Council Update: Affordable Housing Overlay, Winter Hill Urban Renewal, another pedestrian killed

 


 

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Winter Hill Urban Renewal Plan, aerial view; Affordable Housing

In this issue:

Public Hearing on Affordable Housing Overlay District zoning proposal, Thurs., Nov. 19 at 6 PM
Public Hearing on Winter Hill Urban Renewal Plan to redevelop the vacant Star Market site, Wed., Nov. 18 at 6 PM
Leah Zallman, of blessed memory, yet another pedestrian killed by a motor vehicle on Somerville streets: What the City needs to do now
Public Hearing on Affordable Housing Overlay District zoning proposal, Thursday, November 19 at 6 PM

The City Council and the Planning Board is holding this Public Hearing. Dan Bartman of the City Planning Department will explain how the Affordable Housing Overlay District (AHOD) would work. After that, members of the public will be invited to speak. Anyone may submit public comment in writing to cityclerk@somervillema.gov. The link and call-in number to get into the meeting, and the agenda, are here: http://somervillecityma.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=3267

To read up on the AHOD proposal before the meeting, go to https://www.somervillezoning.com/

Scroll down to the bar that says “Latest Public Hearings and Meetings.” Below that you will see the presentation made to the Planning Board on November 5 and below that, the detailed proposed amendments to the zoning code that would establish the AHOD.

Ward 3 Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, the Chair of the Land Use Committee, who has led the Council on this issue, published an article explaining what the AHOD is and why it is so critical for Somerville: https://medium.com/@benewencampen/we-need-a-city-wide-affordable-housing-overlay-district-in-somerville-a2b22f970b1f In short, an AHOD would make it easier to build affordable housing by offering permitting, density, and height benefits to developers of 100% affordable buildings.

The City Council Land Use Committee, of which I am a member, spent five meetings developing this proposal. I believe if it is enacted it will spur more affordable housing in the City. I strongly support this plan, although I always want to hear from the community before moving forward. To date we have not received any criticism of it, but there was a long, rancorous debate in Cambridge over their AHOD proposal before it finally passed the City Council there a month ago. Of course, there are tradeoffs. This proposal would allow taller buildings in some areas and less community and City board review of 100% affordable housing developments. I am anxious to hear feedback, concerns, objections and other comments from the public.

Public Hearing on Winter Hill Urban Renewal Plan to redevelop the vacant Star Market site, Wednesday, November 18 at 6 PM

The Somerville City Council is holding this public hearing to get feedback on the Plan from the public. There will be a presentation about the plan before the public comment period.

There are two ways you can submit testimony:

To attend the hearing, enter this link exactly as it appears into your internet browser any time before the meeting: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/9179575600740006156. You can also find this link on the City Council’s online meeting calendar. You will then be asked to register, and after registering, you will receive an email with instructions to join the webinar.
Anyone may submit written comment via email to cityclerk@somervillema.gov.
You can read the proposed Plan, which was developed by the Somerville Redevelopment Authority and City staff in the Economic Development Department and Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, here: https://somervoice.somervillema.gov/4007/widgets/13067/documents/13103

This plan will need to be approved by the Planning Board, the City Council, and the State Dept. of Housing and Community Development before it can be implemented. The Plan calls for significant open space, affordable housing, retail and commercial office space, and market-rate housing. The specifics have not been developed; there will be a community process for that. We are still at the very beginning of the redevelopment process. It will be many more months before decisions are made, and years before significant redevelopment begins in the area.

I will be reviewing the Plan in detail, but from all I have heard and read, it is a sound approach. Taking the long-vacant Winter Hill Star Market site by eminent domain so it can be redeveloped is the right move. It is my hope that in the coming years this long-neglected area will finally get the neighborhood center it deserves.

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Pickup truck that killed Leah Zallman at College and Kidder Aves.

Leah Zallman, of blessed memory, yet another pedestrian killed by a motor vehicle on Somerville streets: What the City needs to do now

If you live in Somerville, you have probably heard that on November 3, Election Day, Leah Zallman, walking home at 1 o’clock in the afternoon after voting, was struck and killed by a pickup truck while she was crossing Kidder Ave at College Avenue, not far from Davis Square. The driver, a City employee at work and using his personal vehicle, was heading down towards Davis Square on College Ave and took a left onto Kidder and hit her. (The driver remained at the site and has been put on paid administrative leave.) The Middlesex County District Attorney and the Somerville Police Department are investigating the accident.

Before I say anything else, I want to urge you: BE CAREFUL WHEN WALKING ON OUR CITY STREETS!! PAY ATTENTION. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP. DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE WHILE CROSSING A STREET. DO NOT THINK YOU ARE SAFE IN A CROSSWALK!!!

Almost half of all pedestrians who are hit in Somerville are in a crosswalk! Pedestrians in crosswalks should not have to dodge cars, but being able to may save your life.

AND, IF YOU DRIVE, BE CAREFUL AND PAY CLOSE ATTENTION FOR PEDESTRIANS AND BICYCLISTS. You do not want to live for the rest of your life with the death or injury of a pedestrian on your conscience.

I never met Leah Zallman but I am heartbroken by the death of this wonderful woman, mother, wife, daughter, friend, doctor, immigrant health researcher and advocate. I could go on and on about what a bright light she was, how much she has done to help our most vulnerable immigrant residents, how much more she would have contributed to bettering our society.

But I think the most important thing that I can say and that we can do to honor her memory is to prevent this from ever happening again in Somerville. She is the fourth pedestrian be killed on our streets in the last two years. I look forward to working with anyone and everyone who cares about pedestrian safety to elevate the City’s progress on traffic calming to the next level.

I spoke with Mayor Curtatone Wednesday night and in the strongest terms I told him that pedestrian safety is a public safety and public health emergency in Somerville. I said that the City must provide a lot more money and resources to fix the scores of intersections where an accident like this could happen. He agreed . He said that he would be working with City staff to prepare a plan to present to the City Council for more money for traffic calming, first in January, and again in June for the FY 2022 budget year which starts in July.

I have spoken with Lance Davis, the Ward 6 Councilor, and we submitted a policy order for last night’s City Council meeting: “That the Mayor make to the City Council a supplementary budget request to immediately add staff and funding to the Mobility Department, which plans and deploys traffic calming infrastructure, and that the Mayor increase the Mobility Department staff and budget by at least 50% in the FY 2022 budget.”

As the investigation has not been concluded, we do not know for certain the cause of the accident or whether it could have been prevented by better traffic calming infrastructure at this intersection. But we do know for certain that traffic calming infrastructure (speed bumps, traffic calming tables, flex posts, bump outs, etc.) does make streets safer and saves lives. And we do know that there are scores, perhaps hundreds of unfulfilled requests for additional traffic calming infrastructure at locations all over our City.

Every year I have called upon the Mayor to add more staff and funds to the Mobility Department to do this lifesaving work. (Under the City Charter and state law, the City Council cannot add any funds to the budget, all we can do is cut and ask the Mayor to add funds.) There has been a serious response from the Administration, but an inadequate one. Over the past few years, the Mayor, with the Council’s support, has added staff and reorganized departments to strengthen this work. But our current staffing and budget are not even close to what is necessary.

To the Mayor’s credit, the Administration developed and put forward a plan to further reorganize and add staff and funding to the Mobility Department early this year. But after the Coronavirus exploded in March and April, this plan and the additional funding were not included in the budget that was submitted to the City Council due to the financial difficulties that the City faced.

I deeply regret now that I did not advocate that the increases in the Mobility Dept budget be included in the budget, despite Covid-19. I should have said that those funds are a matter of life and death and that increasing the capacity of the City to fix problem intersections and roadways must not be deferred.

Councilor Davis has been urging that the intersection of Kidder and College be made safer for years, and we discussed this specific intersection in the City Council Traffic and Parking Committee, which I Chair, several times in the past few years. The Mobility Department made some improvements, but did not have the resources to fully address the problems at this location. There are scores of other locations, many of which, according to crash data, are more dangerous than College and Kidder and that urgently need traffic calming.

The Mobility Dept is in the midst of a community process on a plan to make changes to College Ave and Holland Street that will make accidents less likely. There is another public meeting about this project on Wednesday, December 9; for information, go to https://somervoice.somervillema.gov/hollandandcollege

The frustrating thing is that these plans get developed and implemented slowly, partly because the Mobility Dept has so many other pressing problems on its plate. If the Mobility Department had more staff and funds, perhaps the improvements would have already been in place and might have protected Leah Zallman.

A similar thing happened with Powderhouse Boulevard by the West Somerville Neighborhood School. A pedestrian, Allison Donovan, was killed there in February 2019. Plans were being made and several community meetings had been held to fix the speeding problem at that location. It was only after Allison Donovan was killed that speed bumps were put in there, which have improved safety in that area significantly.

The other two pedestrians who were killed in 2019 were Cheryl Pauline Richards and Kevin Dumont, both in the area of Mystic Avenue/Mcgrath Highway/and the I-93 on-ramp. The State and the City have made significant improvements in that area after their deaths. But as Councilor Will Mbah remarked last night, design by disaster is not an effective way to do business.

If you care about pedestrian safety in Somerville, I urge you to advocate with your elected officials to do more. There are periodic meetings about various traffic calming projects such as the one about College Ave and Holland Street that will take place on December 9. Please attend them. You can write to the City Council (citycouncil@somervillema.gov) and the Mayor (mayor@somervillema.gov) and urge us to allocate more money and make pedestrian safety a higher priority.

You can join the Somerville Pedestrian Advocacy Coalition’s google email list to stay informed and share your concerns and knowledge — sompedtransitadvocacycoalition@googlegroups.com. There is now a committee, part of the City government, called the Somerville Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee. It was created last year largely due to the advocacy and organizing of residents, led by former City Councilor Stephanie Hirsch. You can find more information about this group here: https://www.somervillema.gov/departments/somerville-pedestrian-and-transit-advisory-committee You can write to them at transportation@somervillema.gov

Thank you to the many bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates for all your advocacy and work over the past decade to make our streets safer. We have made significant progress, especially with bicycling infrastructure, but not nearly enough.

Leah Zallman’s death is a tragedy. I hope her memory will inspire us to make changes that will save other lives.

Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 City Councilor
http://www.markniedergang.com/

mark@markniedergang.com 617 629-8033

One thought on “Council Update: Affordable Housing Overlay, Winter Hill Urban Renewal, another pedestrian killed”

  1. So the city is into land stealing now. They are planning on how to build on property that is not theirs. This is still America last I looked. Why not put those efforts into helping the homeless and feeding the hungry here first. Who is supporting these vigilantes? Some construction company? Payoffs? This is so wrong.

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