by David Dahlbacka in Assembly Square, Beat Reporter, Bicycles, Development and Zoning, Environment and Open Space, Government Reform, Housing, Neighborhoods and Squares, Orange Line, Pedestrians, Somerville By The Numbers, Traffic & Parking
Posted on November 7, 2010 at 2:56 pm
Last Modified on November 8, 2010 at 10:58 am
Public Hearing on Zoning Changes
- Large Retail Cluster Parking. Increase parking requirement for large retail. Recommendation passed. Written comment period open until Dec. 3.
- Process for Project Review. Remove requirement for Planning Board hearing before Zoning Board of Appeals hearing. Issue left open until Friday Nov. 12.
- Historic Carriage Houses / Home Occupations. Enlarge list of Carriage House occupations passed. Written comment period open until Dec. 3.
- Self-storage in the Assembly Square Mixed Use District. Self-storage allowed near I-93 in Assembly Square passed. Written comment period open until Dec. 3.
[NOTE: For the zoning changes, "passed" means the recommendation is adopted. The issue now goes to the Land Use Committee for further discussion. ]
Planning Board Deliberations
- 26 Western Ave. Case continued.
- 34 Sturtevant St. (increased sign height for Assembly Row marketing center). Recommendation passed.
- 355 Highland Ave. (special permit to bring rear bedroom and egress up to code height). Recommendation passed.
- 35R Lexington Ave. (replace derelict commercial building with dual condos next to Community Path). Case continued until Nov. 18, provided there’s a neighborhood meeting first.
- 415D Medford St. (special permit for a cluster of little stores). Recommendation passed with one dissension.
- 152 Albion St. (replace flooring business with two townhouses). Recommendation passed with proviso that original plan with front garages be used (contrary to Planning Staff recommendation).
[NOTE: For the Planning Board cases, "passed" means the variance now goes to the ZBA (except for the Assembly Square PUD, for which P.B. has final say).
Notes on Public Hearing on Zoning Changes
Large Retail Cluster Parking
Proposal is to double the parking requirement for large retail (> 25,000 s.f.). Staff believes that because Somerville has little parking available, the effect will be to discourage suburban format in Somerville. Developers would have to build parking garages, which is expensive.
(Speaking in Opposition)
Bestor. General problem of deciding parking without specific knowledge of land use. This is a problem in Union Square right now. Could provide wedge for unhelpful developments.
Berman. Hope there will be clarification of the effects of this. In Transit Oriented Districts (TOD), want to discourage use of cars. Commercial Corridor Districts and TOD designed to reduce area devoted to parking.
Zamore. Express similar concerns. Parking ratios are aggressive. Better to allow fewer spaces for retail.
Lamboy responded: Large Retail Cluster created to make sure every development > 10,000 s.f. requires a special permit. Parking ratio applies only if there's a single use on site. Can reduce ratio for mixed use. Need to get more parking or bring in mixed use.
[COMMENT: City's argument that doing this discourages suburban format is plausible, provided it's really true that parking can't be found. Could result in sprouting many parking garages, though.]
Process for Project Review
Proposal is to remove requirement that to get a variance, the proponent first has to present the issue to the Planning Board, which makes a recommendation. Proponent then has to present again to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Process is vestige of times when ZBA didn’t have planning staff support. Dual presentation makes process more complex, makes it harder for the proponent and is confusing to the public, which has to attend two meetings as well.
Capuano. Process is still confusing. How would eliminating Planning Board step help citizens? Abutters may have substantive issues, may be a good idea to have two opportunities to talk. People want their voices heard early in the process.
Lamboy responded: ZBA discussion may get different feedback from the public than the Planning Board meeting.
Pryor. Would be less confusion about which meeting to attend.
Maroney. Initial reaction negative, but process is too confusing. I support this; my only concern is that the process be deliberative.
Pryor. Planning Board still has its original powers over large projects.
LaWinter. Can we encourage community meetings to get informal input from public?
Favaloro. Don’t see this as a removal of P.B. powers, it’s a refocus. We may have to make a narrow recommendation, overturned by ZBA.
(Speaking in Favor)
Dash. As a lawyer, appear at these meetings a lot. Costs our clients a lot of money to go to two meetings. Having one meeting won’t change the staff recommendation.
Berman. Somerville Community Corporation has same issues. Would like to have opportunity to bring people to only one meeting. However, we’d like to retain the symbolism of the waived fee for affordable housing projects.
(Speaking in Opposition)
Murrow. Worried about it. People in favor represent those presenting projects. This might be an effort to ram things through, people find out after the fact.
Shea. Worried about taking away public forum for SPSA. For larger projects need considerable citizen input.
Lamboy responds: Web page has all application material and staff reports. Have an absolute commitment to public process. This process means that the first meeting on the subject is a public hearing where the public has a legal right to speak. We recommend neighborhood meetings.
The legal notice goes out before the hearing. Planning Board gets PB cases, ZBA gets ZBA cases.
Capuano. The published fee schedule doesn’t include an exemption for affordable housing.
Lamboy: The fee is for the application review service.
Historic Carriage Houses / Home Occupations
Want to define what a Carriage House is so people won’t declare a cinderblock garage a historic carriage house. Want to allow home occupation uses, including engineers and attorneys. (Currently an architect can have their office at home, but an engineer can’t.) Exclude certain medical professions. Have to be a resident of house, but can have 1 or 2 employees.
Kyrilo. Suppose you are a furniture maker. Could you build furniture in your carriage house? Don’t like it. What about using it for storage?
Proakis: Need to work with historic commission, etc. Could build furniture provided you don’t cause a problem with dust, noise, etc. Can use for personal storage now. Could also store professional material. If you load up once in the morning and go away, there’s not likely to be a problem.
White: Carriage houses are usually in lot B, behind a lot A on the street. Could have an impact on the person in lot A if a new person comes in and starts a business. Can one reject due to community impact?
Proakis. Need to make rejection criteria explicit. People won’t want to live with their neighbor’s windows right on the lot line.
(Speaking in Favor)
Barton. Question, if a carriage house is to be used, is there a separate mailbox for the business?
(Speaking in Opposition)
Murrow. Hate to prevent people from going to a carriage house, but having a full grown business may cause too much activity for the neighborhood.
[NOTE: When asked for address, person said she didn't need to give it.]
Self-Storage in the Assembly Square Mixed Use District
City wants a very narrow definition. Self-storage wasn’t in the original Assembly Square PUD. However, some sites adjacent to the highway are of limited usefulness otherwise. We anticipate about 2100 new residential units to use self-storage. Self-storage now has high design standards, not just an orange box with a rollup door. The building is tall and will provide some noise barrier.
White: What’s self-storage defined as? Also, this reads as though we will only allow self-storage in Assembly Square, not anywhere else in Somerville.
Proakis: Self-storage allowed in industrial districts. Allow in Assembly Square only as given in ordinance. No clear definition of use.
White: Need development standards. Disambiguate use of “only”.
Kyrilo: What parcels are involved?
Lamboy: Minimum size means nobody can get in by right. Can give you a detailed description of properties. Some are on Middlesex, on Mystic Ave., Kensington, etc. Home Depot site not eligible.
Proakis: Basically any properties that back on the I-93 ramp.
Kirylo: So we could get a strip of self-storage along I-93?
Lamboy: Requires discretionary permits.
White: Want a map showing the actual parcels that qualify.
(Speaking in Favor)
Webster (Federal Realty): In favor. Worked with developer on design, which is critically important. Site is prominent seen from I-93. Gateway elements very important because visible from I-93. Agreed to reflect Assembly Row brand on building at ground level.
Design is critical. Must match district design.
Berman. MVTF board member. OK as long as zoning is restrictive. Concern is definition of “near term”. The Assembly Square development project will take time. The long term environment may be different. Conditions must support infrastructure to/from district. Don’t obstruct access.
Dahlbacka. Use should facilitate access to Assembly Square Orange Line T-Stop and shouldn’t inhibit higher value uses nearby. For that, design is fundamental. Asked that a cap be placed on self-storage in Assembly Square, to avoid a wall of self-storage along I-93. Clarified that self-storage facilities < 10,000 s.f. are not allowed. Agreed that requirement of denial letter may be moot given that other ordinances don’t require it for entry into Special Permit process. Provided multifactor qualitative analysis of site, suggested that this kind of analysis be done routinely for special permits.
[NOTE: Ordinance and my notes and analysis are available here:
- Assembly Square Self-Storage Ordinance
- Testimony on Ordinance Allowing Self-Storage in Assembly Square
- Self-Storage Scenarios (PDF)
Zamore. Zoning must be carefully crafted. District is on a gateway. Provided handouts with examples of buildings of comparable size. Don’t want appearance of broken and barred windows.
In best world, we’d have Google here. We can’t populate Assembly Square with ideal uses. Self-storage developer very nice and very flexible.
We need a multimillion dollar study to get good gateways between Assembly Square and Somerville. The MBTA is concerned about the lack of access to the Orange Line T-Stop.
The public needs to participate in the self-storage design process. The ground floor second use needs public input. The upper stores need really skilled designers. Make it a green building? A historic building?
One of our most important issues is that this will have an impact on the billions of dollars of investment in the rest of Assembly Square. We need to be very careful when we do this.
White: Should close land use part of meeting. Question: Is there anything about stricter sign standards? No huge tacky signs. Also, the parking space changes apply to TOD outside Assembly Square, correct?
Written comment period runs until Dec. 3. Will deliberate in subcommittee.
Capuano: I’m not ready to vote on changing the permit review process. Let’s leave the record open on that for another week (Friday, Nov. 12).
Planning Board voted to accept staff recommendations for Large Cluster Parking, Historic Carriage Districts, and Assembly Square Self-Storage.
[NOTE: Monica Lamboy and Adam Dash, SSG attorney, asked for copies of my site analysis.]
Notes on Planning Board Deliberations
34 Sturtevant St. Federal Realty wants a tall sign (36′) at its new marketing trailer, which is at parcel 9 (to be developed at a late phase). Board already approved two sign variances exceeding this in height. P.B. voted to accept staff recommendation.
35 R Lexington Ave. Developer wants to change a 2 story workshop with attached 1 story garage to two condos abutting the Community Path. Neighborhood concerned with height of buildings, dropped height by 6 feet. Also encroachment on MBTA property. Have agreement with MBTA for temporary fence on MBTA property, permitted fence where it should be.
Desirable to reuse commercial building in a residential district as residential.
Proakis: Read staff report. Lot very large but tightly confined. Too developer too long to resolve planning staff questions. Will be 2 condo units on one lot.
1. Move off MBTA property before permit or before ~April 2011.
2. Provide construction fence along their property line.
3. Provide high quality wrought iron fence along community path, with private gate onto community path for use by residents.
4. Release deed to be filed to relinquish any rights to MBTA parcel.
New concerns expressed by neighbors.
O’Donovan. Should decrease building size by 15%. Air conditioning should be put by community path, not by neighbors. MBTA property should not be used for construction. Need info about neighborhood quality of life.
ZBA public hearing continued to Wed. Nov. 17.
Sullivan: Unusual lot size. Could negatively impact neighbors if not done right. Have a problem with 10′ 9″ driveway. What about utilities? A/C? Trash in front of houses? Snow drop location is good. Community path fence is good.
Proakis: Add utilities to plans. Anything that can go underground should.
DiGirollamo: No problems with construction. Size of vehicle not an issue. Originally an equipment rental facility. Moved trucks in and out.
Neighbor: Small trucks.
DiGirollamo: No power transformer on site. On day of pickup, trash will go to the end of the driveway.
Take issue with “not getting application done on time”. Had three neighborhood meetings.
DiGirollamo: Project kept getting kicked down the road. Had to resolve MBTA issues.
Neighbors want building even shorter, worried because people could stand in attic and that’s living space. Planning board approved a different project 2006-2007. The project was reuse of garage in location most impactful t
Capuano: When last neighborhood meeting?
Neighbor: May 2009.
Capuano: Suggest you resolve these issues at a neighborhood meeting, not here.
Maroney: This looks good to me, but neighbors haven’t seen it –
DiGirollamo: They’ve seen it.
Maroney: — don’t interrupt. Issues have been dealt with in conditions. Could have been presented to neighbors. I move we send this issue to a neighborhood meeting.
Planning Board voted to continue case until Nov. 18, provided there’s a neighborhood meeting first.
Proakis: Will add new concerns to staff report.
415D Medford St.
This is a cluster of little uses (real estate, photocopying). Conditional approval recommended over a 5 year time frame. Specified no alcohol, no adult bookstores. Need SPSA for these.
Voted to accept recommendation. Kirylo opposed, voted against.
152 Albion St.
Developer needs special permit to complete purchase of Fidalgo Flooring Company, nonconforming commercial use in residential district. Lot very narrow, parking requirement driving design. Original design had garages facing Albion St., rejected as not consistent with neighborhood. Every lot in neighborhood the exact same size, with 1 resident.
Problem is parking. Ned 4 parking spaces. Easiest is original design, using original (huge) curb cut. However, no other house has a front garage.
Kirylo: City doesn’t want front garage.
Proakis: Planning staff doesn’t want front facing garage.
O’Donovan: Two neighbors are direct abutters. Want residential development; accept 2 units to remove ugly building. Don’t want parking relief. There will be tandem parking in one abutter’s kitchen window.
Mello: My kitchen is next to his garage. Will live next to a parking lot. Wife has asthma. 99 Albion has commercial garage on side wall.
You guys created this situation. I’ve lived there 36 years and I’m feeling pushed out of my house, discriminated against. I’ll fight this all the way.
Capuano: I like reusing the front curb cut.
Maroney: You have no objection to the front facing garages?
Mello, other neighbors: No.
LaWinter: Up Albion Street is a house with a front garage.
Pryor: Existing store has a front garage. That’s all I need to know.
Proakis: Staff recommendation is only one part of review process. Each project has 4 parking spaces. Original version had tandem parking too. Only change is there’s no turning into garage in this version.
O’Donovan: So it required 5 sets of drawings to get back to the original design. You should have listened to the neighbors to begin with.
Pryor: Did you have a neighborhood meeting?
Capuano: I propose we approve the original proposal, requiring a front garage.
Planning Board voted to approve the original proposal with a front garage.