Dec 4, 2015 Update
In this edition:
- Public Hearing on 20% affordable housing Dec 9 & other key meetings this week
- Future of the Green Line Extension (GLX)
- Union Square redevelopment plans
- Playing Fields
- Update on 231 Lowell Street and some other development projects in Ward 5
Important meetings this week & early January
- Mon, Dec. 7, 6:30 PM at Visiting Nurses Association, 259 Lowell St -- Zoning overhaul community meeting on Arts & the Creative Economy. Presentation by Planning Dept. and discussion
- Tues, Dec. 7, 6:30 PM at Argenziano School, 290 Washington Street -- Union Square Civic Advisory Committee will discuss the Union Square Neighborhood (Redevelopment) Plan and the Fiscal Impact Analysis study. This is a key meeting as this issue is approaching some key decision points.
- Weds, Dec. 9, 6 PM at City Hall – Board of Aldermen/Planning Board Public Hearing on 20% inclusionary affordable housing and medical marijuana dispensary zoning proposals
- Thurs, Dec. 10, 7 PM at City Hall – Board of Aldermen meeting with Public Hearing on income inequality
- Mon, Jan. 4, 6 PM at City Hall – Inauguration of all City elected officials. Mayor, President of the Board of Alderman and Chair of the School Committee give speeches.
- Weds, Jan 6, 6 PM at City Hall – Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. The 231 Lowell St development is on the agenda. Members of the public are invited to speak to the ZBA and share their thoughts on this proposed development
Please come to a Public Hearing this Wednesday Dec 9, 6 PM in City Hall on 20% inclusionary zoning for all new developments of 6+ units
My top priority as an Alderman is to advocate for building enough affordable housing so that the mixed-income, diverse nature of our community does not disappear. One way to add a lot of affordable housing is to increase the percentage of affordable units that developers are required by law to provide in new developments.
This Wednesday, you can actively support more affordable housing in Somerville! Come speak out for or just show up at a Public Hearing about an inclusionary zoning proposal to increase from 12 1/2% to 20% the percentage of apartments in new developments (minimum 6 units) that must be permanently affordable. Anyone will be allowed to speak for 2 minutes to this joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen Land Use Committee and the Planning Board. It is very important to show decision-makers in Somerville strong support for at least 20% of all new apartments being affordable. If you can’t attend, or prefer not to speak in public, you can email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and BoardofAldermen@somervillema.gov
Fred Berman, a member of the Somerville Community Corporation Board of Directors, Ward 5 resident and expert on affordable housing, wrote a terrific letter that sums up what this new zoning aims to do and why it is so important now.
Future of the Green Line Extension (GLX)
The $2 billion GLX project, which would bring five new stations to Somerville and another to Medford at Tufts, is $700 million-$1 billion over budget and therefore its future is uncertain. There is no concrete news yet but the Secretary of Transportation is scheduled to make an announcement next Wednesday about the course that they plan to take. The Green Line Extension is desperately needed in Somerville and the key to redevelopment of Union Square.
Union Square redevelopment plans
There is a lot going on around the redevelopment of Union Square. The Administration issued a 150-page Union Square Neighborhood Plan in late October that describes how the entire, larger Union Square area might be redeveloped over the next 20-40 years. This plan is more a rough sketch than a definite plan. It is a draft and public comments will be accepted through the end of the year; send them to email@example.com. In November, a Fiscal Impact Analysis of the Plan was released. A consulting firm called LOCUS is conducting a series of meetings aimed at determining what should be in a community benefits agreement between developers, the City and the community. The key participants are 30 “Strategy Leaders” who the Administration chose to represent various constituencies in Union Square.
The issues are complex. I have studied all the documents, attended dozens of meetings about them, and have been discussing the Plan with many people. While the Administration is to be credited with an open process that has engaged hundreds of people, and some aspects of the plan (such as the changes in streets) have been positively received, I am worried about some of the directions in which the Plan seems headed. I am concerned about the sheer huge scale of development envisioned, the large number of housing units proposed (over 3,000!), the small amount of open space included, and the fact that the plan does not require enough commercial development on the two large parcels right next to the Green Line station at the train tracks on Prospect Street. Not to mention the core issue of current residents and businesses getting displaced as development proceeds and rents increase.
Another concern I have is that residential development will precede and crowd out commercial development. Will the real estate development cycle crash before commercial space gets built? The City needs commercial development, particularly office and R&D and lab space, because they create good jobs and bring in far more tax revenue than does housing. Right now the market for housing is white hot, so most developers want to build housing first because it is so lucrative. The Principal of LOCUS said that the real estate market, which he described as “boom and bust for the last 6,000 years,” is in the “seventh inning.” I’ve played a lot of baseball in my life and I know what that means: the end is near! That worries me in terms of whether we’ll get the commercial development the City needs in Union Square. If you are interested in learning more about these issues, commenting on the Neighborhood Plan, or reading the key documents, contact me.
The Mayor was scheduled to give a major presentation on open space and playing fields in October. This week, we learned that this presentation will not happen until late January or February. The issue of whether to put artificial turf on the playing field at Lincoln Park will be part of this presentation, and another community meeting on this topic will also be scheduled.
The City has been negotiating access to and use of state-owned fields (Foss Park, Dilboy Auxiliary Fields, and Draw 7 Park) with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The slowness of these negotiations has been holding up the Administration’s plan. For more details, see this week’s Somerville Journal, Still No Action on Maintenance, Usage Strategy for Somerville Fields.
Update on 231 Lowell Street and some other development projects in Ward 5
(For more details on these projects, see my Nov 15, 2015 update)
231 Lowell Street (corner of Woodbine St, formerly Capital Mirror and Glass Co)
The Zoning Board of Appeals will consider the project on Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 6 PM in City Hall. There will be a Public Hearing on the application and any member of the public may speak or email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or do both. The plans can be seen at: http://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/151013_plans.pdf
There were two community meetings this year and the plans were modified. 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. While there was little opposition to the project expressed at the community meetings, many neighbors have signed a petition opposing the project because they believe there is still not enough parking. I believe this is a good project and there is sufficient parking – provided that the Lowell Street Green Line Station (to be located right across the street) is built by 2021 as promised. I am prepared to support this development unless the Green Line Lowell St. station is cancelled or significantly delayed.
Quik Mart, 290 Highland Ave (corner of Cedar St)
Demolition was supposed to begin in mid-October. I received a letter from the developer, Brent Brec, last week saying it would begin Saturday December 5th and last until mid-week.
Shield Gas Station & Mini Mart, 620 Broadway (Ball Square)
I learned this week that this project, although approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, will not be built. The developer, Gorka Brabo, discovered that there is a clause in the deed that housing cannot be built for 40 years due to pollution on the site. A previous owner was concerned that they would be liable for cleanup costs. (Any developer would have to remediate any pollution, overseen by the state Dept. of Environmental Protection.) I was told that Mr. Brabo is considering building a commercial project on the site, but that such a development is unlikely. This was a pretty good project, right next to the future Ball Square Green Line station, and I am sorry to see that site remain a gas station.
Lucky Market, 54-56A Elm St (at Mossland St, near Porter Square)
The developer, Houman Baiany, told me a few weeks ago that he has been busy with other projects and has not been able to get started on this one. He said he is now in discussions with City officials about proceeding.
483 Medford Street, corner of Partridge Ave (formerly Piro Printing building)
The developer, Dr. Mouhab Rizkallah, recently met with the City Planning Department to show them a new proposed design and has shared that design with me. He wants to have a second community meeting to get neighbors’ feedback on the new design. I am currently talking with him about this.
Ward 5 Alderman