Next week will be busy in Somerville, with many meetings, events, important decisions, and a big demonstration for affordable housing. Here are the details on what’s happening and some thoughts about key policy issues so you can participate and be informed. I will be at all of these and I look forward to perhaps seeing you.
Porchfest — Saturday, May 13, 12-6 pm
My favorite festival in Somerville (along with HONK!), Porchfest offers hundreds of concerts across the City, and all kinds of music. Starting in the east part of Somerville from 12-2pm, then moving to the middle, including Ward 5, from 2-4pm, and the western part from 4-6pm. You can just wander around and follow your ears, or info on the musicians, bands, times and locations is here: http://somervilleartscouncil.org/somervilleporchfest/index.html?q=porchfest/map/2017
Informational Session & Public Hearing on Proposed FY18 Water and Sewer Rates –Monday, May 15, 6:30 pm, Somerville High School Cafeteria
Presentation followed by Public Hearing at 7 pm on water and sewer rates and fees. If you are upset about your water/sewer bill, this is your chance to speak out.
Ward 5 ResiStat meeting, Kennedy School cafeteria, 5 Cherry Street, Tues. May 16, schmoozing and pizza 6 pm, meeting starts 6:30 pm
At ResiStat meetings, the Mayor and other City officials share the latest City news, data, and neighborhood updates directly with residents and listen to your feedback. There’s a social half-hour before the meeting, an opportunity to talk one-on-one to the Mayor, me, and City Department heads and top police officials. Connect with your neighbors – and get free pizza and other food.
Board of Aldermen (BoA) Land Use Committee of the Whole deliberates on proposed Union Square zoning, Wed., May 17, City Hall, 6 pm
The Administration has proposed a Union Square Overlay District which would enable much more intensive development in Union Square than the current zoning allows. With the Green Line station coming to Union Square in 2021, the intent of the new zoning is to make Union Square a major commercial and employment center, as well as to enhance it as a vibrant, mixed-use area for residents, retail, and restaurants.
The BoA is in the midst of amending the Administration’s proposal. While overall it is a good proposal, and I am still studying it, there are some key provisions which I do not support. I have proposed a half-dozen major amendments (which I would be happy to share with you if you email me). I may advocate for other changes as well. On Wednesday, we will be considering some of the most important — and controversial – parts of the proposed new zoning, including: the amount of open space; commercial vs. residential development amounts and phasing; and the location of the 20% of the residential units that must be affordable housing. While these deliberations may be mainly of interest to zoning geeks (like myself), the decisions the BOA makes will be critical to the future of Union Square and the financial well-being of the entire City.
Reject the Waiver: Rally for Affordable Housing, outside City Hall, Thursday May 18, 5 pm
If you can do anything this month to keep Somerville a diverse, mixed-income community, please attend the short demonstration in front of City Hall at 5 pm Thursday May 18th to advocate for more affordable housing in Somerville and to urge the Planning Board NOT to grant a waiver to Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT).
FRIT is a publicly-traded REIT (real estate investment trust, stock ticker FRT) worth about $9 billion. They do excellent mixed-use development and have built a bunch of places like Assembly Row that are popular and wildly successful. They are very good at making money for their stockholders; that is their mission. The Planning Board’s job is to represent the residents of Somerville, and to approve developments that fit the City’s zoning laws and that are good for the City.
FRIT is asking the Planning Board to allow them to provide only 12 1/2% affordable units (the amount required 10 years ago when they first submitted a master plan to develop Assembly Square) instead of the 20% affordable housing that is now required citywide. They are asking the Planning Board to approve a proposal to build on Block 8 in Assembly Square (right next to the Orange Line MBTA station) a 400-unit luxury apartment tower. If the Planning Board grants FRIT the waiver, Somerville will lose 37 units of affordable housing in that proposed building. This is a HUGE amount of affordable housing in our little City!!
The Planning Board is an independent board with five members appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Board of Aldermen. Its next meeting is right after the rally at 6 pm on Thursday in City Hall. It is a public meeting – you are welcome to attend and hear the deliberation and their vote. It should be interesting! The previous meeting in which they discussed the Block 8 application on April 27th was dramatic and fascinating.
There are many compelling arguments that have been made as to why the Planning Board should not approve FRIT’s waiver request. Aldermen White, Sullivan, Rossetti, McLaughlin, Heuston, Davis, Ballantyne and myself, as well as hundreds of members of the public, have testified against the waiver in previous Planning Board meetings or written to the Planning Board in opposition. Opponents of the waiver have put together a superb website with background information at http://www.affordablesomerville.org/ I encourage you to read Ward 1 Alderman Matt McLaughlin’s excellent Somerville Journal article there.
If you can’t make it to the demonstration, and you want to show your support for more affordable housing in Somerville, you can send an email (to all three of these addresses at once, if you wish) to the Planning Board (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Board of Aldermen (email@example.com) and the Mayor (firstname.lastname@example.org) advocating for more affordable housing and that the Planning Board not grant FRIT the waiver.
Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 Alderman
Mark@MarkNiedergang.com (617) 629-8033