Economic Development Council Advocates for Project

Paper Endorses Progress on Victoria Riverside
Zoning Board, Chairman Ripped for Holding Development Project ‘Hostage’
By Joe Cohen Standard-Times Writer

NEW BEDFORD — In an extraordinary move, a group of the area’s most prominent business leaders who head the New Bedford Economic Development Council have attacked the Zoning Board of Appeals and its chairman as obstructionist and damaging to the city’s reputation as a place in which to invest.
Zoning board Chairman Barry Sylvia and another board member counter they are working to protect the public interest and their diligence is being unfairly criticized.
At the center of the controversy is a planned $12 million, 100-unit, market-rate apartment conversion of an old mill building on the Acushnet River. It would be undertaken by the same developer who is completing a separate $35 million, 250-unit apartment conversion at Wamsutta Mills next to Route 18. That developer, Steve Ricciardi, needs a Zoning Board of Appeals special permit for the Victoria Riverside conversion of the former Whitman Mill No. 2 at 10 Manomet St.
Depending on which side you listen to, Victoria Riverview has either been jeopardized by delays orchestrated by Mr. Sylvia with support from zoning board member Dennis Costa or the delays are justified and Mr. Sylvia is acting properly.
Mr. Sylvia and Mr. Costa claim they are protecting the city from a developer and array of officials that have backed or signed off on Victoria Riverside despite the possibility that asbestos removal was not completed, not done correctly or just not certified yet. Mr. Sylvia is a holdover on the zoning board from the previous administration of Mayor Frederick M. Kalisz Jr.
Among the city agencies that have signed off on or backed Victoria Riverside to date, in addition to the Economic Development Council, are the Conservation Commission, Planning Board, Department of Public Infrastructure, Historic Commission, Police and Fire departments and City Solicitor’s office.
Economic Development Council Executive Director Matthew A. Morrissey said Thursday his agency has publicly stated — including to the zoning board — that asbestos removal is a building code enforcement issue covered by the building permit application. The Economic Development Council notes, however, Mr. Ricciardi cannot get to the building permit phase without the zoning board special permit. As a result, Mr. Morrissey’s organization alleges, the zoning board’s Mr. Sylvia and Mr. Costa are holding Victoria Riverside “hostage” and have created time delays.
Those time delays, Mr. Morrissey and the Economic Development Council allege, are causing Mr. Ricciardi problems with bankers, construction crews and others involved in the project.
More importantly, according to the letter from business leaders who oversee the quasi-public Economic Development Council, Mr. Sylvia’s refusal to act appropriately within the powers of the zoning board’s authority is damaging the city’s reputation as a place that is business-friendly.
Mr. Morrissey said, “The New Bedford Economic Development Council takes asbestos and all environmental and public health issues very seriously.” Mr. Morrissey also said the Lang administration has transformed how the city does business so as to prevent problems such as the Keith Middle School from recurring.
“What are Mr. Sylvia’s environmental credentials?” Mr. Morrissey asked. “He has to realize that the ZBA special permit is required before the city’s environmental professionals can become engaged” in this project.
The Economic Development Council letter dated Tuesday and addressed to Mr. Sylvia and the zoning board is signed by Anthony R. Sapienza, president of Joseph Abboud Manufacturing Corp.; Joseph Nauman, executive vice president of the Acushnet Co. (Titleist); Peter Kavanaugh, head of La-Z-Boy in Dartmouth; and James Mathes, vice president of SMILES.
The letter charges “… the ZBA has chosen to reach far beyond its authority … in what appears to be a continuing effort to stall the $12 million redevelopment project.
“The ZBA seems eager to enforce permitting requirements that are clearly the responsibility of the Building Department, and has chosen not to follow the guidance of their own lawyer and have instead opted, once again, to delay the project.”
The Economic Development Council alleges Mr. Sylvia has kept a public hearing open from a July 10 meeting to July 17 and then to Aug. 14.
The Economic Development Council letters state that the project is “exactly what was envisioned” for the location and the city has created a framework “to spur new development and increase our tax base.”
“However, what was not envisioned was certain members of the ZBA holding projects hostage when all other boards and departments recommend approval,” the letter states. “We cannot continue to state that New Bedford is ‘open for business’ or has in place a fair, transparent and efficient permitting process when a single board or individual can act so directly in contravention of the public good and cause the potential demise of this or future projects.”
The Economic Development Council letter states that it supports full public reviews but will “not stand by and allow this process to be manipulated by seemingly a single individual. Those who use the process to prey on the fears of the public when no danger exists or would ever be allowed to exist must no longer be permitted to have control over the responsible development and growth that this city so urgently needs.”
The letter closes by asking that the zoning board give the project its approval.
Mr. Sylvia on Thursday defended his role by saying that “we asked questions” and he was concerned about “integrity” in the zoning board process. Mr. Costa said he was “grateful” to have the continued leadership on the board of Mr. Sylvia.
Other members of the five-member zoning board have indicated they would support giving Mr. Ricciardi the special permit. However, four votes are needed.
Contact Joe Cohen at
July 25, 2008
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OUR VIEW: Move Riverside project forward
Most developers want to do business the right way.
They invest a lot of time and money, take risks and ask only that the government agencies whose job it is to make sure things are done right are clear about what their expectations are and then enforce the rules fairly and promptly.
We understand, then, the frustration of developer Steve Ricciardi, who already is spending $35 million to convert the old Wamsutta Mills off Route 18 in New Bedford into 250 apartments, and who now is trying to undertake a similar — though smaller — project in the old Whitman Mill No. 2 on the Acushnet River off Manomet Street.
Called Victoria Riverside, it would cost $12 million and provide 100 market-rate apartments. It has the blessing of a host of city agencies, as well as business leaders throughout the community.
But there is a holdup in the person of two members of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, Chairman Barry Sylvia and Dennis Costa, who have delayed finishing the board’s review and giving its approval. Their stated objections concern whether asbestos has been removed properly, and the two say they are acting in the public’s interest.
However important it is that the standards for asbestos removal are enforced so as to protect workers and future residents of the apartment project, that enforcement responsibility falls outside the purview of the ZBA, which rules on such matters as whether a residential project belongs in an industrial zone or vice versa.
Needless to say, the delays are costing the developer money, and his workers who should be on the job are idle until this matter is resolved.
Everyone is frustrated with what they view as simple intransigence on the part of Mr. Sylvia and Mr. Costa (other ZBA members say they are in favor of approval of the project).
If they are, in fact, worried about asbestos, that is fine. Once the ZBA gives its approval, Mr. Ricciardi still needs a building permit to proceed, and building inspection services personnel will have to ensure that any asbestos problem has been solved properly.
We urge Mr. Sylvia and Mr. Costa to act in the community’s best interest and move this project along as soon as possible.
July 27, 2008
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