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

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

Dear Mayor Ballantyne:

At several of the city’s Envisioning 90 Washington Street listen sessions you encouraged attendees to “think like a Mayor.” I am intrigued by this encouragement as I was when your predecessor used to encourage his development staff to “be abnormal”? Both Mayoral encouragements are top of mind in writing you this request.

If I were to think like a Mayor, I would take to heart the words of Albert Einstein when he said, “whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

One small matter worth revisiting is the City’s justification for taking Cobble Hill’s green space, parking lot, and alleyway behind 84 Washington Street when we now know these land parcels are not needed to achieve the city’s PSB plans.

On October 6th your Director of Economic Development defended this decision when he reported “the site selection process looked at any site in the city that was at least an acre and they studied other criteria.” He then encouraged those in the audience to go to the City’s website online and “download a copy of the site selection study so you can see it for yourself.” Well, we did just that and discovered only two of the six potential PSB sites that were studied provided at least an acre. Also, we discovered the 90 Washington Street site represented over four times the land space the city needed which was described as between 18,000-30,000 SF.

Site Selection Study
90 Washington Street
17 McGrath Highway
185 Somerville Ave
501 Mystic Valley Parkway
526 Somerville Ave
17 Inner Belt Road

This “small matter” may seem inconsequential, but to Cobble Hill residents, it is the basis of the city’s justification that will forevermore diminished Cobble Hill’s quality-of-life if this wrecking ball of a decision is not stopped.

It’s evident to me now why your Administration won’t engage in defending the 2018 Weston & Sampson site selection study that actively favored 90 Washington Street over five other sites. What I don’t understand is why it doesn’t bother you that three of the six potential parcels scored very poorly for not meeting the PSB’s minimal threshold space requirements. Shouldn’t all six sites have met the 18,000-30,000 minimum requirements? And didn’t someone on City Council question the former Administration as to why 501 Mystic Valley Parkway did not meet the minimum threshold requirement when it offered 39,640 SF? Did anyone else know the Planning Department’s furtive plans to do more than provide a new public safety building? And if they did, was anyone concerned that taking Cobble Hill’s land also meant taking away needed parking, building access for trash removal/grocery delivery, and life affirming green space?


Your Administration and City Council, have an opportunity to rectify this mistake. That is the beauty of democratic elections where prior and poorly constructed objectives can be reversed. But that is not the only shortcoming of the site selection report. Shouldn’t your Administration at least explain how 90 Washington Street received the highest rating for not being next to a residential community, no less Somerville’s largest elderly community? And can someone explain why the study promoted 90 Washington Street as the best financial option for the city? It was not.

Those of us who balance our check books each month consider it fiscally irresponsible to overpay for 173,804 square feet of land when the site selection requirements sought between 18,000-30,000 square feet. To put a finer point on this observation, 90 Washington Street cost the city $8,754,000 when 185 Somerville Avenue would have cost $1,906,000. Wouldn’t the City celebrate a savings of $6,838,200 by instead taking 185 Somerville Ave?

Having to make sound spending choices is nothing new to Cobble Hill elders who are required to pay 30% of their limited retirement income each month on rent. They would expect your Administration to do the same. And while Cobble Hill residents live within their means, they are profoundly thankful to live in our quiet and beautiful community. Never did they imagined their quality-of-life assets would be taken away by the city to build a multistory parking garage that will block their views, and a noisy fire and safety headquarters to disturb their peace.

Perhaps the plans for 90 Washington Street are exactly what the former Mayor had in mind when he asked his Planning and Development staff to “act abnormal.” From Cobble Hill’s perspective, it is not normal to overpay $6,838,200 for land that was not needed. It is not normal for your Director of Economic Development to proudly proclaimed on October 6th in front of Cobble Hill seniors the following:

“And so we took that opportunity, we used that study, and decided to acquire the site. The good news is the site has a little more land than what we need exactly for a public safety building, and so we had this in mind, we can plan for additional things for the site.”

This is definitely not “good news” to the residents of Cobble Hill. It is not normal to take important quality-of-life assets such as parking, green space and a grove of mature trees from an elderly low-income community for an as-yet undetermined purpose. It is not normal to support Union Square’s exciting rebirth by making East Somerville the dumping ground for their police and fire station. It is not normal to install a fire station with an anticipated 2,263 annual siren trips next to a 300-person elderly community. And it is not normal to unilaterally dedicate 3.99 acres of Somerville’s most valuable land to a Public Safety Building through a Demonstration Plan Project without one word of public input.

Not to worry though as I have a remedy! I think the city should return the parking lot, green space, and alleyway they took from Cobble Hill’s seniors and work harder to find a better use of the remaining land to advantage the new MBTA Subway stop. In the end, if the Planning Department still wants to act abnormal, direct them to convert the remainder of 90 Washington Street into a public park so that future families will forevermore benefit from having a place to play, and relax, and destress when the challenges of life are overwhelming.

Wouldn’t that be both abnormal and wonderfully Mayoral?


Evelyn Ortiz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.