Above: Quik Mart on Highland Ave. and 231 Lowell St
November 9, 2015 Update: Current & Proposed Real Estate Development Projects in Ward 5:
There’s a lot of development happening in Ward 5 and around the City, despite uncertainty due to the Administration’s plan to reintroduce a comprehensive proposed overhaul of the City’s zoning code in March 2016.
Below are brief descriptions and photos of 10 development projects in Ward 5. If you have questions or concerns about any of these developments, please contact me.
My role as the Ward 5 Alderman is to keep neighbors informed about real estate developments and the permitting process; organize community meetings; help neighbors comment on and influence the developments; represent the views of neighbors to the developers and get them to make changes when desirable; and to weigh in during the permitting process on behalf of the neighbors.
My priorities are that developments be good for the neighborhood and the City. My goal is to maximize community benefits from developments. I push developers to include more affordable housing, family-sized units (3 bedroom or larger), and commercial and retail spaces (which generate more tax revenue for the City and create jobs here).
Brief update on the comprehensive zoning overhaul proposed by the Administration
The Administration’s proposal for an overhaul of the City’s zoning code this March had many positive elements, but also many serious problems. Following extensive public comment, the Board of Aldermen allowed the 90-day clock to run out and encouraged the Administration to come back with a new and better version. The City’s Planning Department is revising the initial proposal and will present a second version in March 2016. The Planning Dept. commissioned more than half-a-dozen studies on various issues, most of them requested by Aldermen. There will be a series of public meetings on key zoning issues, such as open space, affordable housing, economic development, transportation and parking, neighborhood residence zoning, and arts & the creative economy. The first one, on Open Space, is tentatively scheduled for Monday November 30 at 6 PM
Quik Mart, 290 Highland Ave (corner of Cedar St)
The developers, BREC LLC, received approval in June from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a four-story building with seven condos of varying sizes and a commercial storefront on the first floor. (Six or seven units is common in Somerville because an eight-unit project triggers the City’s inclusionary ordinance which requires that one of the units to be permanently affordable.) Due to my insistence, one of the units will be affordable. Demolition was supposed to begin in mid-October but the permitting process often takes longer than developers expect. I supported this project following significant changes by the developer. The proposed development will fill out the corner and replace an ugly little cinderblock building and parking lot with an attractive modern structure.
231 Lowell Street (corner of Woodbine St, formerly Capital Mirror and Glass Co)
There were two community meetings this year and plans were modified as a result of community input. The developer, Steven Caruso, is now proposing 22 units in three separate structures, with three affordable units, four 3 BRs, and two commercial/retail storefronts at the corner. Neighbors expressed concern that there was insufficient parking, and the developer increased it from 22 spaces to 31. The developer will still need a variance for parking under the current zoning. The developer told me that a revised application would be submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) this fall. At this point, I am prepared to support this development unless new information or concerns come to light.
Above: Shield Gas Station at 620 Broadway and the Diamond Club at Highland & Cherry
Shield Gas Station & Mini Mart, 620 Broadway (Ball Square)
There were two community meetings about this project. At the first meeting, the proposal was for 19 units, but that was dropped to 11 following complaints by some abutters and neighbors about parking. There will be only one affordable unit but half of the units will be three bedrooms. After a number of major design changes requested by the Planning Dept, this project was approved by the ZBA over the summer. The developers, Gorka and Laurenti Brabo, have done a number of highly-regarded projects in Somerville. The Shield gas station is still operating; I do not know when development will begin. The first thing to happen will be environmental remediation of the site, a strict process regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Diamond Club, 311-315 Highland Ave (corner of Cherry St)
Construction has begun and you can see the frame growing on a weekly basis. There will be seven luxury condos and a first-floor commercial space. This project was positively received, although some concerns were raised at two neighborhood meetings. The developers, Gwen Simpkins and Theresa Nibi, have done several other highly-regarded projects in the area. I am disappointed that there is not an affordable unit. (This is actually in Ward 6, right across the street from Ward 5.)
Above: 35R Lexington and 53 Josephine Ave
35R Lexington Ave (visible from the Community Path near Cedar St)
This is the oldest of development projects in Ward 5, and perhaps in all of Somerville. A group of Lexington Ave abutters and their neighbors have been fighting this project since 1998. They have succeeded in reducing its size to the two single-family houses currently under construction, listed for sale at $1,500,000 and $1,856,000. The developer is Christos Poutahidis. Neighbors have had many complaints about his work in the past. Late last year, neighbors raised concerns about drainage, groundwater, and flooding. After a community meeting at which City officials made it clear that a certificate of occupancy would not be granted until those issues are satisfactorily addressed, the City Engineer told the developer to prepare a revised drainage plan. While construction continues, the revised drainage plan has not yet been submitted. As a result, the timeline for completion of the project is uncertain.
53 Josephine Ave (across from the Brown School)
This fire-ravaged, boarded-up 3-family will be demolished and then rebuilt similar to what was there before. The developer, Randall Conrad, sent a letter in late September saying that demolition would begin in early October. His demolition permit has been delayed because the traffic plan was not adequate. Some worries were expressed because the building is across the street from a school, but I have spoken with Mr. Conrad and City officials, and I do not believe there is reason for concern.
Above: Sons of Italy , 563-565 Broadway and Lucky Market, 54-56A Elm St.
Sons of Italy, 563-565 Broadway (across from Trum Field)
This building is mostly in Medford, with just a corner over the Somerville line in Ward 5. It is 11 units with a clubhouse for the Sons of Italy Lodge on the first floor. It was permitted by both cities and construction is moving along quickly.
Lucky Market, 54-56A Elm St (at Mossland St, near Porter Square)
The developer, Houman Baiany, received a permit this spring from the ZBA to redevelop the vacant store on the corner into an improved commercial space and to add one apartment on the second floor. I have not heard from him and am surprised that work has not yet begun; I do not know what his plans are.
483 Medford Street, corner of Partridge Ave (formerly Piro Printing building)
Dr. Mouhab Rizkallah, owner of the large dental office in Davis Square on College Ave and many properties around Somerville, owns this property. Dr. Rizkallah presented two rough plans for development at a community meeting in July. Both plans would keep the current structure and add two or three floors above the one-story commercial space at the corner. There was opposition from an immediate abutter and some concerns from others, but most attendees wanted the ugly building to be improved. No plans have been submitted yet to the City. Dr. Rizkallah said that he plans to fix the property up and hold it indefinitely and while he wants to develop it, he may not do so right away.
Potential Development: Royal White Laundry, and Faulkner Oil Building, (on Cedar St next to the Community Path Extension)
The laundry ceased operations in late 2014. Jim Douglas, a developer who is currently building the two 3-family row houses on Warwick Street, has an option to purchase the property in 2016. On the other side of the Community Path Extension is the Faulkner Oil Building, where the Chamber of Commerce has its office. The owners of that building, the Dupuis Family, are considering developing it but I am not aware of their plans.
Ward 5 Alderman