by David Dahlbacka in Assembly Square, Beat Reporter, City Finances, Development and Zoning, Environment and Open Space, Neighborhoods and Squares
Posted on May 4, 2010 at 11:12 am
Last Modified on May 6, 2010 at 8:41 am
5/4/10: Attended meeting. Ald. Gewirtz, Heuston, Pero, Sullivan present. Staff including Monica Lamboy and representative of City Solicitor present. Also Joe Grafton of Somerville Local First, Tom Bent of Chamber of Commerce.
Following deferred to May 10:
189106: Magoun business planning
188996: Traffic redesign of Union Square
189252: Foreclosure prevention
Comprehensive Plan and Green Line extension.
189866: Business support. Monica Lamboy plus staff. Cited current Economic Trends report. Don’t feel feasible to attract large scale corporations. Startup and entrepreneurial instead. Following in play:
* Face to face visits by staff. Technology, clean/green, knowledge based jobs.
* Electronic survey (Survey Monkey) across business sectors.
* Social media (Linked in, Facebook). Focus on a few sources.
Incubator and business mentor program.
Ald. Sullivan remarked that changes in parking may hurt business. Staff said they’d heard anecdotal complaints, no firm data. Sullivan asked for survey questions before start.
Pero asked about the last business workshop. Staff said 140 attended; spoke on open space and comprehensive plan.
COMMENT: Disturbing that city is writing off possibility of bringing a large corporate headquarters into Somerville, specifically into Assembly Square.
189126: OSPCD provided list of expiring affordable housing contracts. Phil Ercolini stated list is sent to Federal gov. City is at 9.63% affordable (above 10% 40B law doesn’t control zoning). Capen Court devel will put Somerville above 10%. Most properties are affordable in perpetuity. Some properties have short term (3-5 yr) rent restriction due to city rehab loan. Mt. Pleasant St. was due in 2011, got preservation fund for 40 years on 2-3 units. Mt. Auburn property has 5 years contract, renewal in negotiation. List will be submitted with a package to Board of Aldermen.
189289: Legality of Big Box Trust Fund. Controversial. City Solicitor opinion was that this was a tax, not a fee, because no service is provided (cited Emerson College precedent). Affordable Housing Trust Fund had to be authorized by state. This would be too. Could be done by home rule petition or by statewide legislation.
Ald. Sullivan concerned that business not comes here. Would support local businesses though. Ald. Gewirtz stated concern was quality of spaces. Harvard Square isn’t livable. Would like to leverage wealth of big boxes to keep smaller business. Idea from elected official’s network. Sullivan asked if this would have a negative impact on Assembly Square. Ald. Pero very negative. Very antibusiness message. Usually cities provide tax breaks.
Joe Grafton of Somerville Local First invited to speak, said there were criteria for determining if business was a “formula business”: Privately held, for profit, out of state headquarters, no control of signage, little help for local nonprofits, > 30 stores. LA chooses banks by reinvestment. If this passes, could discourage formula businesses, but that’s desirable. Cited precedents in Andersonville, San Francisco, and Austin. 68% of money stays in town if local business, 43% stays if big box. Corporations hosted in Delaware, low tax. Usually done by exclusionary zoning. Interested in fee approach. Would need formula based on footprint and profits.
Gewirtz said could be based on number of stores and total revenue. Pero said couldn’t support this, legislators couldn’t support this. Sullivan said could help local businesses. Gewirtz said stakeholders in trust fund could decide who gets seed money. Grafton said legislators (Provost, probably Sciortino) supportive. Not antibusiness, pro right kind of business, local business. Pero replied places that attract business give tax cuts, not new taxes. Need to get analysis. Gewirtz asked Grafton for details on what’s done elsewhere. City Solicitor said need more legal analysis based on more specific requirements. Don’t need full proposal to vet legality. Citizen (Cosgrove?) said Somerville affordable housing cut is $3.91, > $10 in Boston. Could have alternative: fee, or company provides equivalent seed funding of own.
Pero asked how we would determine it was a fee. Solicitor said, say was a zoning variance. Affordable Housing set-aside implemented for all cities and towns in Mass, not Somerville only.
Tom Bent, Chamber of Commerce, mainly against. Said Assembly Square needs big anchor store to attract small stores. How do you cut off? Would like to attract a stationary store like Slates, not Office Depot. Grafton mainly concerned with existing squares. Shouldn’t look antibusiness. Says now more expensive to do business in Somerville than in Cambridge. Getting negative feedback about parking tickets.
Gewirtz cited experience of North Adams downtown, dead, killed by Wal-Mart. Bent said Holyoke and Northampton also hurt by Walmart. Gewirtz said we can make government help business. Grafton said want to generate local support. Local first is next “green” consumer movement. Will get more info to committee by next week.
COMMENT: Consistent theme was assuming that Assembly Square had to be retail. No mention of office space. Went up to Ald. Gewirtz afterwards and pointed this out. She felt it had already been sacrificed to big boxes. She said I should have raised my hand and made that point. (I’ll make it next time.) Sent her Assembly Square FEIR Certificate to indicate FRIT project still going forward.