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Aldermen Approve Union Square Revitalization Plan After Long Debate

Three aldermen voted against it.

Three aldermen voted against it, but after a long debate Tuesday night, the Somerville Board of Aldermen approved the Union Square Revitalization Plan, which could pave the way for redevelopment in the square over the next 20 years.

Now that it's approved by the aldermen, the plan will go before the state's Department of Housing and Community Development, which will have 30 days to make a decision about it.

The plan, presented by the mayor's office in August, identifies seven "development blocks" in Union Square that the city hopes to redevelop into, for the most part, office, residential, research and development, and retail space.

Most immediately, the city hopes to move forward with an MBTA Green Line station and coinciding development in the area around Prospect Street, Somerville Avenue and Allen Street.

The plan names several "acquisition parcels" and opens the door for possible eminent domain takings in the future.

The prospect of property takings was one of the reasons Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz and Ward 3 Alderman Thomas Taylor voted against the plan.

"I feel that we're putting small businesses in Union Square at a disadvantage by doing too much too soon," said Taylor. "I don't see any reason for doing this so extensively, so quickly," he said.

Taylor would have preferred to vote on just one of the development blocks, the D2 block, which is immediately associated with the Green Line station, and leave the others for a later time.

Gewirtz said the plan "goes too far, in my opinion." She argued that in voting for the plan, the Board of Alderman was handing too much power to the Somerville Redevelopment Authority, which would be responsible for overseeing and executing the plan and making decisions about eminent domain takings.

Alderman At-Large William White, the third to vote against it, felt the plan wasn't appropriate because there's no certainty the Green Line would come to Union Square. He also questioned some of the land uses outlined in the plan.

In supporting the plan, Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente said, "We have an opportunity to move Union Square forward and ensure good, smart growth."

Ward 1 Alderman William Roche said the city has made tough decisions about land takings in the past. Alderman At-Large Dennis Sullivan said it would "bring much needed development to this part of the city."

Aldermen At-Large Bruce Desmond and John Connolly supported the plan. Desmond said it would help residents in the area deal with perennial flooding and nearby contamination in the soil, which are greater threats than eminent domain takings. Connolly said the plan stems from a multi-year SomerVision process that created a long-term master plan for the city.

Ward 5 Alderman Sean O'Donovan and Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston both felt that without the plan Union Square would not benefit from redevelopment.

In the past 30 years, "development in the square has been virtually nil," said Heuston. She said that if D2 develops—referring to the proposed MBTA station site—without the rest of the neighborhood, it would create a "wall" that separates the square.

More on the Union Square Revitalization Plan

Aldermen Debate Over Union Square Plan Leads to Parliamentary Drama

Union Square Gym Members Rally Against Theoretical Eminent Domain Taking

$1 Million EPA Grant Will Clean Up Future Union Square Development Site

Four Businesses Affected by the Union Square Revitalization Plan

City Releases Major Plan for Redevelopment of Union Square

Somerville Redevelopment Authority to Consider Union Square Revitalization Plan Wednesday

Related Topics: BusinessGovernmentReal Estate, and Union Square Revitalization Plan

Rob Buchanan October 03, 2012 at 02:26 PM
The plan was released to the public and approved just six weeks later. Talk about being railroaded! (And that's coming from someone who is generally supportive of the plan.) I think the prospect of property takings deserves a great deal more public discussion. One person's "blight" is another person's small business.
Somerville Home Owner October 03, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Too much too fast... it's just going to create a mess of the whole area. I think the city is spreading itself too thin with respect to development.
Bob October 03, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Federal Realty is celebrating right now~!
Matt C October 03, 2012 at 04:42 PM
The plan was approved, I can understand the concern over the speed of it - but I don't think the implementation of it will be nearly as rapid. Every change will have to go through many levels of review and approval - Personally I don't expect it to be implemented in the next 15 years... If you don't like it - vote out your alderman and replace them with someone that shares your views.
Courtney O'Keefe October 03, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Matt, Although I do agree with you, it does put small business owners at a financial disadvantage should they want leave now as being on an acquisition list makes your property very hard to sell.
Somerville Home Owner October 03, 2012 at 09:16 PM
My alderman does support my views. :-) It doesn't matter if the "implementation" is as rapid. The plan was forced through rapidly, for one. Second, the plan doesn't make economic sense. If you want to increase economic vitality, you don't take over large areas to put government buildings in. That should be common sense. Third, certain parcels are now labelled as up for acquisition, so they have the potential of sitting idle/abandoned/etc until something is done with them. That's not a good way to go.

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