Members of CrossFit Somerville, a gym in Union Square, came out in force Wednesday night to tell members of the Somerville Board of Aldermen they don't want their gym taken by eminent domain.
The city has no immediate plans to do so, but the gym's building, 35 Prospect St., is identified as an "acquisition parcel" in the Union Square Revitalization Plan, which the mayor's office released in August.
Approximately 15 members of the gym spoke at a public hearing about the revitalization plan held by the Board of Aldermen's Housing and Community Development Committee.
Other speakers included individuals representing the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, Union Square Main Streets and Somerville Local First.
A gym community speaks out
David Stark, a gym member, talked about "soulless retailers" and character-less condo developments moving into Union Square and changing the neighborhood.
J.T. Scott, owner of the gym, said, "I believe in the revitalization of Union Square. That's why I purchased the property."
He said it would be difficult to develop his business with "the threat of seizure hanging over our head."
In fact, most of the speakers at Wednesday's hearing supported CrossFit and asked the Board of Aldermen to amend the revitalization plan so the gym wouldn't be considered an acquisition property.
The plan targets seven specific areas in Union Square as "development blocks" that the city, over time, hopes to redevelop into office, research and development, housing above retail, and restaurant space.
The most immediate aspect of the plan is to convert the "North Prospect Block," between Prospect Street, Somerville Avenue and Allen Street, into an MBTA Green Line station with coinciding development.
The CrossFit Somerville building sits across Prospect Street from that Green Line development block and is not an immediate redevelopment priority for the city.
Others also spoke about the plan Wednesday.
Stephen Mackey, president of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, supported the plan but drew a line between the need to develop the North Prospect Block and the other development blocks included in the plan. "We see an immediate necessity for getting [the North Prospect Block] going," he said.
Even so, he said the plan "raises the legal, financial and, as we hear, emotional specter of takings."
Eric Fellinger, of Union Square Main Streets, said his organization supports the plan and noted, "Most of the area within the boundary [of the plan] … is not targeted for acquisition."
Kat Rutkin, of Somerville Local First, said the city needs to be "cautious about protecting our distinctive character," and she hoped the plan would take into consideration independent local businesses.
Not everyone supported the plan.
David Guss, a Union Square resident, said, "This project really concerns me."
"Eminent domain can be a really cruel and violent act," he said. "It should be used as a scalpel, and here it's used as a sledge hammer."
The plan, which identifies about 29 different properties as "acquisition properties" is "sort of like a cloud of doubt that's hanging over everybody's head," he said.