Errickson, the city’s director of planning and development.
Errickson said that after residents voted overwhelmingly for the proposed casino in June, Wynn Resorts began working with the city on the zoning change it needed for the casino. City officials decided that instead of just addressing that site, they would take the opportunity to make the broader zoning changes for the neighborhood called for in the master plan.
The new Broadway Economic Development District and Resort Casino Overlay District encompasses about 150 acres, most of which had been zoned light industrial. Errickson said that designation tended to hinder the level and variety of development activity along the corridor.
“Some of the current uses just aren’t necessarily the highest and best uses of a neighborhood in close proximity to Boston,” he said, citing scrap-metal businesses and car storage lots, for example. “There is an awful lot of underutilized land and some parcels are vacant or have buildings that are burned down” or are contaminated.
He said the new rules are aimed at encouraging developers to invest in projects that would bring new vitality and jobs as well as a more attractive appearance to the corridor. The plan also provides new protections for existing homes located near light industrial or other business uses.
The plan also creates new standards to allow the city to better control height, setbacks, and other building features.
Errickson said the redevelopment authority provides another tool for encouraging targeted growth. Such authorities are quasi-public bodies with broad powers to pursue redevelopment of distressed areas. To that end, Everett plans to designate part of Lower Broadway as an urban renewal area.
The $1.5 million for Revere was awarded through the state’s MassWorks Infrastructure program, which supports road and other improvements that open the way for economic growth. Chelsea, Malden, Melrose, and Salem also were recently awarded grants.
With the grant, Revere can continue the downtown improvement program that Mayor Daniel Rizzo initiated several years ago. It is concentrated on a six-block core of the downtown that extends along Broadway from Beach Street to East Mountain Avenue, according to Paul Rupp, an economic development consultant for the city.
In an initial phase completed last spring, period ornamental lights were installed along a section of the area.
The $1.5 million grant will go toward the next phase, due to begin next summer. The work will include demolition of a vacant former police station and construction of a parking lot that Rupp said will provide 50 sorely needed new spaces.
At various crosswalks along Broadway, the project calls for sidewalks to be extended into the street to narrow the roadway, making it safer for pedestrians to cross. The work also involves resurfacing sidewalks, installing more ornamental lights, and if funds allow, improving an entrance into the Central Avenue parking lot
Rupp said the overall cost of the two phases of improvements, which also involve replacement of sewer lines, is $2.42 million. The bulk of the cost not covered by the MassWorks grant comes from other federal and state funds.
“It’s very important to the city,” Rupp said of the project. “As development is happening on Revere Beach and elsewhere, the mayor was intent on breathing new life in the downtown.”
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.