• May Update: Lowell & Cedar St traffic safety, Green Line station designs, affordable housing crisis

    Ball Square Green Line Station Design_LowellStreetCommunityMeeting.jpg

    In this edition:

    • Reports on Lowell St bridge and Cedar St traffic calming community meetings
    • Green Line Extension: Lowell/Magoun and Ball Square station design meetings
    • The affordable housing crisis in Somerville
    • June meetings of interest to Ward 5 residents and others

    Reports on Lowell St bridge and Cedar St traffic calming community meetings

    Fifty people attended the Lowell St bridge area meeting on May 11. The good news is that all the players who make key decisions about traffic issues in that area were represented: Mass Dept. of Transportation (which controls the bridge), leaders of the Green Line Extension team, and City department heads from Traffic and Parking, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Public Works. The bad news is that City staff was completely unprepared for the meeting. Despite the fact that two previous community meetings had featured detailed presentations with traffic safety plans for the bridge area, there was no presentation and no plan to deal with the impending danger of the opening of the Community Path Extension ramp right onto the bridge. DPW Commissioner Stan Koty announced that the Path is scheduled to open on June 15, leaving little time to engineer and implement traffic calming measures.

    After many community members and I expressed our displeasure, disappointment and anger that no plan is in place to deal with the danger of cyclists and pedestrians emerging onto the bridge from the Community Path ramp, City officials said they are earnestly working on a plan with their colleagues from the state. They stated that they will present those plans at the Green Line Extension Lowell St. & Gilman Square station design meeting on June 16 (see details below). I have been told that the Cedar Street raised traffic table will not be completed until late June and that the likely opening date for the Path Extension will be delayed from June 15th until later this summer.

    The meeting about Cedar Street between Highland Ave and Broadway, attended by 35 people, featured an excellent presentation. Traffic engineers from Design Consultants Inc. and City Director of Capital Projects Rob King presented a detailed plan for chicanes (curves in the roadway with parking on alternating sides of the street, similar to what is now on Lowell Street around the bridge) with concrete bumpouts on key corners. (If you’d like to see these plans, send me an email.)

    Over the next two years, portions of Cedar Street will be closed to traffic for significant periods of time. Beginning this summer, and continuing through 2016, Cedar from Highland Ave to Elm St will be torn up and a new sewer system installed. The work on the northern stretch of Cedar St. will also require street closings this summer.

    Green Line Extension: Ball Square and Lowell/Magoun station design meetings

    I attended the Ball Square & College Ave. station design meeting on May 14th. The large plaza and landscaping in front of the station entrance should be a wonderful addition to the Ball Square area. The headhouse will be on the north side of Broadway, adjacent to the bridge, at the intersection of Boston Ave. Here is a link to the presentation from the meeting (pdf).

    Also in the Ball Square area, a four-story, 11-unit apartment building with two commercial spaces on the ground floor and 15 parking spaces has been proposed for the Shield Gas Station site (620 Broadway). The developers, the Brabo Brothers, are revising their proposal after discussions with the City’s Planning Department and me. Two community meetings were held in 2014, and the neighbors who attended were mostly positive about it. You can see the plans on this webpage. If you would like to be informed about the progress of this development, please let me know.

    The Green Line Extension Lowell St. & Gilman Square station design meeting has been rescheduled for Tuesday, June 16 (see details below). I am hoping that detailed plans for the Lowell St bridge area will be presented at this meeting. I encourage you to attend if you are concerned.

    The affordable housing crisis in Somerville

    Recently, a single-family home on Foskett St near Davis Square sold for $1.7 million, an all-time Somerville record. Median sales price data from the authoritative Warren Group show an increase of almost 50% in the value of single family homes and condos over the past five years. Prices for two- and three-family homes have appreciated at a similar rate. Investors and developers are purchasing properties at anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 above asking price, all cash, without an inspection, no contingencies. Bidding wars have become the norm. The five Green Line Extension stations are still at least two to five years away; imagine what will happen to housing prices once they are open!

    Not only working class families, but many middle-class professional families have been priced out of the Somerville housing market. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now almost $2,200. Many of our City employees cannot afford to live in Somerville. I have friends, mostly young couples with children, who have moved to Arlington and even Belmont because they can’t afford Somerville or can’t find a big enough unit to buy in this frenzied housing market.

    What does this mean for our Somerville community, historically a place where working class, professional, immigrant, and low-income households have lived side-by-side, in recent years in increasing harmony? It seems that in 10-20 years, only two-income professional families and rich people will be able to live here. The changes in the price of housing may well change the very nature of our community, in terms of who can afford to live here.

    My top priority as an Alderman is to work with the Mayor and other City leaders figure out a way to get enough affordable housing built so that the mixed-income nature of our community does not change. In racial and ethnic terms, our city is actually becoming more diverse. But Somerville is becoming less diverse socio-economically, as low-income, and increasingly, middle-income families are being displaced by the rising cost of housing.

    As Co-chair of the Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group, appointed by the Mayor in March 2015, I am working with the City’s Housing Dept staff and the 29 members of the SNWG to make recommendations to the Mayor for City actions the City to preserve and expand affordable housing in Somerville. (See below for info about the next SNWG meeting.)

    I chair the SNWG Resources Committee, and we have recommended that the Mayor push for a 1-3% transfer tax on all real estate transactions in Somerville, with the funds raised to be used exclusively for affordable housing.

    One small success story: I was able to get the developer of the Quik Mart site (290 Highland Ave) at the corner of Highland Ave and Cedar St, Brent Berc of BREC LLC, to include an affordable unit in this 7-unit development, which will also have a commercial space on the ground floor. Current zoning only requires affordable units in developments of eight or more units. This is why I am considering proposing a 20% citywide inclusionary housing ordinance, which would require one-in-five apartments in any new development be permanently affordable.

    Upcoming meetings of interest to Ward 5 residents and others

    • Ward 5 Resistat Meeting, Tuesday June 2, Kennedy School cafetorium, 5 Cherry St. Pizza and schmoozing at 6 PM, presentation at 6:30. Mayor Curtatone’s twice-yearly meeting where residents can speak with neighbors, elected officials, and city staff to get City news and neighborhood updates.
    • Board of Aldermen Land Use Committee of the Whole will meet to discuss the Administration’s proposed zoning overhaul on Thursday, June 4 at 6 PM in City Hall, Aldermen’s Chambers.
    • Mayor’s FY 2016 Budget presentation, tentatively scheduled for Thursday June 4, 7:30 PM in City Hall. Check the City calendar at www.somervillema.gov to be sure.
    • Green Line Extension Lowell St & Gilman Square station design presentation, Tuesday, June 16, 6 PM at Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave, main hall.
    • Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group, Wednesday June 24, 6:30 PM, location to be announced.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Niedergang

    Ward 5 Alderman

    617-629-8033

    Mark@MarkNiedergang.com

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