Gateway Center Proposal Neighborhood Meeting

Monday, February 24, 2020

Meeting Summary

A general summary of what was discussed may be prepared at a later date.  Meanwhile, it can be said that the meeting was very well attended (standing room only), and there were a lot of questions and comments spoken by those who attended, some of them being quite impassioned.  There were concerns expressed about shadows cast by the buildings proposed for the site (which are probably no cause for great concern, according to the informal shadow studies that have been performed), present lack of a commitment to the deployment of "green roofs," the number of parking spaces allotted which could add traffic in an already-busy area, lack of direct access to the MBTA green line, whose tracks will run very near to the site, and the possibility of rents for planned ground floor retail space being out of reach for small businesses of the sort that give the Union Square area its unique character.

Location

Public Safety Building (Police Station), 220 Washington St.  6:00 PM

Agenda

This meeting was conducted for the purpose of presenting and discussing a proposal being made by developers for the parcel of land on the opposite side of Medford Street from the Target store on Somerville Avenue.  (The proposal seems to be a "work in progress."  A statement was made that a major revision to the building design was made not long before this meeting, and the impression was given that it is subject to further alterations, at least partly in response to feedback received through public consultation.)

gateway innovation centre area

This development, was discussed at the USNC meeting held on February 18thDecision on whether to invite Tom Macone, developer of large project on Glass Stop/Russell site across from Target, to make presentation to board (15 minutes).  Though a quorum was not present for that meeting, so no formal votes could be taken, there was a general consensus that USNC can and should become involved in ensuring that whatever development takes place on the site will do so with appropriate consultation with local citizens under the auspices of the Neighborhood Council.

Please see the summary of comments appearing on this page beneath the following illustration of the wider area within which the site is contained.

gateway innovation centre wide area

 

In a February 13th posting to the USNC-public email list, Alyson Schultz wrote to express her own concern: My thoughts... I'm alarmed at the sheer scale, height and traffic impact about the proposed “Gateway Innovation Center," which exceeds anything currently built in Assembly Square, and to alert us about this meeting.  In the discussion that followed that afternoon, a number of points were brought up:

  • This commercial development would help with the city budget and moderate the real estate taxes that a lot of homeowners feel very concerned about (Aaron Weber)

  • They plan on 4 levels of underground parking for 1000 cars, so it isn’t all that mass transit friendly.

    And there are neighbors — the 230 Brickbottom Artist Building residents -- aka home owners…. who will be shadowed by the tower.

    I’m not against commercial development, but the sheer scale and traffic impact is out of size for that particular lot. (Alyson Schultz)

  • Jeff Byrnes makes a number of on-target points and provides some useful information:
    • The site lies within a “Master Planned Development” overlay zone
    • [T]hat particular parcel is zoned “Commercial Industry (CI)”, per grid 18 of the Zoning Atlas.
    • [D]etails of the Union Square East MPD [can be found] on page 409 of the Zoning Ordinance, section 8.18 Union Square East (USQE) Sub-Area.
    • Both the Union Sq, and the East Somerville GLX stops will be about a 10 minute walk from this parcel when they are complete [, so] we should absolutely push back on it having any parking at all. If we can convince the developers to build it without any on-site parking, any new residents here will be unable to bring their car to the city unless they already have a resident permit, thanks to new rules the traffic commission put in place to support the new zoning.
    • Regarding a shadowing effect on the Brickbottom Artists Association facility the buildings are about 1000 feet apart from one another.  I found a simple shadow calculator, and, assuming the building is ~250 ft tall (23 storeys, 10 ft. storeys, with some extra feet for good measure) on the worst day of the year for shadows (Sept. 10, according to this 2017 Globe article), there’d be some brief shadows in the morning.
    • All that said, master planned developments go through a whole process of their own that’s above & beyond what zoning allows. Assembly & Union Sq are our two current examples of this process having resulted in actual plans. There will be quite a few opportunities to inspect what is proposed before any shovels hit the ground.
    • Somerville is, overall, way more thoughtful about our development than what happened in the Seaport, and also, with McGrath & 93 carving their way through the city, we don’t really have any huge expanses of disused surface lots like Seaport had to convert into a brand-new mid-rise neighborhood.
    • Probably also relevant to point out that the largest building in Union Sq itself will be 20ish storeys, too, so the heights are probably comparable. And looking at the document you linked, they’re (rightfully) expecting that the strip mall where the Target is on Somerville Ave will be redeveloped into a series of buildings with ground-floor activation & the addition of neighborhood streets, replacing the massive surface lot that’s currently there. That will also cut down on car use.

  • Wig Zamore offers some thoughtful thoughts:
    • He agrees with what Jeff says about the matter of shadow effect, and writes further:
    • [T]he proposed triangle park is in an absolutely ridiculous location, the very highest noise and air pollution spot possible, and the most visible spot from the Boston Financial District and the Route 28 corridor as it approaches Somerville. In other words a great location to make a gateway statement about the project and about Somerville.
    • That park should not be there. Maybe other real community amenities and identity enhancers would be a lot more valuable. We need to help connect Brickbottom and the Union Square area.
    • [W]e also need to help Brickbottom with any useful mitigation desired to lower the major arterial road and adjacent rail transportation impacts, which are very large. Maybe soundproofing and better windows at developer expense? Maybe indoor public space on the closest point of these two parcels across McGrath from each other. Maybe a GREAT ART and/or MAKER statement. Brickbottom and Union Square should be a cultural continuum. And we all owe the makers and artists and small start-ups of Somerville a major effort to keep, nurture and support them. The small creative economy and people of Somerville cannot be replaced.

  • (USNC board member) Andy Greenspon writes:
    • I generally agree with Wig's sentiments. That proposed location of a pocket park is a joke. In that situation, they'd be better off paying a nice hefty fee to the new City Open Space Acquisition Fund.
    • But they should be proposing other community benefits/uses, possibly indoor arts spaces or otherwise.

  • (USNC board member) Bill Shelton voiced no specific objections to the development, but writes: I also agree that the proposed “park” merits skeptical attention. This may well be a case for exercising, and possibly expanding, the new zoning’s in-lieu (buyout) provision. Centuries of urban development suggest that open space has the most utility when it is concentrated in a location and at a scale that are usable, accessible, and congenial with human health.

  • Joe Beckmann writes: I wonder if we could create a film fest - or online film festival - to show how good ideas are both feasible, beautiful, useful, and healthy. Too many people - of wealth as well in poverty - remain unfamiliar with the options a city like Somerville now faces, and how we might adapt from success to build real community. I'd be surprised if there isn't a film on how Buenos Aires got to be what now it is, and there are plenty of other examples, from Seattle to Florida, Maine to Mexico. A series of 15 to 20 minute clips of four to six sites, along with snacks from Somerville foodies, and an additional showing through the Somerville Media Center and on YouTube could/should change discussions from either/or to both/and.....