Letter to Somerville Mayor RE: 90 Washington St. City Plan

Dear Mayor Ballantyne:

On February 28, 2023, many Cobble Hill Residents attended by Zoom the City’s 90 Washington Street Request for Qualifications (RFQ) – Virtual Site Tour / Q&A Roundtable. Of the Cobble Hill residents who attended the presentation, not one supported the City’s taking of Cobble Hill’s parking lot, alleyway, or green space and all oppose your plan to build a noise producing fire and safety building next door.

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When the Planning Department eventually paused their 56-minute slide presentation to ask for questions, Cobble Hill residents joined the cue. Their first and most important question was answered with a cautious response most notable for not answering the actual question. Consider the following:


(Cobble Hill) Is the city legally obligated to install a police and fire station at 90 Washington Street? Or can they choose another purpose?


(TFields) I am going to refer this to um, Rachel if she wants to answer. Or, I can answer as well. Whatever you prefer.

(RNadkarni) Ted do you want to take this one, and then I can take the next couple.

(TFields) The um, the Redevelopment Authority, um, obtained the 90 Washington Street site by eminent domain under a Demonstration Project Plan. Um, and the public purpose stated in that plan was to, um, eliminate, um, the um, blight on the site in the form of the vacant, um, shopping plaza and to, um, rebuild, um, or I’m sorry, to build a public safety facility on a part of the site. As well as other complimentary, um, buildings, um, that um, helped fulfill various public purposes that were outlined in the plan. Um, we are working with our Law Department to, um, to really solidify exactly, um, what our obligations are, um, for constructing a public safety facility, um, on the site as required by the Demonstration Project Plan. Um, so that is the shortest and most succinct answer I can provide. Do you have any, um, additional comments Rachel?

(RNardkarni) No. I think it is, um, it goes back to it is, the purpose for the property was, ah, for a public safety building and we would encourage folks to take a look at the, um, that decision that was made a few years ago, if there is interest, and there are links to that material available if anyone would like.

Surprisingly, both Mr. Fields and Ms. Nadkarni’s topsy-turvy non-responses inadvertently answered all of Cobble Hill’s questions giving us every indication your Administration has been less than transparent.

Over the past 17-months, your Administration has proselytized a State mandated requirement to build a public safety building at 90 Washington Street as if that decree was carved in tablets of stone. Yet, there is no evidence, nor does it make any sense, to say the City is legally required to build a $102 million fire and safety building next to Somerville’s largest elderly community. And now, it certainly looks like members of your Planning and Economic Development team are getting uncomfortable pushing this falsehood any further.

As Mayor, you and members of your Administration stated very publicly that the Demonstration Plan Project requires you to build a police and fire station at 90 Washington Street. This was repeated at every “community listening session” along with your insistence that if you don’t build a public safety building, the City will lose the right to develop the land. Similarly, this sentiment was expressed by Councilor McLaughlin at a recent Cobble Hill tenant meeting as well.

Does integrity still matter? It now appears to us your claims are inaccurate and designed specifically to satisfy your political agenda.

Should we simply forget the City took Cobble Hill’s parking lot, green space and alleyway by eminent domain in 2019 to remedy “blight” without holding one public meeting? Had the City done so, I firmly believe approximately 1 acre of Cobble Hill’s beautifully landscape green space, alleyway and resident parking lot would not have been taken in the City’s extravagant overreach. And now, your Administration is trying once again to stifle public input as to what development uses, other than a Public Safety Building, would be the best – and most affordable – for 90 Washington Street. This whole deceptive and autocratic process has been a nightmare for Cobble Hill residents and it must stop!

Perhaps now is the time to ask you the following. Have we finally reached the point where your Administration can admit that there is no legal reason the City can’t explore more affordable and appropriate public purposes for 90 Washington Street than a Public Safety Building? Similarly, can we now agree that the best public purpose for 90 Washington Street is not to build a $102 Million public safety building next to a valuable MBTA subway stop and the city’s largest elderly community? And lastly, can we stop pretending once and for all the Site Selection Study justified the taking of 90 Washington Street? It did not! The study was deeply prejudiced by the former Administration’s heavy hand on the scale and does not withstand even cursory intellectual scrutiny.

Cobble Hill is pleading for your Administration to remove these invisible handcuffs from the 90 Washington Street planning process. In doing so, we trust the City will benefit greatly by allowing their urban planners to re-envision a broader palette of public benefit options that more accurately address the needs of the residents of Somerville. Not one that absconds with Cobble Hill’s quality of life assets and replaces them with 2,263 annual siren trips.

It’s time for a reset.


Evelyn Ortiz

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