Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Somerville, MA – Community members in Union Square held elections during the first week of December for the leadership of a grassroots neighborhood council that will represent the community in negotiations with developers.
The newly elected board members are: Afruza Akther, Ann Camara, Andrea Lizama, Mike Firestone, Bill Cavellini, Michèle Hansen, Pennie Taylor, Rachel Weil, Ganesh Uprety, Jacob Kramer, Tori Antonino, Ben Bradlow, Joanne Berry, and Erik Neu. All of them either live or work in the boundaries of the Union Square Neighborhood Plan area.
According to the organization’s bylaws, the neighborhood council board will undertake “activities to achieve the mission and goals of the Neighborhood Council.” This broad scope enables and empowers the Board to negotiate community benefits agreements for good jobs, open space, affordable housing, and other benefits, and provide recommendations on issues affecting Union Square. Any community benefits agreements will need to be ratified by the full membership.
The idea for a neighborhood council emerged from many years of participation in community process around the redevelopment of Union Square. Master developer Union Square Station Associates (US2) has been brought in by the City of Somerville to develop 7 large parcels of land in Union Square surrounding the future Green Line Extension station. Residents felt the need for an independent, democratic, and representative organization that could evaluate and advise on permitting and review of development proposals, as well as negotiate with developers.
Throughout 2017, an ad hoc working group met to research models from other cities, write bylaws, and implement a process for electing formal leadership. Working group meetings were open to the public and usually had 20-30 people in attendance, including members of Union Square Main Streets, Union Square Neighbors, Union United, the Chamber of Commerce, Green & Open Somerville, and unaffiliated individuals.