Higher linkage fees will generate more $$ for affordable housing & job training
In this issue:
• Board of Aldermen votes unanimously for higher linkage fees for affordable housing and job training
• Board of Aldermen approves a District Improvement Financing (DIF) program for Union Square infrastructure and $63 million for sewer and streetscape work on Somerville Ave.
• Union Square redevelopment advances: Planning Board approves US2’s application for a Coordinated Development Special Permit (CDSP) for the 7 redevelopment blocs
• The Green Line Extension (GLX) is really and truly coming: Federal Transit Admin (FTA) releases first $100 million (of $1 billion total) of federal funds; impact on Ward 5
• Cedar Street roadway construction projects — lower and upper
Board of Aldermen votes unanimously for higher linkage fees for affordable housing and job training
The Board of Aldermen (BOA) voted unanimously on December 12 to generate more funds from large commercial developments to create affordable housing and job training programs. We increased the Affordable Housing Linkage Fee from $5.15 per square foot of commercial development to $10 per square foot. We also created a Jobs Linkage Fee of $2.46 per square foot for job training programs. All commercial developers building more than 30,000 square feet will pay $10 per square foot into the Somerville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, & all commercial developers building more than 15,000 square feet will pay $2.46 per sq. ft. into the new Somerville Job Creation & Retention Trust Fund.
Big thanks for the hard work of the Somerville Community Corporation’s Affordable Housing Organizing Committee & Jobs for Somerville working group. They wrote and got signatures on a citizens’ zoning petition, and then turned out scores of concerned residents to advocate for the higher fees. The Administration had proposed raising the housing fee to $8.15 per square foot and to initiate the jobs training fee at $2 per square foot. Due to the citizens’ petition, the new, higher linkage payments by developers will generate many more millions of dollars for affordable housing and job training in the years to come.
Board of Aldermen approves a District Improvement Financing (DIF) program for Union Square infrastructure and $63 million for sewer and streetscape work on Somerville Ave
On December 14, the BOA voted 10-1 to borrow $63M for sewer and streetscape improvements around Somerville Ave in Union Square, and to allow future borrowing for four other large sewer, water, and streetscape improvement projects. The estimated total for all five projects is $141.5 million.
We also approved a municipal financing plan known as District Improvement Financing (DIF) for the Union Square area. The expectation is that the bonds that the City issues will be repaid by future tax revenue generated by new development in Union Square, and thus will not burden City taxpayers. In other words, the sewer and streetscape improvements, along with the DIF financing mechanism, will unlock development in Union Square, and the new tax revenue from that development will pay for these infrastructure costs. The DIF will enable the City to borrow short term at lower interest rates. The City did a DIF in Assembly Square about 10 years ago to jumpstart the redevelopment there, and it has been even more successful than the Administration projected at that time.
These infrastructure improvements are necessary not only for the redevelopment of Union Square, but to improve our 100+ year-old sewer system, and to alleviate the flooding that occurs in the Union Square area after a hard rain. They will actually benefit 60% of the City because most of the City’s sewer and stormwater drainage runs through Union Square. Even if Union Square were not being redeveloped, the City would need to do most of this work. The sewer improvements are also needed to meet the City’s obligations to the state and federal governments to separate storm water and waste water in our sewer system, which will contribute to a cleaner Mystic River and Alewife Brook.
(For details on the specifics of the infrastructure projects, how the DIF financing works, and the City’s financial analysis of its overall borrowing and debt, go to https://www.somervillema.gov/usqdif )
Each of the four additional sewer and infrastructure projects will require a vote by two-thirds of the BOA if they are to be implemented. So, for example, many people are concerned about the proposed Nunziato Park stormwater tank program that would put that park out of service for three years and generate construction impacts on the neighborhood. That plan cannot be implemented unless the BOA specifically votes funds for it in the future.
Union Square redevelopment advances: Planning Board approves US2’s application for a Coordinated Development Special Permit (CDSP) for the seven redevelopment blocs
Also on December 14, the Planning Board approved, with substantial modifications and conditions, the application by US2, the Master Developer for Union Square, for a Coordinated Development Special Permit (CDSP). The CDSP is a master plan based on the Neighborhood Plan, developed by the City and the community, for what will be built on the seven redevelopment blocs in Union Square. (Unfortunately, the CDSP does not follow some of the key recommendations in the Neighborhood Plan, which caused many community members to call for changes in it.) The CDSP was approved by the Planning Board with a number of conditions, including language committing to “continue the conversation” on getting a much-needed indoor civic community space, as well as recommending two, rather than one, large neighborhood parks. You can find the plan and Staff Report (which includes the conditions and modifications to the plan) at https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/union-square-planning
The Planning Board took their vote despite public testimony from many residents, community groups, and elected officials, including me, urging them to take the full 90 days to deliberate. I testified at the Public Hearing and said that while there is much that I like about US2’s plan, it needs a lot more work. Guess they didn’t listen to me, or to the many other community members who urged them to proceed methodically, with care and diligence! For an excellent commentary on the Planning Board’s decision and lack of due diligence, see “Why we need a community-focused Planning Board”, an op-ed article by Bill Shelton with members of Union Square Neighbors and Green and Open Somerville, at http://www.thesomervilletimes.com/archives/80594
US2 still has two major hurdles to clear before they can begin building. They need to pass the state environmental review (MEPA, or the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act). Before individual buildings, streets, or parks within the plan may proceed, each must undergo design and site plan review, which, for each, requires an additional Planning Board Public Hearing and two additional neighborhood meetings. So the Union Square redevelopment saga will continue…and continue…and continue. This will be a 20 year process, so I hope you are not tired of it yet!
The Green Line Extension (GLX) is really and truly coming: Federal Transit Admin (FTA) releases first $100 million (of $1 billion total) of federal funds; impact on Ward 5
From the news release: “December 21, 2017 — The Federal Transit Administration today informed the MBTA Green Line Extension (GLX) Project Team that it has released the first $100 million installment of the total approved $1 billion in federal funding for the 4.7-mile light rail line from Cambridge to Medford, marking another milestone for the project. With federal funding in place, the MBTA issued the Notice to Proceed to GLX Design-Build team, GLX Constructors. After a sealed price opening last month, GLX Constructors won with its bid, a total of $1.08 billion.” (For the full news release with more details about the project, go to https://www.mbta.com/news/3239 )
Previously, the MBTA announced that GLX Constructors, a collaboration between several engineering and construction firms, in their winning bid committed to include features once deemed unlikely. Station canopies, elevators, public art, an enhanced Vehicle Maintenance Facility and, most important, the Community Path Extension all the way to Lechmere Station (where it will link up with bicycle paths that go into Boston and beyond) will all be included in the project.
The advocacy of organizations such as Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP) and Friends of the Community Path, community members in Somerville, Cambridge and Medford, with support of city officials and our state legislators has made this great advancement possible. All these people persisted through many obstacles and setbacks, for decades.
On December 19, I attended the first meeting of the GLX Community Working Group, whose members will serve as liaisons to the neighborhoods surrounding the construction. Much of this work will take place in Ward 5, which will have two GLX stations, on Lowell Street near Maxwell’s Green (officially to be called Magoun Square station) and in Ball Square. I am pleased to report that City officials chose three Ward 5 residents to serve on the Working Group, Michaela Bogosh (at large), Jennifer Dorsen (Ball Square station), and Ryan Dunn (Magoun Square station). They will be reaching out to their neighborhoods next year. If you would like their contact info, email me. If you have concerns about GLX construction work in your neighborhood, please let me know and I will put you in touch with people who can address your concerns.
Cedar Street roadway construction projects — lower and upper
The Cedar Street sewer project digging on Cedar Street between Summer Street and Highland Ave and the surrounding streets will continue through February. While an official announcement about plans and timeline for the next couple months will come next week, I have learned that after a week-long break between Christmas and New Year’s, the contractor Gioisio will move down Hall Street for about 100 feet. When that’s done, they will dig up and work on the intersection of Highland Ave & Cedar St. There will be some traffic disruption at Highland and Cedar for a month or two. Cedar St between Summer and Highland Ave will be paved over. I will share more details on my Facebook page as the Administration announces them. Neighbors have been amazingly patient and understanding of the enormous disruption and noise this necessary but unpleasant huge construction project has brought to their lives.
Update on the upper Cedar St, Broadway to Highland Ave Roadway Improvements Project – I am sorry to pass along the bad news that once again, for the third year in a row, this project has been put off until next year. The plans were all set, we had a well-attended community meeting in September, and the need is urgent. But sometimes the wheels of City government grind agonizingly slowly. The issues apparently were procedural & administrative, involving state funding and getting everything lined up for the work to proceed. Part of the reason for the three years of delays is that the City has had four different Directors of Engineering in the past four years. The current Director of Engineering, Rich Raiche, is doing a terrific job of managing the enormous amount of street work going on in the City. I am confident that he will get this important project done next year.
Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 Alderman