WARD MEETING UPDATES
- Flooding – October 15 @ 630pm
- ArtFarm – Oct 21 @ 7pm
- 453 Somerville Ave – Oct 23 @ 6pm
- Star Market 275 Beacon – Oct 23 @ 7pm
- Tenant ROFR Introduced for Discussion
- Condo Conversion Law Already Having an Effect
- Conway Park Artificial Turf Update
- Office Hours Every Friday, Special Guests State Rep Mike Connolly and School Committee Member Ilana Krepchin
- Police Hiring Changes – Cadet Program
- Washington St Design Update
- Union Square Construction
Hello Ward 2! It’s been 60 days since the last update, so here’s what’s cooking as we head into the election (remember to vote on November 5) and the end of the year! We’ve got a lot of super-local Ward meetings coming up in the next week, so let’s start with those.
WARD MEETING UPDATES
Flooding – October 15 @ 630pm
Ward 2 is the flooding capital of Somerville. As they said where I grew up, we all know what flows downhill – and thanks to our sewers, most of it flows through Ward 2. With our century-old sewer infrastructure failing and climate change increasing the severity of storms, our flooding problems are getting worse. That puts raw sewage into our streets, sidewalks, and parks – and now has us under an official Administrative Order from the EPA to clean up our act, literally.
Thanks to advocacy from a group of neighbors near Perry Park, the city’s engineering department will be meeting with us tonight (OCTOBER 15) at 6:30pm in the Argenziano School Cafeteria. If you live on a street that ever floods, come out tonight to demand action – and join the local group who is working to make sure Ward 2 gets priority attention as we attack this 1 Billion Dollar sewer and flooding problem.
If you don’t make it out tonight, you can stay updated specifically by joining the Perry Park Neighbors flood action mailing list and joining their Facebook group ( https://www.facebook.com/perryparkneighbors/ ). I’ll be working with them to keep Ward 2 in focus as we make plans to handle flooding in Somerville.
ArtFarm – Oct 21 @ 7pm
Years overdue and stalled out, yet still much touted by the mayor as an increase in “green and open space”, the ArtFarm site down near Brickbottom remains largely a concrete patch. An update from the city is promised for Monday, October 21st at 7pm in the common room at 1 Fitchburg Street. I’m just as eager as the residents of Brickbottom to hear how the mayor plans to finally move this project forward.
453 Somerville Ave – Oct 23 @ 6pm
A developer seeks to replace the abandoned garage here with a mixed use structure of modest size. Please show up to the meeting October 23rd at 6pm, in the downstairs conference room at the police station in Union Square, to provide input on the design, the use, the number of units, and anything else you’d like to see in this proposal.
Star Market 275 Beacon – Oct 23 @ 7pm
The Seaport’s big developer, WS Development, is looking to replace the Star Market on Beacon Street with a very large building. This is a site that deserves a lot of thought and community input, and I anticipate this will be the first of several meetings to discuss the project and make sure the proposal benefits the neighborhood, instead of just enriching the developer.
Plans aren’t available online yet, but I encourage you to come out to this meeting Wednesday October 23rd at 6pm, in the downstairs conference room at the police station in Union Square, to check out what they have in mind and provide strong input as to what you think the best use of that site would be.
Tenant ROFR Introduced for Discussion
Thanks to the efforts of our new Office of Housing Stability, we are moving forward on a discussion of a blanket Tenant Right of First Refusal. This is an important measure that we are pursuing in coordination with State Rep Mike Connolly’s housing platform, and I look forward to the discussions at the City Council meetings.
If you’d like to read the draft Home Rule Petition prepared by OHS, it’s available for download here. If you’ve got input on it, I’d love to hear from you.
Condo Conversion Law Already Having an Effect
I got a great phone call from one of the most prolific developers in Somerville a few weeks back. He wanted to complain about how the Condo Conversion Ordinance was affecting him. What I heard was how the Condo Conversion Ordinance was protecting our neighborhoods from skyrocketing costs and development pressure.
You see, just a year ago he could buy a two-family house and finance it with a bank mortgage based on the projected sale price of 3 fully converted condo units. With condos going for 800k here, that’s $2.4M expected value, that he could use 75% of to finance the purchase and construction. Even if he offered to buy the house for $1.2M, he still had 1.5M in free money left over from the bank, plenty to finance the entire condo-gut-and-rebuild at no cost to himself.
Let that sink in. These transactions that frequently displaced our neighbors and put construction on our streets for months on end only cost the developer only a $250k down payment – and then they got to reap the profits.
Things have changed now that our Condo Conversion Ordinance is in effect. Now the bank won’t lend based on an assurance of turning a 2-family house into 3 condos. The max loan he can attain is based on the sale cost of a renovated 2-family house – probably at most about $1.2M. That makes the cost of preying on 2-family houses and displacing our neighbors too high for him, and the profit not worth it.
This law is working as intended. People who want to own multi-family homes and rent out the extra units can still do that – and won’t have to compete with developers to buy a house. Those rental units will stay more affordable, because they won’t need to cover a huge mortgage. This Condo Conversion Ordinance is pushing developers away from our neighborhoods and getting them to focus on larger projects in the squares, where we can work to build a city that works with transit and negotiate projects that actually improve our neighborhoods.
Bottom line: it sounds like the era of developers making easy profits by pushing out our neighbors may be finally over.
Conway Park Artificial Turf Update
It certainly is hard to get the administration to go on record about what they plan to do with Conway Park. However, at our last Open Space Committee meeting, I managed to do just that – and wasn’t happy with the answer. As long suspected, the city continues to push forward with a plan to convert the largest natural green space in Ward 2 into a plastic field.
In my view, this is shortsighted and dangerous – and I will oppose it at every step. But I’ll need your help to succeed. Here’s two big reasons why this is an important fight:
First, these fields are toxic and wasteful. We know the materials used contain poisons that leach into our soils and wash into our waterways – but what isn’t as often considered is that the artificial turf fields also have to be replaced every five years or so, or they end up looking like the tire landfills that they actually are. This creates even more waste and cost for the city.
Secondly, these fields are bad for the health of everyone on them and around them. While the net impact of Heat Island Effect on ambient temperatures in the neighborhood may be hard to quantify for any single field, it will have an impact on summer cooling costs in money and energy for the people who live nearby. But more crucially, it has a critical health impact on the kids who play on these surfaces. Even on a nice 80 degree day, surface temps on artificial turf fields exceed 120 degrees while natural grass stays at about 78 degrees. On hotter days in midsummer, surface temps can hit 200 degrees! This is a recipe for potentially-fatal heat stress on the kids who are using these fields.
This study by the New York State Department of Health ( https://health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/synthetic_turf/crumb-rubber_infilled/fact_sheet.htm ) spells out a lot of the reasons why these artificial turf fields are bad for our kids, and a terrible replacement for the natural grass that has served Conway Park well for the past 50 years. Let’s make sure the city doesn’t make a costly mistake that we’ll all regret.
The answer for our city’s field shortage isn’t replacing our grass with a toxic health hazard. The answer is to actually invest in creating new field space for youth athletics. Rooftop fields (a fine place for artificial turf installations) and new fields in Brickbottom are ideas I’m pushing at the City Council to get our youth athletic needs addressed without putting their health at risk.
Please join me in this effort by sending an email to me and the mayor telling us what you think of the plan to turn Conway Park into plastic.
Office Hours Every Friday, Special Guests State Rep Mike Connolly and School Committee Member Ilana Krepchin
Weekly office hours continue at 269 Washington St, and as the weather gets colder we’ll move inside from the porch to the office. I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joined on November 1 by Ward 2 School Committee Member Ilana Krepchin, and on November 8 by State Rep Mike Connolly! I hope you’ll come on by and join the conversations from 8-10am on those days.
Police Hiring Changes – Cadet Program
The city is looking to address the diversity problem in our Police Department (no female senior officers, overwhelmingly white police force) by instituting a “cadet program”, hiring high school seniors into an extended part-time training program for the police department. The positions would be paid, part-time, and the cadets would not be armed or invested with arrest powers. However, it may be a great way to recruit more diversity into our department and insure that new officers have already fully embraced a community-policing mindset that emphasizes de-escalation.
With that said, there are some serious gaps in the proposed implementation by the administration that I’ll be reviewing in the Confirmation of Appointments and Personnel Matters committee, looking at ensuring that veterans and other civil service applicants still get a fair shake and making sure that this cadet program is transparent and less subject to manipulation, nepotism, and abuse.
If you have thoughts about cadet programs or our police department in general, feel free to be in touch.
Washington St Design Update
Thanks to everyone who came out to our series of three meetings in September to talk about their stretch of Washington Street and what we can do in 2021 to make it a better place for all of us. It was great to hear about what works and what doesn’t on the street, and we’ve taken that info back to work up a draft proposal of how to improve Washington Street going forward.
Expect an email sometime in November from me with a long explanation of what we heard and how we’re proposing to address it, along with a sketch map of what Washington Street could look like going forward. My hope is to test-run some changes in spring 2020 and get another round of feedback from the community before committing to a final plan for the repaving and painting that will happen in 2021.
We’ve seen some small improvement here – meaning dead rats in our streets, yards, and sidewalks – but the rats are still largely out of control. Fortunately, Chris Roche and Georgianna Silviera are active and engaged, working with local residents to bait their properties and help get our hands around the situation.
Please, continue to report rat sightings to 311 – and for more direct results, shoot me an email. I’m happy to get city staff involved to get rat poison out and write citations for absentee landlords who aren’t maintaining their properties.
Union Square Construction
It’s not that it never ends… it’s just that it hasn’t ended yet. Construction will continue throughout the winter, but it’s my hope that by Thanksgiving the main work in the square will be complete and we’ll be moving further on down Somerville Ave towards target.
There was a slight snag last week when a gas line was nicked during excavation. The leak was quickly controlled and the worst part was the smell thanks to fast reaction from Barletta Construction, Eversource Gas, and the Somerville Fire Department. No evacuations were needed.
The big uncertainty in the timeline continues to be Eversource Electric. Recently they discovered another bank of live cables running through the construction zone – lines that weren’t on any of their records or plans – and so we’ve been delayed yet again as they track down those lines and relocate them. I have been an absolute hawk on Eversource around this project, and will continue to stay vigilant and hold them accountable for project delays.
The vitality of the square – and the small businesses in it – depends on having this construction zone clear by the holiday season. I’ll continue to push with our Engineering team and Union Square Main Streets to keep us on track for a restored Union Square come winter.
In the meantime, traffic continues to be abominable due to signal timing at Webster/Prospect, Webster/Washington, or Prospect/Washington. If you’ve been bogged down there trying to navigate left turns during the detour, please send us an email to register your displeasure and call for action.
That’s enough for today, but stay tuned – I expect to have another update in November as we get ready to close out the year. See you soon!
JT Scott – Ward 2 City Councilor
Office Hours Every Friday 8-10am
at 269 Washington Street