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Maxwell’s Green Entrance Signs/Walls on Lowell Street are Blocking the Sightlines to/from Community Path, despite almost half a million dollars in state Transit Oriented Development funding

by in Accessibility, Bicycles, Civic Action, Crime, Environment and Open Space, Green Line, Magoun Square, Neighborhoods and Squares, Pedestrians, Public Health & Safety, Seniors, Transportation, Transportation Projects, Ward 3, Ward 5
Posted on September 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm
Last Modified on September 8, 2012 at 7:00 am

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The Friends of the Community Path sent this letter to the George Proakis and the Planning Board on August 17, with no reply so far:

————————————

George Proakis

City Planning Director

GProakis@somervillema.gov

 

City of Somerville Planning Board

c/o Dawn Pereira

617.625.6600 x2533

DPereira@somervillema.gov

Date: August 17, 2012

Re: Maxwell’s Green Signage/Walls on Lowell Street Exceed Approved Height

To George Proakis and the City of Somerville Planning Board:

We are writing on behalf of the Friends of the Community Path, a local organization of ~1200 members.  Our mission is to link the Minuteman Bikeway and Charles River Path networks, by extending the Community Path by ~2 miles along the future Green Line extension.

We are writing for a second time in regard to this case:

56 & 61 Clyde Street (Case #PB 2008-07-R3-5/2012)

Applicant: Davis Square Partners

Property Owner: VIF II/Maxpac Square Owner, LLC

Legal Notice: Applicant Davis Square Partners and Owner VIF II \ Maxpac Square Owner, LLC,

seek a revision to an approved Special Permit with Site Plan Review under §5.3.8 to remove Condition # 4 of the original approval which pertains to signage and for a

Waiver of Standards of Article 12 (Signs) under §16.5.5 to erect signage at an

approved PUD development for 199 residential units. RB Zone / Planned Unit

Development-B (PUD-B1) Overlay Zone / Ward 5.

 


Maxwell’s Green Signs/Walls Exceed Approved Height

We were disappointed that on 7/12 the Planning Board approved (despite our letter and testimony) the proposed 4’6″ walls/signage, described in this 8/6 memo from the developer:

http://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Memo%20to%20Planning%20Board%20-%20Site%20Modifications.pdf

However as shown by these photos taken on 8/14, the built signs/walls surpass the approved height of 4’6”:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.405187469538065.90860.129724153751066&type=1

In fact, the built signage/wall on the Community Path side is 5 feet high at both ends:

  

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=405187852871360&set=a.405187469538065.90860.129724153751066&type=3&theater

 

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=405187816204697&set=a.405187469538065.90860.129724153751066&type=3&theater

 

We understand that we could have appealed the original Planning Board decision for 4’6” walls by 8/10/12.  However, this would have required a court case and also a lawyer.  It is our wish to see this issue resolved without resorting to a longer, more expensive process.

The developer agreed on 4’6”, yet made the signs/walls exceed their proposed, approved height – and even the built height the developers claim in their 8/6 memo.  Although the signs/walls may only required to be lowered it to 4’6″, we maintain the 4’6” still too high. 

This presents an opportunity for the developer to lower the signage/walls to maximize visibility, make good on the intent of their Transit Oriented Development (TOD) funding, and improve their relationships with the community.

 

Therefore, we request that the 5-foot signs/walls be lowered not just to 4’6”, but lowered to match the crash barrier walls on the Lowell Street Bridge (as we requested before on 7/12 an din writing).  Doing so will:

 

  • Maximize sightlines, especially for people in wheelchairs (very important with the VNA right nearby), shorter people (adults and children), and strollers. 
  • Be much more compatible with the characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood.

 

Also, it is worth remarking what a missed opportunity it would be – for the City, the developer, and for passers-by – for Maxwell’s Green signage to block the sightlines of the Community Path, when instead we could enjoy a beautiful overlook of the Path, one of the green gems of Somerville, from the Maxwell’s Green entranceway.


Intent of State TOD Funding

The Maxwell’s Green developers received almost half a million dollars in state TOD funding (including the entrance ramp where the signage/walls are, and associated Community Path and T access).  And they will continue to reap the benefits of Community Path and future T-station.  A few weeks ago, the Mayor and the developers cited many benefits of the Community Path for that Maxwell’s Green, lauding it as “Somerville’s Pedestrian Highway” (13:18 to 15:05):

http://greatersomerville.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/tour-of-maxwell-green-development-special-edition-7-10-12/

Given all of this, the Maxwell’s Green signs flanking the ramp should maximize – and not block – these sightlines.  Also, there should be no other obstructions above or around the wall (such as tall vegetation, landscaping, large signage, etc.) that will at all block sightlines to the Community Path and future Green Line station. 

Safety Concerns

The Community Path and T-station area are safest when visibility is maximized. Notably, there is a vulnerable population at the VNA who can enjoy use of the Path and the future station, and it is absolutely crucial that those people can be seen in these locations to the fullest extent. Keeping the walls as low as possible will also allow for maximum visibility and safety after dark. 

The area beneath the Lowell Street Bridge has a past history of unwanted activity, common with the underside of bridges especially at night.  While the development will lead to this being a more populated area, the more “eyes on the Path” possible at all times, the safer it will feel and the safer it will be.

Community Concerns about Signage/Walls Height and “Gated Community” Look

Neighbors and community members have commented to us that the signs/walls at the Maxwell’s Green development are too high, and confer the look of a gated community.  At the 7/12 meeting, the Planning Board may have believed that the community was not concerned with this; however, the community was unaware about the plans until too late.  The community is, in fact, quite concerned.

Notably, in the Greater Somerville show (7/31/12 roundup of latest news around Somerville), the hosts underscore the potential hazard of the high walls/signs of the “gated community” front entrance of Maxwell’s Green (15:13 thru 17:42):

http://greatersomerville.wordpress.com/tag/maxwells-green-monster/


The signs/walls are incompatible with the character with the rest of the neighborhood and should be re-built for improved compatibility.  Lowering them to crash-barrier height will make the entrance more inviting to the public.  This is especially important since there will be 24/7 Community Path access through Maxwell’s Green and also a public-use park in the center of the development.

Notably, from the Maxpak Community Planning Process Final Report June 27, 2005, prepared by Somerville SPCD, pages 3 and 4:

http://www.kssrealtypartners.com/projects/somerville/docs/communityPlanning_designGuidelines.pdf

 

§     Site plan must seek to minimize the impact of motor vehicles and enhance the pedestrian environment. The Committee anticipates that the developer will propose access off the Lowell Street Bridge, while not endorsing it explicitly.

 

§     Any development must be especially sensitive to the traditional neighborhood context surrounding the site. Development should embrace the neighborhood scale and not be designed to turn its back on any of the surrounding communities.

 

§     Traffic delay, congestion and vehicular and pedestrian safety are serious impediments to the quality of life in this area. A developer must demonstrate that no project will create impacts that cannot be mitigated.

 

§     The extension of the Community Path is the paramount open space concern in this area. Any development must not hinder its completion and not detract from its utility or appearance.

 

§     It is extremely important that any development seek to minimize any negative impact and strive to improve the appearance and quality of life of residents both on the site and in the surrounding neighborhoods.

We thank the City in advance for ensuring that there is round-the-clock access for both bicycles and pedestrians on the Maxwell’s Green internal streets and sidewalks, respectively, as agreed to in the Covenant.


Thank you also for your consideration of the points in this letter. We look forward to hearing back from you on this issue. 

Sincerely,

Lynn Weissman

Co-President, Friends of the Community Path

cc:

Mayor Joseph Curtatone, City of Somerville

Denise Provost, State Representative

Thomas Pasquarello, Somerville Police Chief

William A. White Jr., Alderman At Large

John M. Connolly

, Alderman At Large

Bruce M. Desmond

, Alderman At Large

Dennis M. Sullivan

, Alderman At Large

Sean T. O’Donovan

, Ward 5 Alderman

Hayes Morrison, City of Somerville

Joe Lynch, Magoun Square Neighborhood Association

Community Access Project of Somerville

Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership

 

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