GLX moving forward, Ball Sq. Bridge closure, big issues for 2019

In this issue:

  • Green Line Extension (GLX) moving forward; Ball Square buildings and Homans Building to be demolished                                              
  • Broadway/Ball Square Bridge closure delayed until late February-early March; detour routes set; traffic and public safety impacts
  • Citywide zoning overhaul round 3: major focus for Board of Aldermen in first half of 2019
  • Other big issues before the Board of Aldermen
  • A Somerville survival guide: How you can know what’s going on around you and get what you need from City government -- phone numbers & email addresses, lists to get on, and websites

Ball_Sq_bowling_alley.jpg  GLX.jpg  Ball_Square_Somerville_MA.jpg  

Green Line Extension (GLX) moving forward; Ball Square buildings and Homans Building to be demolished

GLX Constructors, the company building the Green Line Extension, has stepped up its level of activity in the past couple of months, and is often working on nights and weekends.  The next major phases of work will involve drainage installation and construction of retaining and noise walls.  By the end of 2018, the Homans Building in Gilman Square, and the bowling alley and auto repair shop in Ball Square will be demolished to make way for the future GLX stations.  Station designs have not been released yet.

A number of Ward 5 residents have complained to me and/or to the GLX Team about noise and other issues, and the GLX Team has been fairly responsive.  So don’t hesitate to make your concerns known, and let me know if I can help.  (See the Survival Guide below for how to stay informed about GLX work and contact info.)

Broadway/Ball Square Bridge closure delayed until late February-early March; detour routes set;  traffic and public safety impacts 

The one-year complete closure of the Broadway/Ball Square Bridge has been pushed back once again, and is now scheduled to begin in late February – mid-March 2019.  I am happy about this delay; hopefully the snow season and bridge closure will not overlap.  We will worry about the tail end of the one-year closure when we get there (early 2020), but by then the traffic situation will have stabilized as drivers will know to avoid Ball Square.

Of course the absence of motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic in Ball Square will hurt the local businesses. I encourage you to make Herculean efforts to patronize those local businesses.  I am planning to hold my spring 2019 re-election campaign fundraiser at a venue in Ball Square, both because it is a great location, and as a show of support and solidarity with the businesses there.

The motor vehicle detour routes are all set, with westbound traffic on Broadway (going towards Powderhouse Circle) to be detoured down Cedar Street, to Highland Avenue, to College Avenue in Davis Square and then up to Powderhouse Circle to get back onto Broadway.   In the other eastbound direction, traffic will be detoured into Medford, from Powderhouse Circle onto Warner/Harvard Street, and then to Main Street and Medford Street and onto Broadway at Magoun Square. 

The bus detour routes will take the MBTA busses quite far away from Ball Square.  (If you want to see them, please email me.)  For those bus riders who can’t walk long distances, the location of bus stops will create a hardship or an insurmountable obstacle to getting to their bus stop.  Similarly, the ¾ of a mile pedestrian detour on Boston Avenue, Harvard Street and Winchester Street will present a huge problem for elderly and disabled people, and for parents with young children. 

I am happy to report that the Somerville City Administration has stepped up to address this problem and on November 20 submitted a request to the BOA for a supplemental appropriation of $400,000 to fund a shuttle van service to provide rides to people who need them due to the bridge closure.  I have not yet seen the details, but unless it is poorly thought out, I will be supporting this funding request enthusiastically and doing everything I can to get my colleagues to vote in favor.

Since the early summer, my #1 priority has been to mitigate the traffic and public safety impacts from the Broadway/Ball Square bridge closure.  I want to share with you again my four major concerns, with updates on how they are being addressed…or not.    

(A) Strong police enforcement during rush hours at key intersections on the detour route to keep cars & trucks out of the Ball Square neighborhood encircled by Cedar St, Highland Ave & College Ave.  The Mayor’s Office told me over a month ago that they are working closely with the Somerville Police Department to develop a detailed plan for police placement around the detour routes, but I have yet to see the plan. I filed this Board order on October 23: “That the Mayor’s Office report to this Board with plans for the police presence around the detour route from the Broadway/Ball Square Bridge closure to protect the Ball Square neighborhood from cut-through traffic, especially at key intersection on Cedar Street, Highland Avenue, College Avenue, and Broadway such as Morrison Avenue, Willow Avenue, Kidder Avenue and others.”  I have put this on the agenda for the BOA Traffic and Parking Committee meeting tomorrow, Wednesday, December 5th and will continue to remind Administration officials about this until the plan is produced.

(B) A shuttle van service around the pedestrian detour and to get bus riders to and from their (relocated) bus stops.  This is in the works with a funding request submitted; see above. 

(C) Physical traffic calming measures in that Ball Sq. neighborhood (in addition to the 20 mph safety zones that were just installed).  I have been informed that some parking will be shifted and chicanes implemented on Morrison Avenue between Willow Ave and College Ave.  However, my biggest concern is the other part of Morrison Ave -- between Cedar Street and Willow Ave.  That stretch will be a desirable shortcut from the detour route.  Morrison Ave there is straight and wide and drivers go way too fast on it.  And Lexington Park and the Community Path are accessible from Highland Road right by Morrison Ave, so a lot of pedestrians, and many children, cross Morrison Ave at that spot.  I filed this Board order on October 23: ”That the Director of OSPCD (Transportation and Infrastructure) develop  physical traffic calming infrastructure on Morrison Avenue between Cedar Street and Willow Avenue and get it in place beforethe Broadway/Ball Square Bridge closure begins.”  This is also on the agenda for the BOA Traffic and Parking Committee meeting tomorrow and I will continue to advocate for physical traffic calming measures on Morrison Ave.

(D) A strategy & mechanisms for dealing with the narrow places on Cedar Street between Broadway and Highland Avenue, to prevent logjams when two large vehicles encounter each other going in opposite directions.  I have been told that the MBTA has done test runs of busses on Cedar Street to prepare to navigate those narrow places.  The Traffic Commission (which I sit on as Chair of the BOA Traffic and Parking Committee) voted last month to remove three parking spots on the east side of Cedar Street immediately north of Highland Avenue, which will open up Cedar Street a bit at that busy intersection.  Cedar Street between Broadway and Highland Avenue was finally repainted this past Friday, November 30, which will help drivers navigate the chicanes, bump outs, and narrow places.

Photo_of_Proposed_Code.JPG  Ward_5_Zoning.png  Neighborhood_Residential.png

Citywide zoning overhaul round 3: major focus for Board of Aldermen in first half of 2019

The Administration submitted a third revised version of the proposed citywide zoning overhaul to the BOA in late September.   The changes reflect intensive discussions with advocates for green & open space, for housing affordability, as well as widespread public feedback around issues such as whether to allow auxiliary dwelling units (such as conversion of carriage houses, garages, or basements into apartments) and triple deckers in the neighborhood residential district.  

The Planning Department and the BOA have done a tremendous amount of work on this massive piece of legislation over the past five years.  It has come a long, long way, and I am hoping that all this work will come to fruition in the next six months.  BOA Land Use Committee Chair Ward 6 Alderman Lance Davis has done a great job in methodically pushing this massive piece of legislation forward and I agree with him that we should do everything we can to resolve the remaining issues and pass it.  Of course, I will not vote for it unless it is really good, but it’s impossible to get something of this magnitude perfectly right.  So it’s certain that the BOA will need to make amendments to anything that passes.  Zoning is something the BOA should be working on constantly, anyway.

While I have many questions, and many key issues still need to be resolved, this proposal represents an enormous improvement over our current zoning, which has some huge problems that have negatively impacted our neighborhoods for years.  Working on the zoning overhaul will be my major activity during the BOA’s legislative break over the holidays.  We have no scheduled BOA meetings between December 13 and January 7 (although I already have three community meetings in Ward 5 scheduled for the week of December 17th).   I look forward to studying the current version of the zoning overhaul (596 pages!), meeting with Ward 5 residents and property owners about the zoning of their properties and neighborhoods, and talking and meeting with people who have suggestions for changes.  I welcome any and all feedback, and look forward to digging into this proposal next year with my colleagues.

If you are interested in the zoning overhaul, you can find the new, revised submission and a wealth of background and explanatory information, including an October 16, 2018 PowerPoint and video of the most recent changes at www.somervillezoning.com  The official public comment period will remain open until December 13 (however, Aldermen will read anything sent to them on this topic at any time).  You can send comments for the public record to boardofaldermen@somervillema.gov and planning@somervillema.gov

In the coming months, I will write more about the specific issues still to be resolved in the zoning overhaul, and about the concerns and questions that I have and am seeking feedback on.

Other big issues before the Board of Aldermen

In addition to the citywide zoning overhaul, here are some of the major issues the BOA is considering:

Marijuana licensing and zoning –  The BOA completed an ordinance that lays out the rules and regulations for how recreational marijuana businesses will be licensed.  I think we came up with a progressive, fair, and workable licensing ordinance, which is already being touted as a model for other communities in Massachusetts.  Ward 2 Alderman JT Scott deserves a lot of the credit; he developed a concept that the BOA liked and worked with the Planning Department to write the language that gives preference to “empowerment” applicants over big companies.  We are still working on the zoning that describes where retail marijuana outlets and other marijuana businesses can be located.     

Earlier this year, the State's marijuana committee released recommendations emphasizing that cities and towns must work to ensure that this lucrative new industry is welcoming to "communities disproportionately affected by the enforcement of previous cannabis laws, small businesses, and companies led by people of color, women, veterans, and farmers." This issue is especially important given that many powerful national big businesses are already seeking to dominate the industry.  After much careful deliberation, the BOA unanimously approved an ordinance featuring a two-year period during which only "priority applicants" (or the three existing medical marijuana dispensaries, required by state law) can apply for a retail license.  Priority applicants are businesses run by people who fall into the description quoted above, or Somerville residents, or co-operatively owned small businesses.  At least 50% of the retail licenses in Somerville must be owned by such priority applicants.  The BOA also established a “sunset” cap of no more than 12 retail licenses to be issued during the first two years.  (State law requires Somerville to issue a minimum of six retail licenses.)  State law also mandates that no one under 21 will be allowed to enter any retail facility, and that smoking marijuana in public remains illegal. The city will dedicate a portion of the new tax revenue to public health and educational programs.

Green and open space –The Administration has promised a comprehensive presentation on a strategy for the City to achieve the additional 125 acres of publicly accessible open space that is proposed in the City’s strategic plan for 2010-2030, Somervision.  It is widely understood that this is the Somervision goal most difficult to achieve.  (Some other Somervision goals are 6,000 units of housing with 1,200 of those permanently affordable; 30,000 new jobs; 50% of new trips via transit, biking or walking; 85% of new development in transformative areas.)  After many requests to the Administration, the City Finance Director, Ed Bean, has promised to submit a request from the Mayor to the BOA to establish an Open Space Acquisition Fund.  It is astonishing that such a fund does not yet exist. 

New Public Safety Building – The City’s Public Safety Building on Washington Street in Union Square has been slated for replacement for more than 20 years.  I worked there for three years in the 1990s as the Grant Manager for the Somerville Police Department.  It was not only a poor space for a police and fire department headquarters, but the building itself was in bad shape.  It hasn’t gotten any better.  A couple of months ago, the Mayor submitted a request to the Board of Aldermen to take by eminent domain the vacant retail shopping center/mall and parking lot at 90 Washington Street.  This is on the other (east) side of McGrath Highway from Union Square.  Under the leadership of Alderman-at-Large Bill White, Chair of the Finance Committee, we have been evaluating this request and discussing the City’s options in taking and then developing the property for a new Public Safety Building.  The current Public Safety Building is slated to be sold at some point in the future to the master developer US2 as part of the redevelopment of Union Square.

Many of the other most important issues before the BOA are in the Legislative Matters Committee, which I chair.  Some things that we have been working on this year are a proposed strengthened Condominium Conversion Ordinance (seewww.somervillema.gov/condo-conversion); an ordinance regulating Short Term Rentals such as AirBnB (see www.somervillema.gov/strs); a proposed strengthened Demolition Review Ordinance (see www.somervillema.gov/dro).  Other items in the Legislative Matters Committee that I look forward to working on in 2019 are theCommunity Benefits Ordinance regarding distribution of certain funds to be contributed by developers; stronger ordinances on storm water runoff and pervious surface limitation; and implementing some of the recommendations about who can vote and elections recently issued by the City’s Clean and Open Elections Task Force. 

For more information on any of these issues, please contact me.  I will be writing more about all of them next year.

A Somerville survival guide: How you can know what’s going on around you and get what you need from City government -- phone numbers & email addresses, lists to get on, and websites

To learn about street closings, emergencies, events, projects and more, and to sign up for updates, ask questions or make a complaint, check out these resources:

City of Somerville website – Get information on parking, trash & recycling, voting, calendar of City events, how to get involved, and more: https://www.somervillema.gov/

City Alerts (snow emergencies, detours, etc.) - https://www.somervillema.gov/alerts

City 311 Constituent Services: For city-specific issues (potholes, rats, missed trash pickups, cars parked illegally or blocking your driveway, construction or noise issues, etc) contact the 24/7 Constituent Services Office at 311 (617-666-3311 from your cell phone) or email 311@somervillema.gov.  If it is not time urgent, I suggest emailing, they are very responsive. You can also download the 311 app for your phone.

City of Somerville Construction Team (for immediate attention to road construction issues or problems): construction@somervillema.gov or call Constituent Services.  This is the best way to get quick responses to traffic & construction problems and get City staff to deal with the problem.

City of Somerville newsletter – to get a weekly email with updates, events, programs, public meetings, job postings and more, sign up at www.somervillema.gov/enews

City of Somerville on Social Media - Keep track of what's going on in Somerville with the City's official accounts: Facebook Twitter, Instagram

Somerville High School construction information - http://go.somervillema.gov/highschool/

Green Line Extension (GLX) news, updates and contacts:


Sincerely,

Mark Niedergang

Ward 5 Alderman

617-629-8033

Mark@MarkNiedergang.com

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