A Commentary on Development in Somerville

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By Matthew McLaughlin

I remember the day the roof collapsed at Russ’ Donuts. As a child my brothers and I would go there from Lexington Park and get fresh donuts that would put Krispy Kreme to shame. When the roof collapsed, the business was forced to close. Soon after, condos appeared.
The trend in my neighborhood at the time was that any vacant space was gobbled up and used for new apartments.

With this development, the identity of the neighborhood changed. Many people I grew up with moved away, either by choice or because they could no longer afford to stay. Those who remain can only remember the neighborhood that once existed. The most frustrating aspect of this transformation was that the community had no say in how it was being shaped.
Today, East Somerville is experiencing a similar wave of development. Unlike when I was younger, I am now in a position to influence the future of my community. The most important thing I will do as Ward 1 alderman is to listen to my constituents and represent their hopes and aspirations for the community.

As I have spoken with my neighbors around the ward, I have made a point to learn about their feelings about the proposed developments in their backyards. I found that the opinions they held were as varied as the people and the developments themselves. Some offer tremendous opportunity for East Somerville, while others have neighbors in fear.

The most controversial proposal is a 120-unit complex on Cross St. East, located near the Stop and Shop. Since starting to knock the doors of residents in the Avenues, I have not met a single person who supports the project. Neighbors explained their fears of increased traffic down Pennsylvania Avenue. They also pointed out that the area was intended for business space, which would generate more tax revenue for the city while burdening the neighborhood less. They also observed that the site was originally intended to be a park, but that Harris Park was relocated due to poor air quality. I do not understand how we can permit a development of apartments where we decided that our children couldn’t safely play.

With this in mind, I absolutely do not support the proposed development at Cross Street. There is overwhelming opposition to the development in the community, and my opinion would only change if my neighbors become satisfied by dramatic changes in the plans.

Not all developments are built equal, however. One positive development is the dilapidated building at 2-8 Broadway. Presently, it is an eyesore and a detriment to the community. The proposed 12-unit apartment complex would be a great improvement for this location. While the development lacks substantial parking, the development planners have taken the innovative approach of offering Zip Cars and MBTA passes to its residents. Considering the proximity of the location to Sullivan Square, I believe this is a good compromise and creates an opportunity both for the neighborhood and local businesses. Most importantly, most of neighbors I’ve talked to support the project, except for a single abutter who does not want the property encroaching on his property. I believe this issue can be resolved, making this a development I support.

Developments in East Somerville will shape our future. It is up to the community to determine whether or not the changes to the cityscape will preserve and enhance what we have. I have the same fears about overdevelopment as everyone, as I have seen what can happen to a neighborhood that is not included in the development process. What we cannot do, however, is categorically oppose all new development; such a position keeps East Somerville from embracing our prosperous, exciting future. I will continue to listen to my neighbors- the people I will be living with before, during and after construction- and do my best to represent their vision for our home.

 

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