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Your comments today could shape the future of Union Square and all of Somerville

Thursday, December 13 is the last day for sending comments to the Board of Aldermen about proposed zoning changes for the city.  Comments can be sent to BoardOfAldermen@somervillema.gov

It is too late to submit written comments to the Planning Board but you might want to also send a copy of your comments to the Board of Aldermen to somerville.civicomment.org.

Below are key issues about Open Space goals, transportation and Union Square zoning/design that are very significant for the proposed zoning changes.  It is important for the Board of Aldermen to hear from Somerville residents regarding concerns about the new zoning.  We urge you to review the zoning comments below and make your own comments to the Board of Alderman to address issues that are of concern to you.  With regard to Union Square, we urge you to think about how the proposed design changes to Union Square will transform this vital part of our city for the next 100 years.


CITY-WIDE ZONING

The SOMERVISION 2010-2030 comprehensive plan for 125 acres of new open space must be codified in zoning. The City must provide a plan for where these open spaces will be sited in the transform and overlay areas. The City must use property it presently owns to increase open space in all parts of Somerville. The Open Space Task Force must seek out properties to acquire for increasing open space in its currently developed squares and neighborhoods.

Transportation and connectivity

  • Safe travel of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport must have priority over vehicles.
  • Safe pedestrian and bicycle connectivity must be increased throughout all of Somerville, especially in the UR and NR districts, so as to provide a more pleasant environment away from polluted roadways. Easements to or purchasing of property that would create this outcome must be prioritized.
  • Safe access to the Green Line must be provided in all station areas from all key directions. There must be direct access from east and west sides of Prospect Hill Bridge to the Union Square Station.
  • Construction of the community bike path must proceed in tandem with that of the Green Line.

Green and open spaces

  • Green space must be increased at every opportunity in a creative way in the public realm, i.e. increased sidewalk widths and bioswales, green roofs, plantings along highway and roadways, vines, living walls, planting all the layers of the forest (canopy, understory, shrubs, herbaceous, soil) in trenches, rather than only in tree wells, planting slopes, medians, flower boxes, etc
  • Before removal of any amount of green space in the public realm, the City needs to provide a plan on how and where that green space will be replaced, and that plan must be executed within a certain time period (12 months?).
  • Green Low Impact Development and sustainable design should be used.
  • City owned properties and the public realm should conform to the highest standards of sustainable design, and they should become the model for designing building standards in new zoning code.
  • Green Score, demolition review must be required for civic buildings.
  • Multi-unit buildings near highways and heavily trafficked roads should have high quality air filtration that is integrated with energy efficient heating, cooling and air supply not protect residents’ health.

Indoor Civic Space

  • Indoor civic space requirements must be described within the zoning code with regard to types similar to what has been specified for outdoor civic space.  (Thus, community centers would become a type.)

Community Benefits

  • Contributions must be made by developers of all upzoned properties to affordable housing, jobs, open space, sustainability, indoor civic space, arts and creative economy and the other community benefits and goals described in SOMERVISION.

Affordable Housing

  • An affordable housing overlay district must be created in areas around transportation centers and Green Line stations.
  • Workforce housing must be incorporated as a residential space type and required within zoning to exist as a certain percentage of total new housing.
  • Incentives should be given to landlords to charge below market rate for rental housing.

Character

  • To preserve the funkiness and character of Somerville efforts should be made to provide creativity in developing the built environment in the zoning so that Somerville neighborhoods are distinctive rather than copying Assembly Row development/design model.

Economy

  • Big banks and chain stores must subsidize affordable commercial space for small businesses.
  • Parity must be achieved across all neighborhoods and squares as development and density in our transforming city increases.
  • Increase commercial construction (office and lab) in the transformative areas to 70% of the development,  so that live/work balance is achieve, increasing jobs in Somerville and reducing the city’s d and so that the city’s tax burden on residential property owners.

Arts and Creative Economy

  • Ensure that the arts and creative economy are preserved and created with more affordable, housing and/ or live work spaces for artists.  

IMPROVING UNION SQUARE DEVELOPMENT AND DESIGN

Key Issues:

  • US2’s current proposal falls short – The design of the D2 block is a 100 year decision on one of the most important sites in Somerville.  US2’s proposal is based on the building massing described in the Union Square Neighborhood Plan, but this plan was created to reflect a prior two-level MBTA station design at Prospect Street that no longer exists.  The current proposal fails to integrate the new station configuration; it also falls short of providing great public space and neighborhood gateway via the Green Line. The new street being proposed fails to meet the standards of Somerville’s complete streets ordinance.  
  • The Union Square D2 design must, if economically feasible, provide underground parking to increase open space, and developers must demonstrate in a public hearing setting why such parking is not feasible if it, in conjunction with the City, makes such a claim. The natural location for the public plaza is in the interior of the D2 parcel, not adjacent to atmospherically polluted Prospect Street, as is currently proposed by US2.
  • The Union Square Development Plan must incorporate the Merriam, Linden, Allen, Rossmore and Mansfield street neighborhoods so they are zoned to reflect the zoning of the D-parcels that surround them. (MU, CC and HR).
  • Good design is critically important and should not be negotiable – The City has recently outsourced negotiation of a community benefits agreement to a private group known as the Union Square Neighborhood Council, which is negotiating an agreement with the developer in private.  It has been suggested that improved design is one of the things that is “on the table” in these negotiations.  However, it remains the responsibility of the City to guide the design review process in order to ensure the best possible outcome, particularly in a key civic location like the D2 block.  Getting this right is non-negotiable.
  • Integrate Union Square’s Station design and US2’s development – The city needs to take a leadership role in ensuring that US2 and the MBTA are working together to ensure a seamless and integrated plan for station access that prioritizes visibility, ease of use and accessibility from all directions and that realizes the promise of the green line that so many have worked over decades to achieve.  

Proposed improvements to US2 Design

  • The alternate plan by Talun and Tate appears to a viable, realistic scheme that has the potential to create better buildings, better streets, and a far more significant and usable public space.  This should be evaluated as an alternate as the design review process moves forward.  The key change that allows the alternate approach is the relocation of parking below grade.  The idea of having aboveground parking structures determining the urban design in key civic locations should be considered a thing of the past.  
  • Much-improved access and connectivity to the new T station– The actual entry and full path of travel to the T will be continuously visible from the point of entry to the public space and the street; it makes the new T stop a focal point in a new civic space instead of feeling like it is located in the back, adjacent to a garage and loading dock.
  • A high quality civic open space: The amount and quality of the public open space provides the size and flexibility to be a significant addition to the Union Square community.
  • A livable streetscape opposite the adjacent Allen Street neighbors as opposed to a three story parking structure; and,
  • An opportunity for variety of residential community experience – allowing some units to connect to the street and open space – making it possible to develop a stronger, longer lasting residential community.
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