September 2023 Newsletter

Hello Ward 2! It’s been far too long since I got a newsletter out. I know you believe me when I say there’s been a ton of things going on across the city, and of course down here in Ward 2. I’m going to start this newsletter off with the most time-sensitive announcements, but if you read on I promise you’ll learn more about what I’ve been working on and what might be coming for our neighborhood. Here’s what I’m covering today:

  • NEW LINK and Changes to Office Hours –
  • Somernova Zoning Neighborhood Meeting MONDAY Sept 25
  • Sally O’Brien’s and the Somerville Music Scene
  • Mayor’s FAB district zoning changes
  • Reinvigorating Washington St: thoughts on the SBO
  • Expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay
  • Creating the MACS Zoning Overlay: More Accessible Civic Space
  • Western Washington Update

So let’s dive right into it!

This might be the biggest change! Back in March 2020, I moved my weekly Office Hours to a virtual – and eventually hybrid – event. These days, you can still come to my front porch/office and have a great conversation with other neighbors or you can stop in virtually if you can’t make it by in person and just want to pop in with a question or comment.

However, two big things are changing! First, the City is discontinuing their subscription to GoToMeeting platform that I’ve been using to host all these virtual meetings and Neighborhood Meetings, which means the link I’ve been using for Office Hours won’t work anymore as of October. That means I’ll be moving to Zoom… and just to make sure I never have to change the link on you again, I’m creating a re-mapping TinyURL link that will always bring you to my Office Hours, no matter where they move in the future:

Now, the other change is that I recently took on another “Day Job”, helping to administer the commonwealth’s Opioid Response programs. That starts at 9am, so I’ll have to be cutting my office hours on Friday a bit shorter – just from 8am to 9am. It’s been a real luxury and privilege to spend 2 hours each week helping my neighbors in these office hours, but for now I’ll have to cut back just a bit. Don’t worry though – I’m still just a phone call away and you can still come hang out every Friday!

As I’ve said since running back in 2017, zoning changes in the Ward deserve more input than the 2 minutes of “public comment” at a Planning Board meeting. You’ve come to expect it, and it’s what I want even after I leave this role. As part of that commitment, I’ll be hosting a Neighborhood Meeting THIS MONDAY at 7pm about a proposed change to zoning at the old Ames Envelope complex off Somerville Ave – now home to Aeronaut Brewing, Bouldering Project, and a whole lot more.

This meeting will be held live and in person at 15 Properzi Way, inside the complex itself, and you’ve probably seen a flyer on your door or on your block about it. But if you’re just breaking your fast or otherwise unable to make it down in person, I’m also trying (for the first time!) to host a big neighborhood meeting in a hybrid format. The goal will be to get everyone’s voice in the room, and have a recording for posterity’s sake as well… and hopefully be another step in generating a plan for development that puts the needs of the neighborhood ahead of everything else.

To participate, just show up!
To learn more about the proposal, check out:
To register for the online meeting:

  • Sally O’Brien’s and the Somerville Music Scene

I’ve gotten a lot of emails in the past week about a “new live music curfew”, and I want to be real clear: This isn’t something the City Council did, and it’s got nothing to do with anything new. Someone called in a noise complaint about Sally O’Briens last weekend – a popular live music spot here in Union Square. The Somerville Police Department came in and advised them to quiet down. The owner has, apparently, chosen to shorten the hours of live music there in response.

I think that’s not necessary. Sally’s has a license allowing them to host live music until 1am. As far as I’m concerned, that’s that. They’re also generally good neighbors in the area – and they keep their doors and windows closed after hours to minimize their sound impact on the neighborhood.

You can read the Somerville Noise Ordinance here:

And I’ll point out that Sec 9-113 (c) spells it out quite plainly to my eye:
* This section is intended to prohibit preventable and unnecessary noise and is not intended, nor shall it be construed, to regulate the usual and customary noise incidental to urban life. Due consideration shall be given to the zone in which the establishment is located and the customary and natural noise incident to the operation of businesses or industries permitted in the area zoned shall be considered so as not to work an undue hardship upon lawful business establishments.

Sally’s – and other longstanding music venues in our city – is a lawfully permitted live music establishment until 1am, and they’re located in a bustling urban square that is properly zoned for such activity. In my opinion, the response to a noise complaint there on a standard Friday night could have been “They’ve got a permit, they’re keeping the sound inside, and there’s no violation here.” Unfortunately, the enforcement of laws is inconsistent and does not always reflect either the word or intent of an ordinance.

I’ll be submitting a few items in the next Council meeting to ask Inspectional Services and Somerville Police come in to discuss the situation with the Council – and if I need to do it, I’ll amend the noise ordinance to make it perfectly plain that harassing a live music venue that is well within its permitted hours is not what we need to be doing as a city. I’m fighting to keep the arts alive in Somerville – not to make it harder to stay here.

  • Mayor’s FAB district zoning changes

In related news, the Arts Council has been working with the Metro Area Planning Council on what needs to happen to preserve existing arts spaces and create new ones. One of the biggest preservation acts of recent history was the creation of the FAB zoning district back in 2019 – a concept that I’m proud to have introduced and ushered into our zoning overhaul.

However, in the rush to get the zoning overhaul done – and with the experience of a few years to observe how it played out – it’s clear that a few adjustments need to be made. You can read a lot about the proposed changes to the FAB district to make it a more effective home for the arts here:

However, what hasn’t been discussed much publicly yet is that the Mayor is also looking to propose turning some of our existing FAB district lots into “Innovation” zoning, which allows for more high-tech lab and office uses for those old buildings. I am just now seeing the first drafts of these plans, and just like my approach above to zoning, I’m going to be requiring a neighborhood meeting here in Ward 2 before having this language come to the Council for review. After all, I helped create the FAB district and nowhere in the city has more FAB zoning than Ward 2 – so we have a lot of stake in changes to the district.

I anticipate hosting that neighborhood meeting on MONDAY, OCTOBER 2 at 6pm. If all goes well, it will be another hybrid meeting. I’ll be sending out more information about location soon, and when I have more details about that meeting I’ll be hosting the registration link at

  • Reinvigorating Washington St: thoughts on the SBO

Speaking of Zoning, another one of my innovations introduced in the 2019 zoning overhaul is the oft-overlooked Small Business Overlay. All along Beacon, Washington, and other major streets in the Ward, I created additional use rights for properties to allow them to be home to a wide variety of neighborhood-serving small businesses like coffeeshops, markets, stores, laundromats, and much more. It wasn’t but a few decades ago that businesses lined the entire length of these streets, with housing above, and I would love to see that kind of vibrant street experience return. Let a thousand small affordable shops bloom!

However, the SBO as written only applied to residential districts, and as we’ve seen the ISD interpretation of the existing FAB zoning has created some awkward situations that – for example – prevent a coffee roasting company from actually selling a cup of coffee out of the front of their manufacturing facility. There’s plenty of cool FAB space available on these streets (think about the old Bomas Machine Factory on Washington St) and I’d love to see them home to cool local businesses like industrial bakeries that also get to host a cafe on the frontage that sell their products as part of a neighborhood deli.

I’m hoping this fall to expand the Small Business Overlay to FAB district zoning, allowing the flexibility that was always intended… but I also want to hear from you about your ideas of what would fit well on our streets to create more exciting neighborhoods with hidden gems of neighborhood businesses that make everyone’s life just a little bit better. Please reach out if you’ve ever considered starting a small business here – or even if you just have a hope for what you’d like to see on your street. And it should go without saying that before I propose anything firm, of course I’ll be hosting a neighborhood meeting to get your reactions before it goes to the City Council.

  • Expanding the Affordable Housing Overlay

The AHO was an innovative step that the Council took in 2020 to allow expanded building rights to developers of 100% Affordable Housing. It’s a great concept, and the very first of these projects enabled under the AHO is in the production pipeline right now – coming soon to Webster Ave in Ward 2, just across from the Prospect Hill Charter School, bringing 7 stories of fully subsidized housing. I’m proud of it, but the fact that there are so few projects in the pipeline means (to me) that we need to do even more to give Affordable Housing organizations a leg up against the for-profit luxury-housing hedge-fund types looking to make a buck in our neighborhood.

To that end, I’ve been talking with Affordable Housing developers about what works, and hope to bring forth something this fall that expands on our existing Affordable Housing Overlay and allows for even more height and density bonuses for anyone willing to create affordable homes for our neighbors. If you’ve got thoughts or concerns, get in touch – and stay tuned for more.

  • Creating the MACS Zoning Overlay: More Accessible Civic Space

One attempted policy change in the zoning overhaul has proven insufficient for the task: the Green Score. The “Green Score” requirement in our zoning assigns a certain value to various landscape and architectural elements, attempting to result in better, greener buildings with more open space around them. However, keen observers will note that while some new projects have improved a little, it has been entirely insufficient to our aim of preserving and creating more green space as part of these projects.

On the other hand, the major open space creation successes in our city have been the result of negotiations by neighbors directly with developers – the newly-opened pocket park on Lake St is one example, and the 2+ acres of civic space created in Boynton yards is another! But making each of these a piecemeal negotiation is more effort and less consistent than just linking development rights directly to civic space creation.

There are several commercial projects looking at Somerville right now that bring with them the opportunity to create meaningful civic space, whether that’s a community center, a branch library, a green park, a public plaza, or several of these! The reality is that our existing zoning was 7 years in the making when it passed in 2019, and so the building dimensional requirements and assumptions are over a decade old. Times have changed, and buildings at different scale are not just feasible but desirable.

My aim is to create a thoughtful Overlay zoning which expands what commercial developers can do, in exchange for something this city desperately needs: more publicly owned civic spaces. I’ve been gathering input from industry sources and provided a seed draft to a group of city staff, and I’m hoping to be able to bring forward a concrete zoning proposal to the residents of Ward 2 sometime in late Fall.

  • Western Washington Update

I know we’ve all been waiting far too long to have Washington St repaved. It’s been pushed back in the paving schedule since 2020, and despite promises for paving to begin in the summer of 2023, engineering has once again delayed the project to next spring. It’s fully funded, but due to the fact that we (as a city) literally lack the capacity to pave our own streets, we are reliant on contractor timelines in addition to other supply chain crunches. The new timeline calls for the work to still complete by the end of 2024, but I’ll believe it when I’m standing at a nice new floating bus stop. You can stay tuned to project updates online at:

  • What’s Coming Next?

Now, I know this newsletter wasn’t close to comprehensive. With the destruction of Twitter and the collapse of most local news, it’s hard to stay up-to-date on the big picture conversations happening in your local government. I’m hoping over the next several months to write a series of Op-Eds for the news outlets which still remain (which will of course be re-posted on my Blog at for future reference) to try to keep you in the loop. Topics will include:

  • Stormwater Mitigation Projects Update
  • Traffic Calming and Intersection Improvements
  • Public Works: the high cost of outsourcing Somerville’s Water Department
  • Public Works: the folly of Green Infrastructure without a maintenance plan
  • Public Works: cleaning Union Square, and the erosion of the working class
  • Public Works: the pernicious corrosion of outsourcing; or why can’t the city fix my sidewalk?
  • Public Works: why can’t we maintain our city buildings?
  • Public Works: is Carbon Neutral by 2050 good enough? Or: why don’t we have a Green New Deal in Somerville?
  • Public Works: why does it take over 5 years to build a park?

As you can see, there’s a bit of a theme… but the erosion of our internal capacity to build, maintain, and repair infrastructure over the past 20 years deserves a thorough examination.

Until I see you in the streets, stay safe and enjoy the autumn festivals!