A few years ago, Somerville residents and officials came together to produce SomerVision: a 20-year plan for our city, sketching out a shared vision for the development and growth of this wonderful community through 2030.
This is an important task- the incredible growth Somerville has experienced and the desirability of our community is due to the careful planning of a previous generation of planners and activists. That’s why it’s so worrying that the city seems poised to violate its 20-year plan in the historic Spring Hill neighborhood, where I and thousands of other residents call home.
We are greatly troubled by the city’s recently-announced plan to place a massive, six-bay fire department headquarters at 515 Somerville Avenue, right in the heart of a bustling commercial and residential crossroads of the city. It’s an idea that would harm the quality of life for residents, poorly serve the city we all love, and violate a key principle of the SomerVision document: that community input be the driving force behind neighborhood development decisions.
The folks who live in Spring Hill have every right to be concerned about the sudden placement of a massive fire station near their property. It would disrupt the neighborhood they have chosen to call home, adding an overwhelming structure to an area otherwise consisting of homes and shops. The noise and traffic associated with fire trucks and training drills would intrude on the peace and quiet we’ve managed to carve out in a very crowded city. And property values will surely diminish for homes in a wide radius of the fire station, threatening the investments that thousands of homeowners chose to make in this community.
But the problems with the city’s proposed fire station go beyond neighborhood concerns. The intersection of Somerville Ave and Park Street, where this site sits, is a crucial crossroads in so many ways: it is an important gateway to Somerville for visitors from Cambridge and it sits along the path between Union and Porter Squares. In other words, it has tremendous potential to entice new visitors to Somerville and to build a bridge between two key attractions here- potential that would be wasted as a sprawling fire station. Additionally, it sits right along a busy railroad line that has to close 34 times a day for trains, putting fire response times at risk.
The people behind this unfortunate plan might have known about these dangers if they had followed one of the driving principles of the SomerVision plan: to “Engage community members in civic life and decision-making, seeking diverse representation and participation.” That’s the first goal of the plan’s Neighborhood section, and it’s listed first for a reason. The plan suggests that accomplishing this goal could only be accomplished by encouraging “volunteer neighborhood-level participation across the city, particularly in forums for discussion of local issues and neighborhood impacts.”
I am a resident of Spring Hill, and neither I nor any neighbors that I know of have been approached for our input or participation. That’s not the way that decisions should be made, and it’s not the way that Somerville has become the wonderful place to live and raise a family that it is today.
If the city is reluctant to create a forum for our voices to be heard, we will go ahead and create that opportunity for ourselves. I and other concerned members of the Spring Hill community are inviting our neighbors and the entire city of Somerville to a community meeting on May 20, at 6:00 PM at St. Anthony’s Parish Bingo Hall, 12 Properzi Way. We encourage you to attend and bring your questions and concerns, and we will do our best to address them.
You can also learn more about this issue at our website: www.SaveSpringHill.com, which contains more information as well as ways to get involved.
Somerville is a wonderful place today because of the careful decisions by those who came before us. Now it’s our turn to carefully consider what the future of our community will be. I hope you’ll join us in this important task.