Somerville Planning Board Letter
on US2 proposal for D2
Resources for Letter Writers
Update, May 1st: The comment period for this matter is now closed. However, a new commend period is likely to open following the US2 presentation at the Planning Board meeting on May 2nd.
Sample Planning Board Submissions
Following are comment submissions that have already been sent to the Planning Board. They contain important information and visual depictions of what is contained in the US2 proposed design and what others have conceived that demonstrate viable alternatives to that design.
- D2 possibilities slide presentation by Wig Zamore (submitted to Planning Board)
- Eco Districts slide presentation by Wig Zamore (shows what is possible with district-level planning)
- letter submitted on behalf of Green and Open Somerville
- alternative design ideas (August, 2018)
In August, 2018, a number of people came together to think about alternatives to what has been proposed by master developer US2 for the D2 block. Three teams each developed a set of drawings and rationales for their own visions of layout for the parcel adjacent to the location of the MBTA station that is planned for Union Square. These plans, the first of which is preferred by the USNC (developed by Tim Talun and Anne Tate), can be seen via the alternative design ideas link above.
The purpose of the public comment period, which has now been extended, is to inform the Planning Board of the thoughts and sentiments of citizens regarding the plan for D2.1 presented by US2 at the meeting on April 4th. There were some present at the meeting who want to proceed on the basis of what was described. Those people stated their reasons for supporting the US2 design plan as having to do with wanting to get construction started as soon as possible mainly so that tax revenue from commercial and residential occupants of buildings to be erected on the site can begin flowing into the City treasury expeditiously. They did not talk about objections raised by those who see the US2 plan as being seriously flawed in respect to a number of considerations. Reasons cited by those opposed to the US2 plan, which approval of the lab and office building in the area designated as D2.1 (close to the intersection of Somerville Avenue and Prospect Street) would enable, include:
- presence of a parking structure along most of the eastern edge of the development, rather than putting parking underground, as has been done in the Boynton Yards area on the other side of the railroad tracks
(underground parking would enable a larger amount of civic space, and would remove the barrier to access in future from the residential area to the east)
- presence of a service road from Somerville Ave. to the southern edge of the parcel, which would present a physical barrier between the area and what can be expected in future to be a mid rise residential development between Allen and Merriam Streets (see Wig Zamore's materials above for drawings and more discussion of this subject)
- designation of the wedge area alongside Prospect St. as being "civic space" suitable for walking and lounging, despite known health risks from automobile exhaust fumes coming from street traffic
Trade-offs exist among alternative designs that have been proposed, both in respect to the factors indicated above and to others having to do with such things as providing a "sight line" from the T station platform toward the Prospect Hill monument and the old post office, which are symbolic of the Union Square area, to the location of a larger civic space (assuming the parking garage is eliminated from the design) and to the shape and alignment of buildings on the site. All these considerations would be made subject to discussion and debate in future in the event that US2 cannot produce a design acceptable to the planning board, which is legally enabled to reject the design on the basis of any of several criteria.
Members of the Planning Board made a number of critical comments about the US2 design at their April 4 meeting, which US2 will presumably try to address at the meeting this coming Thursday.
April 4th Meeting Proceedings
During the first 16 minutes of the meeting, introductory remarks were made by Chairman Mike Capuano, and by executive director of the City's Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD), George Proakis, who provided information concerning an ongoing process of cost analyses regarding construction of an underground parking structure to replace the parking garage contained in the US2 plan, as was advocated during the public comment period by many in the room, including members of the Planning Board. Then Chairman Capuano spoke about the timeline for receiving public comment, evaluating alternative design plans, and receiving further public comments in both spoken and written form on whatever alternative plan(s) are later presented to the Planning Board, which would likely be at its next meeting on Thursday, April 18th.
Starting in the 16th minute, US2 president, Greg Karczewski, made some brief remarks and then introduced John Sullivan, who represents the architectural firm US2 is working with on the design of the lab/office building on D2.1, which is the subject of the current proposal. Mr Sullivan presented a series of slides showing the proposed plan and gave a description of that plan. Then, starting in minute 35, comments were received from a series of people, some of whom spoke in support of the plan, with or without reservation, and some who were quite critical of it, principally on account of its lack of underground parking, which they prefer to the three-storey parking structure proposed by US2.
One of the most pointed criticisms of the plan came from Wig Zamore (minute 69 of the video), who observed that not only does the US2 plan show a 550 foot long parking structure, which would run along most of the length of the proposed service road on the east side of the D2 block, occupy space that could otherwise allow a re-arranging of the buildings on the site to provide a large central plaza, as described in an alternative plan (see above), it also disables access from its eastern flank, making the sort of development of the residental area many would like to see far inferior to what it could be were access to such a central plaza from the residential area made natural and easy. (Approval of the lab/office building on D2.1 would preclude such a re-arrangement.) Wig feels this deficit would be felt most acutely when the residential area between Allen and Merriam Streets is redeveloped over the course of the next several decades, when it would be most natural to erect mid rise mixed income housing residential buildings, with spaces in between them in the area lying between Allen Street and the edge of the D2 block now under development. (Please see Wig's submission for more details on his vision of an alternative design.)
Members of the Planning Board echoed critical comments made by members of the public, and had some of their own.. No one present questioned the importance of proceeding with construction as soon as possible, if only to be able to enjoy the benefits of additional funds in city coffers coming from tax revenue associated with more commercial space in a timely fashion. However, from both the public and the Planning Board came the sentiment that we want to "do the job right." The Board will vote on this application no sooner than its first meeting in May, but the first round of public comments ends at noon on Friday the 19th. The Planning Board is genuinely interested in getting public input, and will carefully consider whatever opinions are expressed in writing, as they did with the spoken comments at the meeting. Comments in line with the criticisms articulated by members of that board would presumably make their job of working with the developer to produce the best possible outcome much easier.
More detail will be added to this plan over the course of the weekend, citing relevant background material that might be useful in writing letters, if and when such resources are identified.