Somerville/Medford News Weekly Speakup Line: 90 Washington St. City Plan

Dear Billy T and Somerville/Medford News Weekly Speakup Line,

Here is a letter sent to city hall:

Dear Mayor Ballantyne:
 
Congratulations on your joyous Mayoral swearing-in ceremony followed by your inspirational inaugural address.
 
I send you this message on behalf of the 300 residents of Cobble Hill Apartments who are hoping, and yes praying, you will terminate the prior Administration’s mistaken plans to put a fire and police headquarters next to the largest elderly development in Somerville. 

We understand this request will require executive leadership. That said, your inaugural address gives us renewed hope given the importance you placed on transparency, inclusiveness, and making sure every voice is heard.  Yours are such welcomed words. 
 
Similarly, we celebrate the framework you laid out for governing.  Your intent to create an Office of Accountability, Transparency, & Access is most encouraging given Cobble Hill’s experience of being gaslighted.  It’s been over three months – which included two City sponsored “charette-like” community meetings – and we have yet to receive answers to legitimate questions we have asked of the Planning Department.  This level of unresponsiveness has been thoroughly dispiriting (which is likely the intent) and has only served to promote feelings of further isolation, insignificance, and general resentment towards government. 
 
It is our hope your Administration will re-think the “forevermore” disruptive nature of putting a fire and police headquarters next to Cobble Hill.  In addition to the obvious noise disturbances of adjacent police and fire sirens, the very idea of blocking sunlight and replacing apartment views at 84 Washington Street with an ominous municipal parking garage less than 30 ft away seems soulless and deeply unjust.  Alternately, we believe you will find 90 Washington Street the perfect site to stake out your Administration’s commitment to Somerville’s New Green Deal that favors residential housing and walk-to shopping adjacent to the GLX Washington Street stop, as well as an opportunity to create new green space.  
 
With each unanswered Cobble Hill related email and/or ignored personal letter sent to city officials; the residents have confirmed for themselves the City’s incoherent pantomime of being respectful of community input.  This message was made indelible on December 8th at the Ralph & Jenney Center and then again on December 13th when City Planners made no effort to provide answers to the list of questions that were previously and repeatedly raised.    
 
We should have known this truth when the decision to develop 90 Washington Street was processed through a novel Demonstration Plan strategy that shields planning decisions from community opposition.  Cobble Hill’s distrust in this process has only been reinforced after reviewing a PowerPoint presentation from an August 2021 Public Safety Building Committee Meeting where slide #10, titled Design 101, identifies five phases of every design project.  Remarkably, not one of the five phases involves a community process.   Nor have any City Planners been convinced to change their minds with good arguments after their unilateral plans were unveiled to the public in October 2021.  On the contrary, as recent as January 12, 2022, the City Solicitor’s Office issued a Cease-and-Desist Order to my employer presumably to silence my efforts to advocate on behalf of the community I have worked to improve for 20-years.  Cobble Hill residents don’t like what the City has planned for 90 Washington Street.  They don’t appreciate being talked over.  They want answers to the questions they have asked.    
 
It cannot be overstated what is at stake here.  The dispute is not whether the City has a legal right to do what is currently planned for 90 Washington Street.  The issue is whether City Planners are accountable to the community in which they serve, and if there is any political or moral will in this City to reverse their misguided plans.  Cobble Hill’s best hope to correct this mistake rests with your new Administration.
 
Among Cobble Hill’s many unanswered questions, we asked the City Planners to provide any examples where community opposition was successful in reversing ill-conceived plans. While we wait for a response, we can report that it does happen, even if not in Somerville.   Immediately following the Boston Mayoral election in November, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) announced their rejection of three high-end development proposals for Pier 5 in Charlestown just two miles from Cobble Hill.  All newspaper reporting on this unexpected reversal credits community opposition as the reason.  Something similar is playing out in Weymouth where community opposition is close to reversing approvals for a gas compression station.  Except this time, the consequence of not having prior community support will likely result in a significant financial loss because the gas compression station is already built.   These examples give Cobble Hill residents hope as they represent current situations where municipal leaders have prioritized community input and green initiatives over planning department autonomy.  
 
The Cobble Hill community wants to move forward together with your administration.  We want to work through our concerns with an equitable vision that is supported by good arguments for what is best for our community and for the residents of Somerville.  When the current omicron covid surge abates – and we pray it will be soon – we invite and welcome you to attend our community meetings to discuss our concerns at your earliest convenience. 
 
Please let me know whom I should reach out to schedule you to attend a community meeting when the covid threat subsides.
 
Very respectfully,
 
Evelyn Ortiz

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