Community stakeholders to develop a strategic plan that will inform creation of public benefits agreement for Union Square
SOMERVILLE – All community residents are invited to attend a series of working group sessions to help create a public benefits strategy for Union Square that will address a variety of topics including affordable housing, small business retention, open space, local hiring and job training programs. Residents participating in the process will have the opportunity to work closely with community leaders, City officials, nationally recognized development consultants, and private sector interests to identify the area’s housing and community’s development priorities that will serve as the foundation of a public benefits strategy linked to the major private investment activities being planned for Union Square. Community members interested in making a more intensive contribution to the process are also encouraged to apply to be among the approximately 30 Strategy Leaders who will take part in all discussions and conduct additional community outreach.

The Somerville by Design neighborhood planning process that began last December will culminate in the creation of a Neighborhood Plan, a draft of which will be released before the first public benefits session. Based on the vision and ideas set forth by the community, the Neighborhood Plan will set the parameters for what could potentially be built in Union Square.

Based on those parameters and building upon almost two years of work by the Union Square Civic Advisory Committee (CAC), this public benefits process facilitated by LOCUS, a program of Smart Growth America, will help the community explore the public benefits that could be attained in conjunction with a successful redevelopment program for the area and identify, prioritize and create a strategic plan for realizing these benefits. The City and LOCUS have released a list of Frequently Asked Questions available online (PDF) that provides more detailed information about the process.

The City announced in July that it would collaborate with LOCUS to develop an innovative new model for public benefits agreements. Last year, LOCUS launched the national Attainable Housing and Social Equity Initiative (AHSEI) to ensure that walkable communities are affordable and accessible to the full range of a community’s residents and local businesses. Union Square is the pilot project for this initiative.

Public meeting schedule

The working group sessions will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 1 to 9 p.m. and Wednesday, Jan. 13, from 1-9 p.m., with both taking place in the Aldermanic Chambers at City Hall, 93 Highland Ave. Members of the public are invited to participate in each session for as long as they want.

In between these in-depth strategy sessions, a community benefits “drop-in” session will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 2, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Argenziano School, 290 Washington St. for residents who want to catch up with the information from the longer meeting and share comments and concerns that will be reported to the attendees at the second in-depth session. An additional community benefits drop-in session will be held on Saturday, Dec. 5, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., also at the Argenziano School in conjunction with the City’s SomerViva program with discussions in Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole and English.

Strategy Leaders

As part of the public benefits planning process facilitated by LOCUS, a group of approximately 30 Strategy Leaders who are representative of the community and stakeholder groups will be tasked with evaluating a full range of benefits strategies, funding opportunities and concepts for the implementation of those agreed-upon objectives. Strategy Leaders will be asked to not only consider the anticipated short-term contributions of current development projects but to develop a broad-based strategy that can extend the public benefits program with later contributions from future development interests. These Strategy Leaders, who will include members of the CAC and others selected to ensure all community voices are heard, must be able to commit their organization to the strategy and the responsibility for actions needed to implement the strategy.

In addition to committing to the full duration of each strategy session, Strategy Leaders will be expected to hold one or more stakeholder conversations with the constituency they represent (e.g., small business owners, makers and artists, or general area residents) between the two LOCUS strategy sessions. These stakeholder conversations will provide the assistance and input needed to prioritize a strategy on behalf of these stakeholders. Strategy Leaders will bring their stakeholders’ preferred strategy to the second session in January, at which time Strategy Leaders will collectively develop a consensus strategy for Union Square. Strategy Leaders will then be asked to develop an action plan for each item in the strategic plan.

To recommend a person or group (or yourself) to take part in the process as a Strategy Leader, fill out this online nomination form no later than Tuesday, Oct. 27. Those interested in staying informed but not interested in participating can use this same form to be added to the email distribution list. A final list of Strategy Leaders will be announced by early November.

Goal for initiative; funding for LOCUS

The goal of this process is to create a set of policy expectations and public benefits standards that will be used in the formation of discrete public benefit agreements as private development in Union Square moves forward. Union Square Station Associates (US2), the master developer partner chosen by the Somerville Redevelopment Authority in June 2014 for the seven redevelopment parcels identified in the Union Square Revitalization Plan, has already committed to participating in this process.

LOCUS’s work in Somerville is being funded by a grant from The Barr Foundation, as an extension of its commitments related to climate change, and in support of efforts to make this region become the most livable, sustainable and resilient in the nation. That grant is supporting LOCUS work in Somerville and in other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Background on Smart Growth America and LOCUS

LOCUS: Responsible Real Estate Developers and Investors is a program of Smart Growth America and its members have a long history of implementing a progressive development agenda. Many LOCUS members were pioneers of the major federal affordable housing programs of the past generation, including the Low Income Housing Tax Credits and HOPE VI. LOCUS is the national coalition of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, equitable, walkable development in America’s metropolitan areas. LOCUS is one of the few private sector real estate organizations to actively integrate social equity with development interests. Through LOCUS’ work on the WalkUP Wake-Up Call Reports, including the release of the Metro Boston Report in early 2015, LOCUS has demonstrated the economic and social equity benefits of creating walkable urban areas that provide a strong diversity of jobs, housing and recreational opportunities.

For more information visit the newly released Union Square Public Benefits Process FAQ and/or contact Amanda Maher, Senior Economic Development Specialist, Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development by email at or by phone: 617-625-6600 x2528.

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