In this update:
- Zoning overhaul: Ward 5 Information Meeting and Workshop on the Administration’s proposed City zoning code overhaul -- Monday, March 16, 6:30 PM, Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell St, 3rd Floor Community Room
- Snow shoveling deadline changed back to six consecutive daylight hours
- Plastic bag ban to be discussed Thursday night March 19, 6 PM in Legislative Matters Committee
- Union Square development controversy over key D2 and D3 parcels: BOA resolution prioritizing commercial development
Zoning overhaul Information Meeting and Workshop
If you are uninterested in zoning, believe me, I understand. However, it is super important for the future of Somerville. If the Administration’s zoning overhaul is passed by the Board of Aldermen, it will generate enormous changes in the City’s built environment. This Ward 5 community meeting is a good opportunity to meet neighbors, learn more about the proposed changes, ask questions, raise concerns, and discuss the impact on specific properties and areas in Ward 5.
I am still learning about what’s in the current draft of the proposed new ordinance (the current draft is 285 pages long); it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion. I will be sharing some of my initial concerns at the meeting. Very briefly, some of them are: not enough open and green space required; not enough affordable housing required; too much housing could be built at the expense of commercial development; the new proposed public process to approve larger developments will reduce the influence of neighbors and the community, and many others. (If you would like to know my specific concerns, please email me, I am writing them up over the weekend and will share them with you.) You can find information about the proposed new zoning code at http://www.somervillema.gov/zoning/
Snow shoveling deadline changed back to six consecutive daylight hours
On Monday night March 9th, the Legislative Matters Committee of the Whole voted to change the snow shoveling deadline back to what it had been: six consecutive daylight hours after the end of snowfall. (We also voted to reduce the required width of a shoveled path from 42’ to 36’, which is the Federal ADA requirement.)
The snow shoveling deadline has been one of the most challenging issues I have had as an Alderman. I have heard from and discussed it with scores of constituents. Eight Aldermen discussed and debated this question for two hours. There is no solution that works for everyone. The previous rule of six consecutive daylight hours seems like the least bad solution, and better than the 10 AM and 10 PM deadlines that so many people objected to. Its biggest shortcoming is that if the snow ends in the morning, the deadline would be that afternoon, which will be difficult for many residents to comply with. However, the Administration assured us that Inspectors do not ticket homeowners on the day of a snowstorm, so despite the official deadline, residents will in practice have until the following day to clear their sidewalks before risking a ticket.
Plastic bag ban to be discussed Thursday night in Legislative Matters Committee
Last year, in the Environment and Energy Committee, at the initiative of Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz, we held several discussions and a Public Hearing about a proposed ordinance to restrict stores from using plastic shopping bags. It’s now in the Legislative Matters Committee. I believe there are some significant weaknesses in the current draft ordinance and plan to push to revise it to make it more inclusive, tougher and to close some loopholes.
Cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Mexico City and even the state of California and some entire countries have passed plastic bag bans. In Massachusetts, Brookline, Nantucket, Manchester, and Great Barrington have passed bans. The draft we are considering is based on Brookline’s law. Clint Richmond, a Brookline resident and member of the Massachusetts Sierra Club Legislative Action Committee will attend our meeting on Thursday night to discuss the Sierra Club’s recommendations for a Somerville plastic bag ban that will be even stronger and more effective than Brookline’s.
Union Square development controversy over key D2 and D3 parcels: BOA resolution prioritizing commercial development
After hearing many expressions of shock, alarm, and dismay by residents and activists in Union Square, I worked with President Bill White to write a resolution expressing the Board of Aldermen’s concern. Eight of the nine Aldermen present at the meeting last night co-sponsored the resolution, which you can see here.
On February 26, US2 (Union Square Station Associates), the Master Developer working in partnership with the City, presented “Giving Shape to D2/D3,” their initial program for developing the two parcels that abut the future Green Line subway station. The Administration has tasked US2 with developing them as soon as possible since the T station will open in 2017. (Many concerns have been raised about this aggressive timeline and the planning process itself.) US2’s initial recommendations include 925 small apartments, 500 of them in the key D2 bloc. Many people are concerned that this would preclude far more important commercial development on D2 and D3. See the Somerville Journal editorial
This week, the City Planning Department held a three-day “Union Square Design Charrette,” attended by hundreds of people who worked together with designers, planners, and architects to begin to flesh out what a redeveloped Union Square might look like. I spent parts of three late afternoons and evenings at the Old Post Office taking it all in. It was a productive exercise with many exciting and interesting preliminary designs for buildings, parks, open space, roadways, etc. Here is a link to a slide presentation with many of these designs.
The Union Square redevelopment planning process will continue through the spring.
Ward 5 Alderman