Executive Summary

Chelsea Massachusetts is a small coastal city across the river from Boston, measuring only 1.8 square miles. Chelsea is a gateway city for immigrants and contains vulnerable populations with over 50 percent minorities and a low medium household income (Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., 2010).When compared to other regions of the United States, coastal cities are the most at risk from climate change due to a combination of sea level rise, increased severe storms, increased temperature (Climate Nexus, 2012). Along the coast of New England, coastal flooding due to sea level rise and increased severity of storms are hazards that will only get worse (Frumhoff et al., 2007). Chelsea has around 50 percent of its city in a designated flood plain placing it at risk to climate change impacts. The area known as Everett Avenue is slated for several new projects consisting of hotels, office buildings and apartment complexes. This is one of the areas that have been recently added to the floodplain.

Project Goal and Objectives

The goal of our project was to better prepare the City’s Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Conservation Commission for the impacts of climate change. We focused on the Everett Ave. Urban Renewal District through a set of guidance documents. These documents will aid the boards in better adapting new developments to climate change in the Everett Ave. area. Identifying the information to include in the guidance documents required literature research, interviews with city officials and developers, and analysis of this information. The objectives of this project were to:

  • Identify climate change vulnerabilities and risks in the Everett Avenue area of Chelsea, MA through analysis of existing literature and the creation of geographical maps
  •  Determine the informational needs of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Conservation Commission related to climate change and adaptation
  • Use the information gathered in first and second objective to create a usable document to provide climate change and adaptation information for the boards

This project was completed in a series of tasks to satisfy the three objectives. Our first objective was to identify climate change vulnerabilities and risks in the Everett Avenue area of Chelsea, MA. This objective was completed in two steps. The first step was to develop tables taking into consideration sensitivities, adaptive capacity, vulnerabilities and risks of planning areas related to the redevelopment of the city. Information obtained from review of relevant literature was analyzed and sorted into these tables. The next step was to create a set of geographical maps that identified areas of physical and socioeconomic vulnerability. These maps display the physical and socioeconomic characteristics that we identified as vulnerable to climate change impacts. These maps showed the entire city of Chelsea and highlighted the Everett Ave. area.

     The second objective was to determine the informational needs of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Conservation Commission related to the impacts that climate change could have on the Everett Avenue area. We conducted a series of 8 interviews with both board members and developers in order to understand their concerns regarding climate change, climate change adaptations and which format would be best to present our guidance documents. The interviews followed a semi-structured format. The responses from these interviews were then organized into a table. The table allowed for comparison of the different responses we received. The information was analyzed to identify similarities and differences in responses that would help our team to generate the guidance documents.
     The final objective of the project was to generate the guidance documents. Two guidance documents were produced. The primary document was called Climate Change and its Effects: An Informational Guide for Adapting to Climate Change in Chelsea, MA for the City’s Zoning Board, Planning Board, and Conservation Commission. The supplemental document was called Potential Concerns and Responses. The first step in creating the primary guidance document was to create a section that can inform boards about climate change facts and impacts. This document would inform board members on why climate change should be taken into consideration. The next step for creating the primary document was to use the information gathered in the first objective to create a section on the main socioeconomic vulnerabilities that board members should be aware of when planning for climate change. The final step in creating this guidance document was to provide a table of adaptation and mitigation strategies that can be implemented in development and the benefits they have. The supplemental guidance document was designed for the Planning and Development Department and presents a list of concerns regarding specific adaptations from the developers we interviewed, and possible responses the board members can provide to developers to encourage them to start incorporating adaptation strategies.

Based on the geographical analysis completed during objective one, several findings were developed regarding which physical and socioeconomic factors make Chelsea and the Everett Ave. more vulnerable to climate change impacts. Physical vulnerabilities were related to how flooding due to severe storms and sea level rise and extreme heat events could impact the Everett Ave. area. Additionally, our team made considerations about the city’s planning area vulnerabilities and how they could be impacted by flooding due to sea level rise, severe storms and extreme heat events. Socioeconomic characteristics that increased the vulnerability of the City and its population were: language barriers, income level, age, disability, ethnicity and education. By learning how the Everett Ave. area is predicted to be impacted physically and how certain socioeconomic characteristics make the area and its residents more vulnerable, we were able to provide recommendations that will help the city better prepare for climate change.

     The analysis of our interviews with members of the city’s boards and developers led us to identify several findings that helped develop the guidance documents. We learned several concerns that developers had about climate change and adaptation. One observation was that some of the board members and developers did not regard climate change as a concern; some attributed this to their lack of information about climate change while others noted that climate change was not regulated and therefore was not a main concern for them. Our team also learned that the guidance documents will need to be concise for the board members to review during meetings because board members often have limited time to review information outside of meetings due to the fact that they are volunteers. Additionally, we found that the preferred method of a deliverable was to have a word document so that it was easily distributed to all board members and could be easily updated as more information was gathered after the completion of our project.
     Lastly, it was also preferred that the guidance documents contain recommendations for developers rather than suggest regulations that should be implemented. Both developers and board members stated that if the regulations were too strict, developers would move to other cities where the cost of developing was less and there were less regulations to follow.
Recommendations and Conclusions

In addition to the guidance documents provided, we also created a set of recommendations for the city and, more specifically, its Planning and Development Department. Our recommendations are that:

  • The Planning Development Department should provide a tutorial to the members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board and Conservation Commission about how to use the guidance documents: With the limited time that board members have to read the guidance documents, it would be beneficial for someone from the Planning and Development Department present a tutorial of how to use the guidance documents in a meeting with developers and go over each section of the guidance documents with the board members.
  • Board members should use the guidance documents during meetings with developers: Using our guidance documents during the meetings will allow board members to physically show developers any ideas presented in the guidance documents and aid the discussion.
  • Board members should send sections of the primary guidance document to developers: Due to the conclusions that some developers do not see climate change as an issue because they feel they are uninformed, it will be beneficial to allow developers to see what the effects of climate and review the adaptation options before meeting with the board members
  • Board members should adopt these guidance documents to be used for the whole city: Though our guidance documents are for the Everett Ave. area of Chelsea, the maps and adaptations are applicable to the entire city.
  • Board members should continue to update the guidance documents as new information is introduced: As new concerns from developers are brought up in meetings we recommend that these concerns are added to the guidance documents for future use.
  • Board members or other city officials should consider updating and adapting other areas of the city’s infrastructure and emergency planning: Due to the time limitations and the scope of our project we were not able to look into all areas of infrastructure or planning. However, we feel that looking into these areas in important if the city is going to address climate change as an issue.
  • The city should asses the cost and benefits of requiring developers to adapt to climate change and then create zoning ordinances to enforce these requirements: While board members and developers prefer recommendations to regulations, it is important to ensure that some changes are made; as only some developers may choose not to implement the recommended adaptations.
  • MIT Sea Grant College Program and the City of Chelsea or another project group should advocate that regulations for climate change adaptations be set at a state level: It would be beneficial to implement change at a state level to ensure that all municipalities are following the same regulations.
      Climate change’s impact on the increased occurrences of flooding, storm severity and extreme heat events have added danger to the City of Chelsea. The increased risk of climate change impacts on the Everett Avenue Urban Renewal District may have severe effects on future developments in that area. Adding provisions to development plans, such as adaptation and mitigation strategies, will not eliminate these impacts but it can help decrease both risk of harm and vulnerabilities. Our team identified the physical and socioeconomic vulnerabilities of Chelsea to show potential concerns in the future. We then generated a structured set of guidance documents for the boards that included information on climate change and adaption and mitigation options for the boards to consider, with a focus on the Everett Ave. Urban Renewal District. These recommendations could better inform the board members and developers of the City of Chelsea and be the first step for further climate change discussions by MIT Sea Grant College Program, The City of Chelsea, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.