Dear Mr. Chairman, Members of the Planning Board, and the East Somerville community:
The proposed development at 771 McGrath Highway/Stop and Shop is without a doubt the most contentious issue I have dealt with in my short tenure as Ward 1 Alderman. I agonized over the pros and cons of this
development for more than ten months. I held four community meetings, canvassed the neighborhood and made phone calls to gauge the feelings of the community. I put together a community survey that generated more than 100 responses so that the voice of the community would be heard clearly. My ultimate goal was to negotiate an amicable deal between the developers and the neighbors that would move our community forward.
The representatives of Criterion Development have done an admirable job in facilitating community input. I truly believe in the sincerity of their efforts and the passion for their work is evident. I believe their model for development can and will be a strong asset to many communities. However, at this time I must regrettably state my opposition to this development.
I previously submitted a survey that highlighted the divide in the community on this development. The near 50/50 split was a vast improvement from the previous near unanimous opposition. There are many positive factors that led to this, including major reduction in units, area beautification, open space, donated land and the overall good willed nature of the developers. This division, while informative, only complicated my hopes of representing all of the interests of the community.
My decision to openly oppose this development came very recently after I solicited advice, not from a politician or planning representative or developer, but rather a friend. This person suggested I go back to my core values and assess where this development fits in my vision for the community. This perspective immediately made it clear to me that this development does not fit anywhere in that picture. There are many developments happening in East Somerville, and for the most part they fit the character of the community. This development, while containing many positive attributes, stands out as the least fitting for our community. It is trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
This belief was reaffirmed when I took the time to visit two other developments from Criterion in surrounding communities. These developments, while very extravagant and desirable to many, felt more like hotels than residences to me. The average rents are more than most families can afford for a mortgage. While both complexes were already filling up, there was also some turnover in residents already, even though these opened only a short time ago. These types of units attract a transient population, which is a major stated concern from neighbors of the current proposal. Neither of Criterion’s other developments are anywhere near any neighboring community (the old Faces nightclub on Route 2 and a parcel next to the Meadow Glen Mall), as opposed to this development which abuts one of the best remaining communities in Somerville. If it was proposed in Assembly Square or Inner Belt, I would welcome it with open arms. However, the one flaw of this development that gives everyone pause is the location – the one flaw that cannot be corrected or mitigated.
I truly regret that I cannot support this development at this time. I am not a person opposed to development for the sake of doing so, and I do not like that my first significant position on a controversial development has to come at the expense of honorable, quality developers. But at the end of the day, I always returned to the same question: “Why this, and why here?” That question never went away.
To neighbors who were supportive of this development, I hope you will understand the position I am taking. This is not to say that I will be opposed to all developments in this area. The old Harris Park is a blighted area that needs attention and will be developed eventually. However, I feel many supported this project because of the fear of what will happen if the proposal is rejected. The number one word I heard from residents describing their feelings on this project was “resigned,” as in, “this is going to happen anyway, so we might as well accept it.” This is not the feeling I want my constituents to have regarding a major change in their community.
I have a more optimistic view of development in our community. I believe our market is strong and there is no need to rush development. We are in the driver’s seat when it comes to decisions in our community. Losing this development will not mean doom for the East Somerville economy. There are already numerous developments, most with community support, that will transform our community for the better. To those who were looking forward to the positive social and economic impact this development would have had, I assure you that you will not be disappointed in our future. This may or may not be the end for this specific development, but it will not be the end of interest in this parcel of land.
The city will be proposing zoning changes in the coming months that will affect the use of the Stop and Shop site for years to come. I view this as a golden opportunity to get thorough community input so that we as a community can decide what we want in our backyard. These zoning changes, combined with East Somerville’s rising economic status, lead me to believe we can afford to be picky. I look forward to working with the community and whatever developers come in the future. I wholeheartedly thank the representatives from Criterion for the opportunity they presented us and would welcome proposals from them in the future. At this time and this place, however, I must respectfully oppose their current proposal.