LETTER TO THE EDITOR:HUNDREDS OF COBBLE HILL SENIOR RESIDENTS AGAINST CITY’S PLANS FOR A MUNICIPAL BUILDING AT 90 WASHINGTON STREET

To Whom it May Concern:

I am the Property Administrator for Cobble Hill Apartments and have been employed at the property for over 20-years. In addition to maintaining a 224-unit residential community, my larger responsibility is to attend to the needs of approximately 300 independent seniors who have an average age of 71-years. It is truly a great honor of mine.

If you are unfamiliar, Cobble Hill Apartments is the largest affordable elderly development in Somerville. We are most recognizable as the “green oasis” on Washington Street as anyone who walks or drives past my property can attest. I often receive compliments from neighbors who frequent the property to take family photos at our gazebo. This unintended but welcomed compliment occurs because East Somerville does not have many attractive green spaces within walking distance. We are proud that Cobble Hill Apartments has provided this “oasis” for 40-years. It is a signature statement indicative of the quality work our staff performs to deliver a higher standard of residential quality for our community.

Recently I have been informed of the City’s plans to build a municipal building immediately adjacent to Cobble Hill Apartments. I have also been assured the “community process” is sacrosanct and will begin in earnest the second week of November. Please know, the residents of Cobble Hill will soon put to a test the significance of the “community process” after also learning the City is on a parallel tract to expedite the funding of a Public Safety Construction Manager for this very project.

Trusting the City will honor the Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development’s official Community Approval Process, I held resident meetings on October 19 and October 22 to circulate the City’s plans and to gauge our resident response. What resulted was a unanimous rejection of the City’s plans to situate a police and fire station next door. As telling, the resident meetings were the most attended I have witnessed in 20-years.

The expressed concerns were not trivial by any standards and need to be answered by every leader who supports the City’s plans. Cobble Hill residents have a right to know why the City is proposing to remove the resident parking to 74 & 84 Washington Street. They have a right to know why the City plans to take Cobble Hill land that has been used for 40-years for garbage truck access to the dumpsters behind 84 Washington St. And they have a right to know why the City supports a plan that replaces a beautifully landscaped hill with a four-story backside of a parking garage. Serious as these concerns are, they are secondary to the unified complaint that the municipal building will house a fire and police station that will create the incessant 24/7 disturbance of emergency vehicle sirens.

This makes no sense for our community. Cobble Hill residents are retired and largely homebound. They will be home, and their right to peaceful enjoyment will be disturbed by every emergency vehicle siren whether it is 2:00 in the afternoon or 2:00 in the morning. Please don’t categorize this as a “chicken little” concern where the residents are making a big deal out of nothing. They highly value the serenity and general quiet Cobble Hill Apartments provides them. Frankly, we should not be the ones to report to you the Somerville Fire Department’s claim of having 10,000 runs annually from five stations. This projection does not include the additional police sirens that are to be expected. In the name of transparency, this information and the reported plans for a target practice shooting range in the building should be front and center in any presentation of the City’s plans.

If our concerns fall on deaf ears, that would be truly ironic. Everyone on this email distribution would be in support of the City’s Noise Control Ordinance No. 2000-11, concerning noise tolerances. Using the City’s own words, it is stated:

“Excessive sound and vibration are serious hazards to the public health, welfare, safety, and quality of life. The people have a right to, and should be ensured, an environment free from excessive sound and vibration that may jeopardize their health, welfare, safety, or quality of life.”

The Ordinance further compares a decibel level of 115 to a “House party, 4 piece rock band”. We are now learning a fire truck siren registers a decibel level of 120 which the ordinance compares to a “machine gun at close range”.

On behalf of the residents of Cobble Hill, I am circulating this email to learn whether anyone in a position of leadership in the City cares about the legitimate concerns of this community. Please remember, up until now the City’s plans were designed without any community input. It’s as if a generic architect somewhere in the world created these plans during covid isolation. But Cobble Hill is not anywhere in the world. Cobble Hill Apartments is an important Somerville community asset that is home to a thriving elderly community that desperately wants the City to stop this project and find a better use for this vacant parcel that sits next to a new green line subway stop.

Only last week did I receive notification the City’s “community process” will begin on November 10, 2021 at 6:00 PM. Let me be clear, from our perspective the “process” to date has been exclusionary and seemingly deliberate in its non-transparency leaving us to wonder if there is any decency to what seems like an elaborate charade.

Of all the Cobble Hill residents who attended the resident meetings, only one raised a hand when asked if anyone had previously participated in a teleconference meeting such as Zoom or Google Meet. Separately, it is not lost on us that every candidate running for election can mask up and canvass Cobble Hill for votes, but the agents of city government are limiting the community discussion to a teleconference link. Draw your own conclusions.

So allow me to state very clearly that the Cobble Hill residents are unified in their disapproval. In the coming months they plan to seek answers as to whom is responsible for wanting to situate a municipal building with a fire and police component next to Somerville’s largest elderly development. They will want answers as to how proposed site plans that remove a needed parking lot and Cobble Hill’s only access to trash dumpsters could be ready for public review. These are not small issues to be resolved. And if there is an interest, perhaps some community leaders will provide answers to those residents who expressed disappointment that City officials have abandoned their goals for transit oriented residential and commercial development that would advantage the new MBTA Green Line stop abutting the parcel.

In the months ahead, I will hold as many resident meetings as required to make sure my residents are informed of every turn in this process. Many are intent on sending letters and circulating petitions to oppose these plans. Several do not write well as English is their second language, while others do not have an email address. But make no mistake, they are informed. To assist these residents, I scheduled a time for my staff to sit with each to dictate their opposition. In the attached, you will find signed and addressed letters of how 19 elderly households voiced their opposition – in their own words. This is just a small sampling of the opposition that exists.

I find their letters inspirational. These residents are not practiced in protest and have opened my eyes to the empowerment of community resolve. It is my sincerest hope every person on this email distribution will respond directly to each resident by mail. Your thoughtful response is the very least I would expect from a public official as a basic common courtesy.

Respectfully,

Evelyn Ortiz
Property Administrator
Cobble Hill Apartments

Attach affidavits of dozens of senior Somerville residents against the chosen location of the bee Somerville Public Safety Building at Cobble Hill.

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