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3/29/12 Somerville Joint Land Use/Housing and Community Development Committee Meeting

by in All Ages, Beat Reporter, City Finances, Development and Zoning, Environment and Open Space, Events, Housing, Neighborhoods and Squares, Somerville By The Numbers, Transportation
Posted on March 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

March 29, 2012
6:00 pmto8:00 pm
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Somerville Joint Land Use/Housing and Community Development Committee Meeting

Thurs. Mar. 29 6:00 – 8:00 PM

Somerville City Hall
2nd Fl. Comm. Rm.
93 Highland Ave.
Somerville MA (map)

Agenda (PDF)

This is a joint meeting of the BOA Land Use and Housing and Community Development Committees. These Committees evaluate proposed zoning changes and reports to the BOA.

Agenda includes adopting the Somerville Comprehensive Plan.

For more information, see:


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One Response to “3/29/12 Somerville Joint Land Use/Housing and Community Development Committee Meeting”

  1. Beat Report: 3/29/12 Somerville Joint Land Use/Housing and Community Development Committee Meeting

    Present: White, Sullivan, LaFuente (aldermen), Proakis, Rawson (planning staff)

    Bottom Line on Top

    Staff gave standard presentation on Comprehensive Plan. General support from committee and members of public present. Committee requested backup justifying the aspirational numbers. Ordinance in works to require developer to demonstrate compliance with Comprehensive Plan for Special Permit. Linkage payments going to parks and neighborhood amenities requires legislative action (home rule petition or statewide statute), politically difficult.

    Rough Notes

    Comprehensive Plan presentation. Plan not “fixed”, but aspirational.

    500 pp of trends reports. Shared value statement.

    26 public meetings, goals policies & actions from committees. > 500 goals policies and actions.

    Online surveys, resistat surveys. Land use discussions in 2011.

    Final draft Comprehensive Plan. First 28 pages is introduction to plan. 100 pages of appendices with goals/policies/actions and implementation. Put glossary and sidebars for tech terms.

    Goals: aspirational statements.
    Policies: reference to goals.
    Actions: reference to policies.

    7 land contexts in Comprehensive Plan:

    Neighborhood residential
    Urban residential
    Neighborhood mixed use
    Urban mixed use (Davis Square, Union Square future)
    Transformational mixed use (Assembly Square, Inner Belt, Brickbottom, S. Union Square)
    Open Space

    See Somervision map for neighborhood convervation, neighbhorhood enhancement, area transformation.

    85% to conserve, 15% to transform. 65% of new development has to be commercial to make development targets.

    In last two years, we’ve approved 120 units of purpose-built affordable housing.

    White: Compile the numbers and the backup slides and send to the BOA. Need to say where these numbers are coming from, with reference in front.

    We have Aldersey Street 40B court case regarding affordable housing. Need disclaimers. Don’t want people taking us to court saying we aren’t meeting the plan.

    Sullivan: Inner Belt zoning wouldn’t support 1000 residential units.

    Proakis: Need new zoning, also need transportation infrastructure. If get a bridge from Lechmere to Inner Belt, get a huge economic boost.

    Sullivan: Bunker Hill T-stop close to Sweetheart Plastics in Inner Belt. Hard to see who to get jobs and residences there.

    Proakis: Could do it with 4-story buildings. Want further planning at T-stops, which will end up with a neighborhood physical design. Doing that for Inner Belt will show how it can happen.

    Rawson: Ratio of jobs/commercial/residential is important. Make sure there’s a clear expectation that in Transformational Districts have 65% commercial. Don’t want to keep on pushing residential development.

    White: Won’t vote on this tonight. Please let us know how we get to these numbers.

    Lost 600 jobs 2000-2010.

    White: Trying to shape community. Had many more families and long-term residents. WWII-1975 had lower turnover. Long-term residents have commitment, become stakeholders. Have we become more transient? No more 4-bedroom houses, hard to put children here. Or are people moving to the suburbs rather than pay high rents? How to make Somerville more attractive to long-term residents.

    Proakis: Resource committees talked about quality of life issues. Schools, parks. World becoming more transient, we should act against that. In zoning, there is no incentive against converting large single-family houses to two units.

    La Fuente: In Inner Belt, the proposed density is incredible. What are we talking about? 4-story buildings?

    Rawson: Some places. Don’t need huge skyscrapers. First, no market for that. Is like Kendall Square for biotech. Large floor plates for large equipment, high ceilings likewise. 3-5 story building types. Don’t need 25 story skyscrapers, provided we focus on biotech.

    La Fuente: Acreage of Kendall and Inner Belt? Old factories and warehouses being knocked down. What kind of jobs are we looking for? Diversity was ethnic diversity. Ethnic diversity is moving out of city due to affordability.

    Proakis: Ask Wig.

    Zamore: In Kendall, both big developments are
    25 acres, mixed use, over a million square feet. Very rare for a developer to have mixed use over 25 acres.

    Marriott Hotel is is about half the height of a biotech place. In Harvard Square, tall buildings aren’t that tall. Best to have pictures, but gets easier if you follow numbers. Look at 2.5 M s.f. on 25 acres each. Assembly Square is 150 acres,could have four of them there.

    Inner belt is 92 acres. 350 s.f./job. 3.5 M space in Inner belt. At that density, could do full buildout in 30 acres, including retail.

    White: If you have 1000 units in Inner Belt early, will have temptation to put more.

    Proakis: We have to have a solution to that problem when we have the design.

    White: It’s a hike to get to Assembly Square from the neighborhoods. Also to get from the T elsewhere within Assembly Square. What about people movers or monorail?

    Proakis: Doesn’t specify technology, action 2 p. 93, want transportation management system in places ill served. Could see a shuttle from Kendall to Washington St. Green Line, partially supported by businesses in area.

    Proakis: Lot of people walking to Wellington from Ten Hills.

    La Fuente: People movers don’t work well in Northeast. Too much rain and snow. Monorail could work.

    Rawson: Need to hold out for high-value development. City needs resources to support parks etc.

    Proakis: Will finish slides. If you have transit area, get more walking trips because area builds out to be walkable.

    Implementation Priorities:

    Station Area Plans
    Quality of Life Strategies
    Housing Activities
    Sustainability Programs
    Infrastructure Improvements
    Zoning Code Overhaul

    Zoning code: Want to make it cleaner and easier to understand. Want to make results more predictable.

    Would like to have a sliding fee to address neighborhood impacts.

    Measurement Metrics.

    Expect values will stay the same, specifics will change.

    Public Remarks

    Nutter: Downloaded plan, looked at it. I’m a future growth person. Want to move to Somerville because of things like SomerVision. Have many friends like me who recently moved here. Kendall Sq. is a 1960′s mess. Not very mixed use. Harvard Square very tight and dense. Big and small store plates. I like this because new development is centered around T stations. Like how Gilman Square is an undiscovered gem.

    50% new trips not car based? Would like it 80%. Bike committee has worked hard on bike transit. Gas prices are rising.

    Zamore: Like where this ended, like the numbers and the balance. Like how it’s being broken down. I worry about the word “aspiration”. Don’t want to just talk the talk, we have to walk the walk. If we can’t create the jobs, the rest falls apart. Our goal is far shy of Cambridge and Boston. We now have 1/2 job per person, they have 2 jobs. I like we’ve been explicit about housing requirements. That we don’t have to start the argument again. Many things will

    Dahlbacka: Need to make sure the neighbors know there’s something in it for them. Otherwise there will be fear of change.

    Sullivan: What’s the timeline?

    Proakis: Pass ASAP. Need to add things you request. PB wanted to know what committee says about it. Continued decision to next meeting. Are new steps we want to start on. Current structure makes it hard to describe impact on neighborhood. Want to launch all this on the back of the plan. When can you schedule a new meeting?

    White: Chuck, print out a schedule of committee meetings. P. 16, want a reference to backup pages, and these figures are part of a whole plan and can’t be separated.

    La Fuente: Great commercial density is great for the city. Could go even higher on density in some places. Kendall Square is getting better lately. 5 year review period is a very good idea.

    Reisner: How public will respond to this? I was on Broadway rezoning committee. Here we’re talking 20 years again. The fear is that it’s going to happen tomorrow. Will take a long time. People will have a chance to weigh in.

    Leblanc: The SomerVision map is an incredible asset. Good to have clarity. I agree with Wig that job creation is the most important thing. Get the best minds of this city to get that done. That will make a huge difference. Want local people to get jobs, but have to have jobs.

    White: Like the fact this is reviewable. The Inner Belt plans by government led to extensive plans that had to be thrown out when the project was canceled. We have a plan to review the plan. One reason we can’t get commercial here is peculiar emphasis on residential, all the condo boom, end of rent control.

    City must really plan to take advantage of T-stops. We were captive to real-estate market. We need to get control of that.

    La Fuente: Mayor has it right. He’s organizing a business group on how to bring businesses. Timeline may be good. If they all come in play together, we stand to benefit a lot.

    White: Schedule? Want to have recommendation for board by April 12. Make next Thursday April 5 at 6 PM.

    Adjourned 8 PM.

    [After the meeting I asked Alderman White and George Proakis about the possibility of remediation payments going to parks and other neighborhood amenities (to provide something in it for the neighbors). They said it currently wasn't allowed and would require a home-rule petition or a statewide statute. Previous attempts to do this have failed. People run against incumbents who raise fees or taxes.

    [I also asked about the possibility of a Somerville ordinance requiring a developer to demonstrate compliance with the Comprehensive Plan to get a special permit. Alderman White said this was in the works already.]

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