Speak up Dec 9 & 10: Broadway bike/bus lanes & Zoning Overhaul Public Hearings

Dear Friend --

Winter_Hill_in_motion.png   Ward_5_Zoning.png

             Broadway Traffic Changes                       Ward 5 Zoning Map (older version)

In this issue:

  • Monday, December 9, 6 p.m. Broadway Bus/Bicycle Lanes Public Hearing. City Council Traffic and Parking Committee & Traffic Commission Jointly host at City Council Chambers, City Hall
  • Tuesday, December 10, 6 p.m. Citywide Zoning Overhaul Public Hearing. City Council and Planning Board jointly host at City Council Chambers, City Hall

Public Hearing on Broadway Bus/Bicycle Lanes Monday, December 9, 6 p.m., City Council Chambers, City Hall

The City Council Traffic and Parking Committee and the Traffic Commission invite community members to a joint public hearing to provide feedback on the design and implementation of the new traffic configuration on Broadway in Winter Hill, which features dedicated bus and bicycle lanes. 

The public hearing will open with a short presentation by City staff on project history, objectives, and preliminary evaluation data pertaining to safety and mobility for all road users. Following the presentation, members of the public are invited to speak for up to two minutes each.

If you are unable to attend, or wish to submit written testimony, please email to both of the following TWO addresses: citycouncil@somervillema.gov, traffic@somervillema.gov by Friday, December  13, 2019, at 5 p.m. Additional comments sent after the deadline will be reviewed but will not become part of the public record.

If you have questions about the Public Hearing, please contact me.

The City Council has heard a great deal from constituents on all sides of this issue (e.g. neighbors, pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, transit riders, delivery drivers, and more).  As the Chair of the Traffic and Parking Committee and a member of the Traffic Commission, my goal for the public hearing is to provide an opportunity for members of the public to share directly with policy makers their feedback and especially suggestions for how to improve the planning and implementation process and the design itself for this and future roadway improvement projects.

I believe an opportunity for people to listen to those who disagree with their positions could be helpful.   My perception is that the “Restore Broadway” advocates who oppose the bus/bike lanes and the bicyclist advocates who support them do not understand each other’s concerns.  I strongly support the bus/bike lanes but many of those who have objected have valid concerns about the way they were implemented, safety, and other issues.  There will be many more battles like this one in the next five years as the City continues to redevelop our streets to make them safer, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.  (This will benefit the safety of drivers as well.)  Hopefully we can all learn from what has happened with the Broadway rollout so that future roadway improvements work better for all.

Councilor Hirsch and I are working on a compilation of feedback that we have received and hope to share that with the Administration and the public.  However, the City Council has  little power over street configuration issues.  Decisions on traffic and parking issues in Somerville are mostly made by the Administration and the Traffic Commission.  The Commonwealth also has significant power over what happens on our streets as many of the larger streets are state roads. 

Public Hearing on Citywide zoning overhaul, Tuesday, December 10, 6 p.m., City Council Chambers, City Hall

After six years of steady work, the City Council will likely be voting on the comprehensive Citywide zoning overhaul in December. If you care about building heights, density, green and open space, parking, affordable housing, trees, sustainability, and small accessory apartments, then you care about zoning. Zoning affects all of these and will shape what Somerville looks and feels like in the future.  

Come to a Public Hearing on version 5 of the proposed new Somerville Zoning Ordinance on Tuesday, December 10, 6 pm in the Council Chambers at City Hall. The Planning Board & the City Council Land Use Committee invite you to comment at this joint hearing. For more information and to see version 5, previous drafts, amendments and links to past presentations and videos go to https://www.somervillezoning.com/

The public hearing will open with a presentation by Dan Bartman, the principal Administration author of the new zoning ordinance, that will highlight the changes made from version 4.

Under the leadership of Ward 6 Councilor Lance Davis, Chair of the Land Use Committee, the Council has spent dozens of hours working on improving the zoning overhaul this fall.  There are too many significant changes from version 4 to describe here, but let me give you some of the highlights:

  • Affordable housing: All projects of four or more units will now have to provide 20% inclusionary (affordable) housing units, or a payment. This is a significant increase in the requirement from the current zoning.  (Currently, affordable housing requirements begin at six units with a .4 of unit payment and gradually increase, but don’t get to 20% until 18 units.)
  • Small accessory apartments in backyards: The new zoning would allow a carriage house or garage to be converted to a small “backyard cottage” housing unit, or a new backyard cottage could be built if the backyard is large enough.  The backyard cottage can be no higher than 15 feet, can have a floor plate of no larger than 576 feet, must be at least 10 feet from any other building and three feet from the lot line.
  • Two unit limit in the Neighborhood Residential (NR) zone with an exception for a third affordable unit: (This was already in version 4 and is unchanged -- but it was the topic of more resident feedback than any other issue so I will mention it here.)  All of the residential neighborhoods will now be in the NR zone.  The NR zone only permits two units maximum to be built in it, with one exception.  My amendment would require that any third unit built in our neighborhoods be deed-restricted to be permanently affordable to people with middle-class incomes.  A third unit could be added or three units built only in a lot that is adjacent to an existing triple decker, but that unit will need to be an affordable middle-income unit.  There are a limited number of lots where this is possible, but if it works out, the Council could amend the zoning code in the future to allow more properties to add a third affordable unit in the NR zone.
  • Green score, pervious surfaces, landscaping, and sustainability: The environmental components of the zoning overhaul have been significantly strengthened as a result of extensive discussion and amendments proposed by Councilor Ballantyne, who worked with community activists and experts, and Mr. Bartman over several years to improve these provisions. For example, driveways will no longer be considered landscaping; all new driveways must be pervious; provisions for green roofs and energy efficiency are strengthened; net zero and LEED Gold and Platinum buildings are incentivized, or in some cases required.
  • Large buildings abutting residential areas: New buildings four stories and higher that abut the NR zone will now have larger side and rear setbacks as well as step-backs from the fourth story up.
  • Davis Square: Like all members of the public, I was not aware that the heart of Davis Square would be significantly upzoned by the Administration from four to six stories in version 4 of the zoning overhaul.  I think most or all Councilors were surprised by this, too.  We received scores of passionate, thoughtful, knowledgeable and detailed emails opposing six stories in Davis Square. I am not going to try to recapitulate here all the issues that were raised due to this unexpected change, but I do want you to know that zoning for Davis Square in version 5 has been returned to pretty much what was there in version 3, that is, four stories.  Councilor Davis submitted more than two dozen amendments to do this and they all passed.  It is my understanding that the public process will continue, both to conclude the Davis Square plan and to come up with proposed zoning for Davis Square that better reflects what the community wants.
  • Ball Square and Magoun Square: The core of the business districts in Ball Square and Magoun Square have been upzoned to four stories.  This will eventually bring more offices and residences to these squares which will increase street life and strengthen the businesses that are there by providing more weekday customers.  I believe more develoment is appropriate for business districts that will, in two years, have a (GLX) subway station right in them (Ball Square) or a few blocks away (Magoun Square).  The larger setback and step-back requirements that have been added for four-story buildings should provide protection for residences that abut the back or side of commercial buildings in Ball and Magoun Squares.
  • Boynton Yards: There was extensive discussion about how much high-level commercial development must be required in this key district south of Union Square and less than a mile from Kendall Square. Boynton Yards has the potential to house large biotech and office buildings that would bring good-paying jobs for people with high school degrees as well as PhDs, and high levels of tax revenue to the City.  Ultimately, a compromise was reached requiring 68% commercial development, an increase from the 60% that the Administration had proposed.
  • Parking: There was no change from the version 4 parking requirement of a maximum of one space per residential unit for new developments within a transit-oriented district (TOD), i.e., within a half-mile of an existing or coming subway station, including the five new GLX stations. This TOD area covers about three-quarters of the City.  In a new policy accompanying the new zoning, residents of new developments in TOD areas will not be able to get resident parking permits or guest passes (except for those in the NR zone).  The restriction on parking permits will include 95% of the new units built in the City going forward.  This policy will forestall the inevitable problem of new residents parking their cars on the street in competition for the limited parking spaces available.  It cannot legally be included in the zoning code, however, so the Administration is working with the City Council to develop a policy to put the resident parking permit limitation into place through a vote of the Traffic Commission.  The Zoning Board of Appeals has already put a condition on an 80 unit development with no parking in Union Square so that the residents of that development will not be able to get resident parking permits or guest passes.  So this is already happening.

I have put an enormous amount of time into understanding the new zoning code and proposing amendments to improve it.  This has been some of the most challenging work I have done in my 14 years as an elected official.  Zoning is complicated and technical.  I’ve worked closely with colleagues and members of the community on these amendments, and I am grateful for the help I have received.  Mr. Bartman has been an excellent resource and partner to the City Council in developing the new zoning code, especially this year. 

I submitted a number of major amendments, including detailed amendments to increase the affordable housing requirements and to make the accessory unit backyard cottages small enough to fit well into our neighborhoods.  I have also been advocating for restrictions on parking permits to new residential developments near subway stations for over three years, and am really excited that this is finally happening.  I believe this is an important beginning to the many changes needed in the City’s parking policies to make street parking more available to those who really need it and limit the number of cars in the City.

Many have asked, “Why has it taken the Council so long to get to a vote on the zoning overhaul?”  Because the Administration’s initial proposal, as well as versions 2 and 3, had major deficiencies, which the Council has been working to fix for the past five years.  A zoning overhaul of this magnitude will have enormous impacts on our City and our lives: we have had to take the time to get it as close to right as possible.

With so much real estate development going on in Somerville, zoning needs to be a constant preoccupation of City government.  Even if the Council votes in the zoning overhaul in December, our work is far from done; we will need to continue to improve the City’s zoning.  There are many important zoning issues that we had to defer for consideration if we wanted to complete something this year.  Beginning in early 2020, I expect the Council will begin working on them. These issues include: continued work on affordable housing; Davis Square; transformational redevelopment areas like Union Square East, Brickbottom, and Inner Belt; figuring out a way to protect and incentivize small, neighborhood businesses; the limitation on no more than four unrelated residents in a single housing unit, and many more.

Why is zoning so important, and how will the zoning overhaul make our lives and Somerville better?  Zoning determines what can be built in Somerville, from small projects in our dense, residential neighborhoods to huge developments in our transformational areas such as Assembly Square, Inner Belt, Union Square, Boynton Yards, and others.  One key goal in this zoning overhaul is to protect our neighborhoods from excessive, unwanted development and prevent the constant battles that are happening in every neighborhood of the City over proposed developments.  These small development proposals force neighbors to spend huge amounts of time and effort into fighting bad developments that our current, out-of-date zoning code allows.  The new zoning would also allow more commercial development in the transformational areas and on “enhancement” streets like Highland Avenue, Broadway, Beacon Street and Somerville Avenue, and around the coming Green Line Extension subway stops.  Somerville desperately needs commercial development to create good local jobs and to increase property tax revenue to prevent residential property taxes from continuing to Increase at such a fast pace.

Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 City Councilor
http://www.markniedergang.com/

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published this page in Updates 2019-12-03 21:42:46 -0500

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