In this edition:
- Major safety improvements coming to key Ward 5 streets this spring and summer
- Update on progress and prospects of the proposed zoning overhaul
- Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group and the affordable housing crisis
- Plastic bag ban, anti-nepotism, pervious surface requirements and other legislation
- Upcoming public meetings of interest to Ward 5 residents and others
Major safety improvements coming to key Ward 5 streets this Spring
Lowell, Cedar, and Porter Streets will all see major changes this spring and Linden Avenue will finally be paved this spring or summer. The speed limits on Lowell and Porter Streets were reduced this month from 30 to 25 mph. Yes, this is still too high! Our State Rep. Denise Provost has been working for years to reduce the speed limit throughout the City and Mayor Curtatone has joined this effort.
With the reduction in speed on Lowell Street, crosswalks can now be placed on either end of the Lowell Street bridge – something residents have demanded for years. It’s especially needed with the impending opening of the Community Path Extension ramp right onto the bridge. There will be a community meeting Monday, May 11 at 6:30 PM at the Visiting Nurse Association, 259 Lowell St to discuss placement of the crosswalks, improving the chicanes that were installed last June, and other safety measures for the Lowell Street bridge corridor. Please come and bring your concerns and ideas! I will be advocating for a raised traffic-calming table or speed bumps on either side of the bridge to force vehicles to slow as they go over the bridge.
Cedar Street between Highland Ave and Broadway will be repaved this summer. A plan for chicanes (similar to what is now on Lowell Street around the bridge) will be presented at a community meeting on Monday, May 18at 6:30 PM at the Visiting Nurse Association, 259 Lowell St. The long-awaited raised traffic-calming table at the Community Path will likely be built sometime in May or June. The Community Path extension from Cedar to Lowell Streets is looking good and will be finished…sometime. I’ve heard both late spring or by the end of the summer.
Beginning in the spring of 2016, Cedar Street from Highland Avenue to Elm Street will be torn up and then repaved and improved with a complete replacement of the sewer system. This should stop the flash floods in the bowl on Cedar St at the intersection of Hall St and Cedar Ave.
Thank you to the many Ward 5 residents who have written or spoken to me and other City officials about your concerns about the excessive speed of traffic in our streets. We need changes in city and state laws and regulations to get the right balance between motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. I expect this to be a major focus of my work as Ward 5 Alderman in the years to come…should I have the good fortune to be re-elected in November.
Update on progress and prospects of the proposed zoning overhaul
The Curtatone Administration’s proposal for a comprehensive overhaul of the City’s zoning code may expire without a formal vote by the Board of Aldermen (BOA) when the 90-day window after the closing of the official public comment period ends in late June. A number of aldermen wanted to vote it down immediately, but I and others argued that even if there are too many major problems to resolve in 90 days, we should try to figure out if they could be fixed.
While there are many good things in the Administration’s proposal and a lot to build on, there are also many major problems in it. The Planning Department received an estimated 300 communications from the public with over 1,000 individual comments, questions, and concerns. I have read most of them, and quite a few are detailed, brilliant critiques. I submitted a five-page memo on my Issues page with concerns and questions about the proposal.
The Land Use Committee of the Whole BOA will meet again on Wednesday, May 6 at 6 PM in City Hall to hear the Administration’s responses to the criticisms. I am very much looking forward to this presentation. I think it will tell us to what extent the Administration is willing to move from its initial proposal and whether there is hope for common ground. Any change to the zoning law requires a two-thirds vote of the BOA, the votes of eight Aldermen. You can find information about the proposed new zoning code at http://www.somervillema.gov/zoning/
Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group (SNWG) and the affordable housing crisis
After a slow start following the Mayor’s October 2014 announcement, this group has met twice and is quickly getting up to speed. The goal is to make recommendations in September on the six areas the Mayor asked the SNWG to explore and other affordable housing initiatives. I am delighted to be Co-chairing with Dana LeWinter, the City’s former Housing Director, and to be working with the City’s excellent Housing Dept staff. SNWG consists of 29 experienced, diverse and well-qualified people. The next meeting is Tuesday April 28, 6:30 PM, Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell St, 3rd floor Community Room and is open to the public. One interesting and controversial topic on the agenda is Mayor Curtatone’s desire to increase the Somervision strategic plan goals for housing units in Somerville in the next 20 years from 6,000 (1,200 affordable) to 9,000 (1,800 affordable).
Plastic bag ban, anti-nepotism, pervious surface improvements and other legislation
I am a member of the BOA’s Legislative Matters Cmte (LM), which crafts ordinances (laws) and sends them to the full BOA for consideration. LM has been working on a number of important issues this year, and we are getting close to decisions on some of them. Several cities in Massachusetts and around the country have enacted plastic bag bans. Recently, Cambridge passed a “Bring Your Own Bag” law that not only will ban plastic bags but will require stores to charge for paper bags. I am looking to copy the most effective best practices on plastic bag bans for our ordinance.
We have been deliberating on an anti-nepotism ordinance that in its current draft version would preclude relatives of the Board of Aldermen or the Mayor from getting full-time, benefitted City jobs.
Since the City has a huge flooding problem, we’re working on strengthening the ordinance that limits pavement to require more pervious surfaces. There are also some interesting proposals in the hopper which I hope we will get to later this year, such as a re-introduction of the “pay to play” campaign finance reform which Mayor Curtatone vetoed last year.
Upcoming public meetings of interest to Ward 5 residents and others
- Sustainable Neighborhoods Working Group, Tuesday April 28, 6:30 PM, Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell St, 3rd floor Community Room.
- Land Use Committee of the Whole Board of Aldermen, Wednesday, May 6, 6 PM in City Hall, Aldermen's Chambers.
- Lowell Street bridge corridor traffic calming community meeting, Monday, May 11 at 6:30 PM, Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell St, 3rd floor Community Room.
- Cedar Street (Highland to Broadway) traffic calming community meeting, Monday, May 18 at 6:30 PM, Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell St, 3rd floor Community Room.
- Ward 5 Resistat Meeting, Tuesday June 2, Kennedy School cafetorium, 5 Cherry St., pizza and schmoozing at 6 PM, meeting begins 6:30. (This is Mayor Curtatone’s twice-yearly meeting to share the latest City news and neighborhood updates directly with residents and gather feedback.
Ward 5 Alderman