Dear Honorable Members of City Council:
For the past 18 months, I have advocated for the residents of Cobble Hill Apartments and tried my best to shed light on the many ways the city’s plans for 90 Washington Street threaten the quality of life my residents have enjoyed for 40 years.
As you know, we have written letters, held public meetings, attended the mayor’s many listening sessions, watched the Planning Department’s many Zoom presentations, participated in a “Lego session” at the community school as well as a “brown bag re-envisioning session” at the Ralph & Jenny Center. We have also invited many city officials to attend our weekly coffee hours. All of this was done to better understand why Cobble Hill’s parking lot, alleyway and green space is being taken from our community to allow the city to build a noise producing fire and safety building.
Somerville City Council is our last hope to prevent this mistake from going forward. The harm it will cause is very real and irreparable. In the attached letter, please consider once again why the city’s plans for 90 Washington Street are unworkable and indefensible.
Dear Honorable Members of Somerville City Council:
It is our understanding Somerville City Council, not the former Mayor, not the Planning Department, and not the current Mayor, will be the final “decider” on the future of 90 Washington Street. With this in mind, I hope that each of you will vote against cutting down 84 mature trees, plowing under well- manicured green space, and removing a parcel of land that for 40-years has provided both resident parking and hauling access to Cobble Hill’s trash facility.
I have worked at Cobble Hill for 21 years and find it beyond belief city government removed quality of life assets from 300 affordable elders. I am not a public person, nor do I enjoy my new public role in defending Cobble Hill Apartments. That said, I find it more distasteful to do nothing when truly bad decisions are being made and Cobble Hill residents are in urgent need of advocacy. And so, I first sought out advice from residents, co-workers and community activists to help me understand why this was happening. And as we chipped away at the untruths we were told by city officials; we responded each time with a letter writing campaign to report the facts. It has been exhaustive, but I believe we have completed everyone’s homework. Our hopes to stop this mistake from happening now rests with Somerville City Council.
Perhaps, it could be helpful to know 44% of Cobble Hill’s 224 units own a registered vehicle. When we lose our parking lot at 74 Washington Street, three dozen elderly households along with homecare workers, visiting nurses, and family members will need to play the cruel game of Ward 1 “musical cars” due to the immediate loss of off-street parking. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks Cobble Hill’s spillover parking requirements can be absorbed by street parking. Currently, Cobble Hill’s parking is tight but workable. Absolutely nothing good will come from having Cobble Hill elders and their service providers compete for Ward 1’s severely limited street parking.
Likewise, you should be interested to know the alleyway behind 84 Washington Street was designed four decades ago to allow garbage truck removal of multiple two-yard trash receptacles and one large
trash dumpster. The architect designed the dumpsters to be next to the building’s trash chute compactor room. If at any point garbage trucks lose access to the alleyway, the twice-a-week pick-up of compacted trash will no longer be possible because the bins are much too large to be rolled out any door other than the one that presents to the alleyway. And if this happens, I will need to permanently lock the hallway trash chutes at 84 Washington Street and instruct the 97 residents to dispose of their household trash in a perimeter dumpster outside the building. This is not a small problem to be ignored as the average Cobble Hill senior is 75 years old and at varying stages of health and mobility. It is my experience the trash chutes conveniently located on every floor are difficult enough for many elders who struggle to live independently. Requiring frail seniors to use perimeter dumpsters is an unnecessary burden.
We now imagine the then-City Council voted for the Demonstration Plan Project without a full understanding of these consequences. Given how much Cobble Hill has been gaslighted in our cry for advocacy, we suspect the Planning Department failed to tell City Council these collateral hardships as well. Indeed, how else would any City Counselor have known these details because there was not one public hearing about the land-taking before the City Council vote.
As disturbing, the alleyway behind 84 Washington Street is frequently used for a more convenient vehicular drop-off when seniors return from shopping or when they ambulate with walkers. This makes sense of course because it is the closest point of access as the building’s front entrance is set back considerably from the street requiring more mobility. The routine requirements of life will be more difficult for seniors when this building access point is needlessly taken away.
These examples of unjustifiable hardship are the causal effects of poor decision making. They are also infuriating because they were created by the former mayor’s overreach without public input. Cobble Hill’s legitimate concerns were easily anticipated, easily prevented, and sadly just as easily ignored.
Absent a public community process, the Planning Department wasn’t asked to explain how the taking of these assets might diminish Cobble Hill Apartment’s quality of life. Nor were Planning Department officials ever asked if all four of the acres they took qualified as “blight”. They were not! Instead, Cobble Hill Apartments discovered a much darker lesson about Somerville’s “community process”. If facts and public scrutiny prove inconvenient, they are to be circumvented. And when facts do not align with the Planning Department’s narrative and/or the deeply flawed Site Selection Study and equally flawed Demonstration Plan Project, it is best to ignore them altogether and keep moving forward. How else to explain no written responses to Cobble Hill’s letters and the absence of our expressed concerns on the https://voice.somervillema.gov/90washington_redevelopment website?
To say the City’s outreach to date has been dismissive, insensitive, and anti-community is prologue. So much so it is reasonable to wonder if the Planning Department made the cold calculation that Cobble Hill is comprised of low-income residents who are powerless to stop them. Whatever the truth, I would wager Cobble Hill’s now endangered “quality of life” that nothing so bold would have occurred if Cobble Hill Apartments were a high-end market rental or homeowner community.
Fortunately, it is not too late. The Administration’s request for bond funding requires City Council approval. We respectfully and urgently ask you to vote no.
Voting against this request should not be hard. The 2018 Site Selection Study and the 2019 Demonstration Plan Project made clear the proposed Public Safety Building required a land parcel no larger than 30,000 sq ft with a projected construction cost of between $36 and $48.5 million. Inexplicably, this grandiose plan has since been put on steroids. City Council is now being asked to approve a previously unimaginable price tag of $102 million to include a land parcel almost five times the size of the need that was projected. This amount will very likely climb once again when the pro tanto stage of the land value dispute is resolved.
Now is the time for City Council to show awareness and fiduciary responsibility. The original plans for 90 Washington Street were poorly justified and should not have been predicated on the taking of quality- of-life assets from low-income elders. We ask instead for City Council to adopt Councilor McLaughlin’s promise to Cobble Hill residents that no parking or alleyway will be taken, and the green space and trees will be preserved.
In addition, at the core of our public dispute is whether 90 Washington Street is the very best location for the City’s new Public Safety Building. It is not. The vacant lot at 90 Washington Street is steps from a MBTA GLX subway stop that should be destined for far better purposes than an upgraded police & fire building. We believe 90 Washington Street could inspire a new hub of activity on a rare and immensely valuable parcel next to a subway stop.
On the contrary, proposing a Public Safety Building for 90 Washington Street might be the very worst idea as it will forevermore disturb a community of 300 elders with 2,262 annual siren alarms. Unlike our neighbors who go to school and/or work and spend weekends away from home, Cobble Hill residents are largely homebound 24/7 and will hear every one of the sirens as they wail their way each day and night through heavy traffic on Washington St. It is our firm belief that building a siren producing “noise machine” next to Cobble Hill Apartments is a very bad fit.
The following link is a compilation of protest letters written by residents, and emails I have distributed that define why Cobble Hill Apartments is so upset with the City’s plans.
Please let us know what more we can do to save our quality of life, and to support Somerville with better options. We are counting on you, and again ask that you vote against authorizing this plan to move forward.
Property Administrator Cobble Hill Apartments