Planning Board Letter on D2

by Tori Antonino & Renée Scott
April 18th, 2019

This letter about the design of the D2 area, at Prospect St. and Somerville Ave. was submitted by Tori and Renée on behalf of Green and Open Somerville.  Though it is not something approved by the USNC board, it is consistent with the views of that body, and provides a good description of what is being sought by USNC as a whole for D2, and as such could be used as a model for other letters on the subject that could be submitted.  Though the original deadline was April 19th, comments will be accepted until Tuesday, April 30th at 4 PM.

 

To the Planning Board,

Green & Open Somerville is concerned about the approval of the D2.1 commercial building. We are also excited about the commercial building because we know it will bring in jobs and needed tax revenue for the city, but if this permit is granted it will mean we have lost the opportunity to have more green space, a connected neighborhood, an accessible T station for all, and a sustainable building.

In the two scenarios for the D2.1 parcel, underground parking is integral to achieve the community’s vision and need for healthy green space.

 

The community-preferred Tim Talun/Anne Tate design increases the health, safety, and wellbeing of our residents. In US2’s D2 design the civic space is located adjacent to the highly polluted, noisy, and congested Prospect Street. It is not a place we want to encourage people to be. With underground parking we would be able to put the civic space at the interior of the parcel. Coming out of the T, instead of a 25-story building they would be able to see the Old Post Office and Prospect Hill Tower, which will give an immediate sense of place.

 

US2 design

 

Community Preferred Design

Another concern we have is the lack of an elevator at the Prospect Street bridge. Although the US2 design still shows stairs accessing the plaza all along Prospect Street, it is painfully misleading. If there is no elevator, anyone with mobility challenges trying to access the T would need to enter at Prospect Street and Bennett Court, an extra 300 yards total of travel (down the hill and back up). We also have concern that people will be running down the hill to the entrance to catch the train and, in the winter, injure themselves. The purpose of the T was to serve the needs of all surrounding neighborhoods. The lack of an elevator significantly discourages use, adds an undue burden to anyone with mobility issues, and neglects those coming from the south (Cambridge, South Street, Windsor, Boynton Yards, Lincoln Park neighborhood etc), potentially halving the number of riders.

We are building a transit-oriented district that will help get cars off the road and create a walkable environment. If we are reducing our ridership, we are not getting the full use of the station. Additionally, requiring people with mobility challenges to take a significantly longer route to access the T is discrimination. Instead of waiting for a legal challenge and being forced to change the accessibility, it makes much more sense financially, time wise, and morally, to do it correctly the first time.

Another concern is the currently proposed 3-story parking garage with four stories of residential units on top running uninterrupted from Bennett Street to the end of the block. This creates a solid wall of parking and building facing the back yards of the Allen, Linden, and Merriam Street neighborhoods. According to diagrams, it seems that this alley will be used for cars parking in the 300 space garage, 4 a.m. delivery services, the drop off area of the T, and access for cyclists and pedestrians.

 

 

These neighborhoods will be surrounded by a wall of tall buildings, turning this quiet residential neighborhood into an annexed area with no connection to the rest of the Square but bearing an undue proportion of noise, traffic, and congestion this alley will bring.

A further worry is about the lack of green space around the D2.1 building and non-existence of stormwater reuse to water the planting beds. Aside from pervious pavers, there seems to be no Low Impact Development features or green design. Runoff water from the building and sidewalks needs to be used to irrigate the greenery and to reduce the unnecessary burden on the stormwater system. We had hoped for bioswales surrounding the building which would add beauty and green infrastructure and significantly assist in stormwater infiltration. Too much of this plan is being left to “further study”, rather than addressing it now. Once this is built, no further study will determine it makes sense to redesign the area and add in these essential environmental features. It’s now or never, and with the impacts of climate change already upon us, we must do this now.

 

We could have this: Image result for bioswales nyc

 

But instead, we will have this:

Despite a commitment in MEPA and in the covenant to sustainability, this design lacks any serious attempt to achieve an environmentally sustainable project.

  • The buildings may be solar ready, but will not have solar on them.

  • There is no on-site energy storage.

  • There are only ten EV parking spots.

  • The LEED doc says the plan does not show enough vegetated area to comply with their open space requirements.

  • The LEED doc points out that US2 is not managing 100% of stormwater.

  • US2 plans for 11 days above 90 degrees. This building is designed to last 60 years, putting us at around 2080; by 2070 we are projected to have 90 days over 90 degrees. This is a significant difference and needs to be addressed.

  • To reduce the urban heat island effect, this building is claiming the 20 trees on an adjacent civic space. They do not have green roofs or bioswales or vegetated walls onsite.

In closing, we ask that you hold US2 to a higher standard than is shown in their current design. There is one chance to design this correctly, and we are counting on the planning board to require a building that is environmentally sustainable; a design that provides the community with a healthy park that moves us towards our goals for open space; a station that provides equal access to the T with an elevator; and a revisioning of the garage that does not cut the neighborhood next to it off from the rest of the Square.

Sincerely,

Tori Antonino and Renée Scott

Green & Open Somerville