Public hearings on zoning, transfer fee, GLX construction, more Cedar Street work

Corner-of-Highland-Cedar.jpg    110_walnut_st_0.jpg

Photos: Cedar & Highland intersection, Affordable Housing in Somerville.

In this issue:

  • Public hearing on proposed citywide zoning overhaul - Tuesday, April 3, 6 PM, City Hall
  • Public Hearing on Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition - Wednesday, April 4, 6 PM, City Hall
  • Mayor proposes 19 new positions, Board of Aldermen set to approve seven
  • Cedar-Highland intersection closure for 3 weeks in late March, early April
  • Green Line Extension (GLX) construction update meeting Wednesday, March 28, 6:30 PM,Somerville High School; contacts and issues in Ward 5 (Magoun/Lowell and Ball Square stations)
  • Henry Hansen Park redesign meeting Monday, March 26, 6 PM, Visiting Nurse Association

Public hearing on proposed citywide zoning overhaul -- Tuesday, April 3, 6 PM, City Hall

The Public Hearing before the Board of Aldermen (BOA) and Planning Board has been rescheduled for Tuesday, April 3 at 6 PM in the Aldermen’s Chambers in City Hall.  If you care about what Somerville will look like in the future, you may want to attend, whether you want to speak or not.  It’s always interesting to hear what our neighbors have to say!  If you can’t attend, you can submit written comments to [email protected]

A Public Hearing is required by state law for any proposed zoning change.  The close of the public comment period kicks off a 90-day window within which the BOA must act on a proposed zoning change or else it dies.  Most likely that will give the BOA until mid-July to act.  If the BOA does nothing, the proposal dies.  This is what happened in 2015 with the first version of the zoning overhaul.

This time around, I think there is more of a chance that something will be passed by the BOA, but not sure  how much of a chance.  Any zoning change requires a 2/3 vote by the BOA, at least 8 of the 11 Aldermen,a high bar to jump over.  If we do pass something, I am certain the BOA will make changes to the Administration’s proposal, probably in many significant ways.  That’s why I look forward to hearing from residents and business owners about what’s wrong and what’s right with the Administration’s proposal.

I am learning and working to understand this enormous proposed change (600 pages plus maps!), but I am favorably disposed and would like to be able to support a citywide zoning overhaul. 

Our current zoning code is dysfunctional in many ways and extremely hard to understand.  It allows too much and too big developments in our already-dense neighborhoods.  It makes many development projects political footballs, often requiring neighbors to spend huge amounts of time to fight to preserve what they love about their neighborhood against well-heeled developers who have many advantages under state law.  It requires an extensive application and formal approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals for small additions and improvements that homeowners want to make, costing them thousands of dollars and much time and stress.  It doesn’t allow intense enough development in transformational areas like Boynton Yards, Innerbelt, and Assembly Square.  It does not deal well with the squares where by 2021 there will be new GLX stations; these transit-oriented areas should have higher density and commercial development.  Our current zoning requires too much parking in some areas, but due to the special permit process, some projects end up getting built with too little parking.  In short, it’s a mess!  We can do much better.

Public Hearing on Real Estate Transfer Fee Home Rule Petition -- Wednesday, April 4, 6 PM, City Hall                 

You may have heard about the proposed Real Estate Transfer Fee (RETF) Home Rule Petition (HRP), but it is possible that what you have heard is inaccurate.  There has been some misleading information and lies spread about this proposal by the Small Property Owners Association of Cambridge and by uninformed individuals in Somerville.

I’ll give you an introduction and status update on the RETF HRP here.  I will write to you again in the coming weeks with a detailed explanation of why I believe that Somerville needs a RETF to (A) raise desperately-needed funds for affordable housing and (B) to make developers and speculators pay more to the City out of the substantial profits they are making in Somerville.  And at that time I will rebut some of the misguided and misleading criticisms that have been leveled at this proposal.

A RETF is a fee paid only at the time of property sale. All the funds raised would go in the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, to be used only for affordable housing.

Here’s the background and current status.  This issue has been studied and analyzed in depth by three different city committees over the past three years.  The Mayor made a RETF a key platform in his re-election campaign.  In January, the Administration introduced a rough draft of a RETF HRP to the Board of Aldermen (BOA).  The BOA’s Legislative Matters Committee, which I chair, has been meeting as a Committee of the Whole to revise this draft. Over the past two months, in four long meetings, we have made many changes to the Administration’s proposal, and in my opinion, improved it significantly.

There are two steps for Somerville to implement a RETF.  First, the City needs to submit a Home Rule Petition to the State Legislature, asking the Legislature to allow the City of Somerville to implement a RETF.  (In Massachusetts, a city or town cannot enact a new revenue-raising measure without the approval of the State Legislature.)  Second, if we are fortunate enough to have our HRP approved by the Legislature – a long shot according to many people familiar with the politics of the Legislature – the BOA would then get to craft an ordinance with the exact details of how a RETF would work.  Fortunately, all four of our state legislators are strong supporters of a RETF, so they will help.

The current draft of the HRP leaves many issues open, to be decided down the road if  the Legislature approves our HRP.  You can read it on the City of Somerville website,, which will have a separate webpage devoted this issue.  Or just email me and I will send the current draft to you. 

The BOA is holding the Public Hearing on April 4th to receive comments from the community on this draft or on the general concept of a RETF.  If you don’t want to speak or can’t attend, you can email all 11 Aldermen at [email protected].  We have already received dozens of emails on this issue.  The BOA can make more changes in this current draft of the HRP before it is submitted to the Legislature.

The current draft calls for a fee of up to 1% on the purchase price of all property sales, and up to 2% if the seller has owned the property for less than five consecutive years.  (The 2% is the anti-speculation component.) 

While I strongly favor a RETF for Somerville, I am still flexible on some important aspects of the Home Rule Petition.  Two key issues that we have discussed at length and which I am looking forward to hearing from the public about are: who pays (buyer or seller) and exemptions.  The current draft does not specify whether the fee is paid by the buyer or the seller.  The BOA has approved, so far, five exemptions and discussed and voted on half-a-dozen more which were defeated.  It is possible that more exemptions will be included in the HRP after the Public Hearing.  The current language also allows the BOA to add more exemptions if the Legislature passes the HRP and returns it to us to craft an ordinance. 

Here are the five exemptions in the current draft: “SECTION 4. The following transfers of real property interests shall be exempt from the fee established by this act: (a) transfers between family members as defined by the city; (b) transfers of convenience with consideration under $100.00 as defined by the city; (c) transfers to the government of the United States or any other instrumentality, agency of subdivision thereof, or the commonwealth or any instrumentality or subdivision thereof; (d) vulnerable seniors as defined by the city; and (e) with respect to a property where that property owner has had a residential exemption from the city of Somerville for twenty consecutive years with respect to that property as further defined by ordinance.”

In order for this HRP to have a chance of passage this year in the Legislature, the City will need to send it to the Legislature by the end of April.  There are meetings scheduled for the Legislative Matters Committee of the Whole for April 5, 9 and 11, so if Aldermen want to make changes to the current draft, there is ample time after the Public Hearing in which to do so.

A note on a related issue: There has also been some public discussion, and we have received many emails about a proposed Home Rule Petition for Tenants’ Right to Purchase/Right of First Refusal.  This issue is also in the Legislative Matters Committee, but we have not had the time yet to make a lot of progress on it and I believe it is unlikely that a HRP would be approved and sent to the Legislature before this fall at the earliest.

Mayor proposes 19 new positions, Board of Aldermen set to approve seven

In January, the Administration proposed adding 19 new full-time positions to the City budget, and asked the BOA to allocate funds for those positions.  This is quite unusual, unprecedented in fact, as usually new positions are proposed as part of the BOA’s consideration of the City’s annual budget in June, for the fiscal year starting July 1.  However, the Administration argued that due to the amount of street construction work that will begin this spring, and other urgent demands for more staff, we should move forward on creating these positions before the formal budget process.

After getting a lot of pushback from BOA members, the Administration came back with a list of six “critical” positions and prioritized the other 13 at various levels of urgency. The Finance Committee, meeting as a Committee of the Whole, chaired by Alderman-at-Large Bill White, has now considered and voted on the 19 proposed positions.  Five of the six “critical” positions have been approved by the Finance Cmte and are either already confirmed by the full BOA or likely to be soon. These positions are: Director of the (new) Office of Housing Stability; GLX Project Liaison (Transportation & Infrastructure Dept); Construction Project Manager (Engineering Dept); Construction Liaison and Compliance Manager (Engineering); and Director of Finance and Administration (Water and Sewer Dept).  In addition, the Finance Committee approved two “highly recommended” positions, a new Project Manager in the Engineering Dept and a Streetscape and Public Space Planner in the Transportation & Infrastructure Dept.

I voted for all of the approved positions,except the Director of Finance and Administration in Water/Sewer,because I believe these are urgently needed to deal with the challenges of Somerville’s fast pace of physical change and growth.  I have seen clearly that our City government needs more Engineering staff to deal with the growing number of sewer, water and streetscape projects that are tearing up our streets. We also need more staff to work on traffic calming, making our streets work better and safer for all users and to oversee construction of the GLX and Community Path (a $2.3 billion project).

I am particularly pleased that the City will be creating a Office of Housing Stability, and hiring a Director to set it up and staff it up, hopefully later this year.  This Office will work directly with tenants and homeowners facing urgent housing needs and crises, such as displacement, in close coordination with some of the non-profit agencies that are already involved in this work, but which do not have the resources to even begin to meet the vast need.  The Office of Housing Stability will also help develop new housing strategies and policies to deal with the affordable housing crisis that is driving many longtime residents out of Somerville and rapidly changing the demographics of our city.

Cedar-Highland intersection closure for 3 weeks coming in late March, early April

Neighbors have been amazingly patient and understanding of the enormous disruption and noise this necessary but unpleasant huge construction project has brought to their lives.  

The Cedar Street sewer project will continue through the spring.  If all goes well, from Elm Street to Highland Avenue, the sidewalks will be renovated, trees planted, and roadway paved in the summer.  The next major step is work in the intersection of Highland Avenue and Cedar Street, which will necessitate the full closure of that intersection from 7 AM – 3:30 PM for three weeks on weekdays, and perhaps on some Saturdays.  This was announced, but has since been delayed several times due to weather and unanticipated challenges with our aging water and sewer pipes.  The City Communications Dept. will be announcing the dates of the closure a few days in advance. 

The upper Cedar St -- Broadway to Highland Avenue -- Roadway Improvements Project is scheduled to finally get done this summer.  The plans were all set, and the need is urgent. The three new positions in the Engineering Department should assure that this and many other street work projects get done on time and with as little disruption to residents and roadway users as possible.

Green Line Extension (GLX) construction update meeting Wednesday, March 28, 6:30 PM Somerville High School; contacts and issues in Ward 5 (Magoun/Lowell and Ball Square stations)

The GLX construction update meeting is rescheduled for Wednesday, March 28, 6:30 PM in the Somerville High School auditorium.  Starting in April, construction work on and around the tracks will begin.  Some of this work will take place in Ward 5, which will have two GLX stations -- on Lowell Street near Maxwell’s Green (to be called Magoun Square station) and in Ball Square.

I have already heard from a couple of Ward 5 residents with questions and concerns.  One concern regards the closure of the Ball Square bridge on Broadway over the railroad tracks.  I have been told that the entire roadway on the bridge will need to be closed for construction, but I do not know when, for how long, or what the detour plan will be.  This week, I learned that the closure will happen in 2019.

In December, I attended the first meeting of the GLX Community Working Group, whose members will serve as liaisons to the neighborhoods surrounding the construction.  Somerville City officials chose three Ward 5 residents to serve on this Working Group.  Their names and contact info are listed below so that you can connect with them with questions or concerns or to ask them to contact you.  They will have the most current information about construction activities and will be reaching out to residents and businesses as construction activities begin. 

Jennifer Dorsen (Ball Square station/Somerville) -- [email protected] (617) 623-5993or (617) 291-4829

Jim Silva (Ball Square station/Medford)—[email protected]  (339) 545-1474

Ryan Dunn (Magoun Square station) -- [email protected] (617) 697-6838

Michaela Bogosh (at large) -- [email protected] (603) 548-3031

There are also Facebook pages for:

Ball Square station

Magoun Square station

If you have concerns about GLX construction work in your neighborhood, you can also contact me. For more information on the GLX project, please visit

Henry Hansen Park redesign meeting Monday, March 26, 6 PM, Visiting Nurse Association

Henry_Hanson_Park.jpg   800px-First_Iwo_Jima_Flag_Raising.jpg  Iwo_Jima_2.png

Photos: Henry Hanson Park, First flag raising at Iwo Jima (Staff Sgt. Lou Lowery), Second Flag raising (Joe Rosenthal/AP).

You are invited to a Henry Hansen Park Redesign Community Meeting on Monday, March 26, 6 pm at the Visiting Nurse Association, 259 Lowell St. in the 3rd Floor Conference Room (opposite the Community Room).

This little-known pocket park is located in Magoun Square at the corner of Medford St & Partridge Ave. It is underutilized because it is covered with shrubs and has only two benches, which are right by busy Medford St. Every green and open space in our densely-settled little city is precious!  We can make a lot better use of this space. The Commissioner of Veterans’ Services, Bryan Bishop, myself, and Ward 5 resident DJ Chagnon from CBA Landscape Architects will host the meeting and Mr. Chagnon will present a proposed redesign.  For more information, please contact Bryan Bishop at Somerville Veterans’ Services at 617-625-660 x4700 or [email protected].  

Some Somerville history: This park honors Sgt. Henry O. "Hank" Hansen, a Magoun Square resident killed in action just one week after participating in the first flag raising on Iwo Jima. I am sure you are familiar with the iconic photo of Marines raising the U.S. flag on Iwo Jima. What I bet you don't know (I didn't) is that the iconic photo actually captures a second flag-raising with a larger flag than what was first raised by Sgt. Henry Hanson and others. A lesser-known photo of the first flag raising includes Somerville's Sgt. Hanson, he is in the soft cap, holding the flagstaff.


Mark Niedergang

Ward 5 Alderman


[email protected]

Do you like this post?


  • Tina Lu
  • Becca Zlotowicz
  • Marie McBride
  • Joshua Himmelfarb
  • Michael Moccia
  • Alexi Cohan
  • Mary Markos
  • Sean Diamond
  • Luc Schuster
  • Charles Spellman

Tina Lu just joined.

Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.