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20 People Who Will Sway Somerville Zoning Overhaul

The city moves to make significant changes to the way it plans and assesses real estate development.

The city Tuesday released the names of 20 people who will serve on a zoning advisory committee that will counsel officials as Somerville moves to enact its first major zoning overhaul in a generation.

According to an announcement from the city, the advisory committee will aid the mayor and the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development as they work to make significant changes to the city's zoning code.

The announcement says Somerville's most recent zoning overhaul was 23 years ago, and the codes haven't kept up with all the changes Somerville has undergone in that time.

Speaking to Somerville Patch in October of 2012, "

A 2012 report about Somerville's residence A and B zoning districts, which represent about 60 percent of Somerville's land space, said the codes are "too hard to navigate, vague in meaning, and contradictory in intended outcome." They also don't promote "smart growth," the report said.

In an statement accompanying Tuesday's announcement, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said, "An updated zoning ordinance, based on national best practices and local needs, will provide more clarity and certainty for the developers and residents alike."

George Proakis, Somerville's director of planning, said in a statement, "It is my hope that the zoning ordinance can protect residential neighborhoods while encouraging new transit-oriented development, and this advisory committee will help us determine the best way to achieve those goals."

The announcement said the advisory committee will "serve as a sounding board as the city develops strategies to develop the new Somerville by Design zoning ordinance that will implement the goals of the SomerVision Comprehensive Plan."

SomerVision is a conceptual roadmap for the future of the city that was approved in 2012, and Somerville by Design is a series of public forums, run this winter, that encouraged thoughts, ideas and opinions from the public about planning matters in the city.

So, who's serving on the zoning advisory committee? Here are the names:

  • Ward 4 Alderman Tony LaFuente
  • Brandy Brooks, SomerVision Steering Committee member
  • Natasha Burger, Historic Preservation Commission
  • Adam Dash, attorney
  • Rich DiGirolamo, attorney
  • Ben Dryer, contractor
  • Deborah Fennick, Design Review Committee
  • Susan Fontano, Zoning Board of Appeals
  • Lenore Hill, vice president at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage
  • Tom Lichoulas, Ward 3 resident and developer
  • Courtney O’Keefe, Ward 5 resident
  • Kevin Prior, Planning Board
  • Peter Quinn, architect
  • Jeff Roberts, Ward 6 resident and planner
  • Kat Rutkin, Somerville Local First (Ed. note: Rutkin is also a Ward 2 resident. See comment below.)
  • Rebecca Schrumm, President of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce
  • Courtney Koslow, Ward 5 resident and developer
  • Mark Chase, Ward 3 resident
  • Phil Ercolini, Ward 1 resident
  • Anne Tate, Ward 4 resident

Residents of wards 2 and 7 will be interested to notice there are no residents—at least not any explicitly mentioned in Tuesday's announcement—from their neighborhoods. (Ed. note: We received a comment, see below, that Kat Rutkin is a Ward 2 resident. In another comment Courtney O'Keefe reached out to residents of Ward 7, saying she would welcome their thoughts and opinions as this process moves forward.)

J L March 27, 2013 at 11:18 AM
Gee, I wonder why there is no one from 2 or 7 on this board? Union Square is kind of a big deal and ought to have representation, and who from ward 7 is the mayor afraid of? Everybody there? Trane? Ballantine? Capuano? Jim Halloran? None of these people were qualified? So we have the Somer Vision person who is a mayoral employee, a couple of attorneys who represent every developer in the city, several developers themselves, business people, contractors, and two people from the planning and zoning boards who have never gone against the mayor's wishes. Why do I think the "plan" will involve less parking, more units, higher fees, and the ability to chop up our old homes?
AHM March 27, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Reading the list of names I see why we are in trouble here. Why can't we have someone that represents us?
Kat Rutkin March 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM
I live in ward 2 as well as running Somerville local first. It just wasn't listed.
Courtney O'Keefe March 27, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Chris, Could you reach out to Brad Rawson in OSPCD...I believe he lives in Ward 7 and he has attended (and taken thorough notes) at every meeting. I apologize if I'm mistaken about this. Should I not be correct, I welcome Ward 7 residents to contact Alderman Trane or myself with their concerns and I will be more than happy to bring them up at meetings. Courtney O'Keefe Ward 5 Resident
Jennifer Lawrence March 27, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Brandy Brooks is a ward 2 resident (I believe) and worked for over three years on Somervision as a volunteer. She does not work for the mayor.
Paul March 27, 2013 at 02:04 PM
Less parking and more density sounds good to me, since I care about the environment and healthy cities. Progress on tackling climate change and creating more livable pedestrian/bicycle friendly streets has to start in places that have public transportation.
Eric Fellinger March 27, 2013 at 02:07 PM
J L: Ben Dryer and his wife own Sherman Cafe & Market, and Ben serves on the board of Union Square Main Streets, as does Kat Rutkin. Mark Chase is in Ward 3 which is the north side of Union Square, and Mark is very familiar with Union Square issues. I see pretty good representation for Union Square in this group. Moreover, to the extent I am familiar with people, I see good familiarity with the whole city, which is what you want on a comprehensive overhaul. That said, if Ward 7 feels underrepresented they should lobby for an addition to the panel as that's a fairly unique area of town.
Tim Devin March 27, 2013 at 02:12 PM
In notice there's no one from the city's creative community on the committee...
Paula Woolley March 27, 2013 at 02:20 PM
I'd like to know how the people on the committee were chosen? As well as the people on the committee to look into what to do about the high school? I ask because these committees get appointed and we don't hear about them until after the fact. At least we're being told publicly who's on the committee; I'm happy about that. But I attended Somerville by Design sessions and we were never told about the chance to be on such a committee. I'm also concerned about the number of developers on the list.
Chris Orchard (Editor) March 27, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Hi Kat, thanks for the clarification. That's why I noted no one "explicitly mentioned" was from those wards. It's good to hear Ward 2 has person on the committee. I'll make a note of this in the article. Thanks, Chris.
Bob Smith March 27, 2013 at 02:54 PM
This is ultimately about money, plain and simple, for the Mayor and his many good friends. If anyone believes that anything regarding the T, Assembly Square or whatever is about the good of the people, the good of the environment I have some smoke and mirrors I'd like to sell you.
Courtney O'Keefe March 27, 2013 at 03:35 PM
Hi AHM, Who is "us" and why don't you feel you're represented?
Somerville Home Owner March 27, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Bob: of course it's about money. Everything is. It's a cyclical chicken and egg thing. If the city has more money, it could provide better services. If the city provided better services, it would attract more people. If the city attracts more people, the city has more money. So when people speak about development to improve the environment etc. It may sound like developers are just saying what people want to hear. But guess what... They are! If saving the environment is in style then you need to cater to that to sell. If you don't, people will buy somewhere else and the money loop I explained breaks. Before developers catered to people that wanted to drive everywhere because that was in demand. Now not as much. Today people want to live in walkable communities with short commutes and lots of culture at their doorstep. So developers need to cater to that. And that's a GOOD thing.
The Truth March 28, 2013 at 01:10 AM
How many Main streets and Somervision member make up this board? I'd like to see some more actual residents and homeowners on this board. In reality Ward 1 doesn't have a representative Phil Ercolini works for the city.
AHM March 28, 2013 at 11:05 AM
Too many names I know are Curtatone people. Some names I don't know so I don't know which way they go. This makes it more onesided. Not a good thing.
Susan Berstler March 28, 2013 at 02:15 PM
I have to back up Tim's comment. I find it amazing that there doesn't appear to be any one from Somerville's arts community on this committee. Aside from the incrediably important issue of representation, why would the city not want to take advantage of their own creative thinkers?
Bob Smith March 28, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Dear Somerville Home Owner, I believe in some of what your saying and that some changes that will occur will be beneficial to some but those people are people with means and friends of the mayor and the mayor himself. The environment will be no better off under the plans. For example, the further concentration of people is bad for the environment. The machinery that will build all of this new world do not run on sunshine. I make an okay living and I am not immune to liking shiny things, bike trails, etc. but not at the incredible expense of people who are poor, who do the work for all of us in the service industries and might like to get home from those jobs in a reasonable way. I also think it's a horrible blow for diversity and a big hey how are you for affluent white people. It's gonna happen, I know and the area will just be another McCommunity. All lifestyle and no life. I like the rugged. I like the rough edges. I know what it's like to live in an area with zero but zero real living going on--the North Face, coffee sucking life. As it grows more and more into that, I think I'll end up leaving. Leave my space for someone who likes bland on bland. I've lived here long enough to remember when Harvard and Davis Squares were fun. That's not me getting older; it's a statement on how making everything the same and again--bland--is not desirable for me. It's not something to aspire to for me. And I think there's a world of graft built in. No surprise either.
SomervilleGirl March 29, 2013 at 10:29 AM
Each Ward should have independent representation.
Sand Man April 01, 2013 at 03:06 PM
"Pedestrian...friendly streets..." How about pedestrian-friendly SIDEWALKS? The sidewalk cyclists are still out there in numbers. Ah, but I forgot--Cyclists Rule!
Jay Bee February 06, 2014 at 08:15 AM
How did I not see this before? You have Lenore Hill, who was before the Zoning Board of Appeals looking for a special permit for her own development project, along with Rich DiGirolamo, the attorney who represented her, and Natasha Burger, who coincidentally works for the same Real Estate firm as Lenore Hill, and who also voted to approve the Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historical Preservation Commission, without disclosing her work relationship with Lenore Hill. I had to contact the State Ethics Committee to report a conflict of interest. Is this how things are done in the City of Somerville?
AHM February 06, 2014 at 07:08 PM
Yup, sounds about right to me. Just normal everyday monkey business in this city.

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