mystic view task force
Assembly Square, Somerville, MA circa 2000
Bounded by rail lines on the left, the Mystic River in the foreground, Route 28 on the right, and Interstate 93, the road that snakes across the middle of the photo. The Boston skyline starts less than 2 miles from the area.
News

10/10/12 MVTF Annual Meeting

Dear MVTF Supporters,

In 2012, Assembly Square is waking up.

The new Assembly Square Drive is open, and the MBTA has begun building the Orange Line T-Stop at Assembly Square. Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) and Avalon Bay are building mixed-use developments on blocks 1, 3, and 4 on the river side of the site.  SSG Development is building a self-storage facility with community amenities at 50 Middlesex Avenue, across from Foley Street. Another developer, FR Assembly Square, is building a restaurant at Block 10, on the edge of the mall parking lot.

Meanwhile, IKEA has decided not to build a store at Assembly Square, and the City is taking steps toward acquiring the IKEA site by eminent domain. This provides Somerville with a rare opportunity. To meet the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, we need to make sure that the rest of Assembly Square is built out with high-value real estate such as research and development.

In addition to keeping an eye on Assembly Square:

  • We are monitoring the implementation of the City’s Comprehensive Plan rolled out early this year. Zoning changes have been proposed in Union Square and Porter Square and planned for Winter Hill. Discussion is continuing.

  • We are monitoring progress on the Green Line Extension, due to complete in 2018. Bridge demolition is being planned and stations are being designed. Efforts are underway to remove the McCarthy Overpass on Route 28 near Union Square.

  • We are tracking selected public meetings and posting them on the Somerville Voices Beat Reporter blog.  If you would like to subscribe to the weekly emails, send an e-mail to dd@whyisthisimportant.net.You can also subscribe to the Beat Reporter RSS feed at http://www.somervillevoices.org/category/beat-reporter/.

  • We are undertaking a major revision of the MVTF web site to convert it into a community blog, tentatively named the Somerville Development Forum. Whereas the Beat Reporter blog tracks ongoing events, the Development Forum will be a place where the Somerville community can learn the principles of sustainable development and discuss how to apply them to our special requirements.

For more on our efforts, please come to our Annual Meeting, Wednesday, October 10, from 7:30 to 9:30 PM, at the Third Life Studio, 33 Union Square, Somerville.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Sincerely,

David Dahlbacka
President, Mystic View Task Force

Year in Review: September 2010 – August 2011

Assembly Square District Improvement Financing (DIF) Passed:

The iCubed funding from the state for Assembly Square infrastructure was based upon the expected increase in tax revenues from Assembly Square, with revenue from IKEA jobs and sales to cover the first stage. Because IKEA did not proceed with its development in a timely manner, the iCubed funding for Assembly Square was in jeopardy. The expected federal funding for the Assembly Square Orange Line T-Stop disappeared as a result of the Republican ban on earmarks. As part of a deal with the state and the developer, in December 2010 the Board of Aldermen authorized Assembly Square District Improvement Financing. This authorizes the City to issue bonds to pay for Assembly Square infrastructure (roads, sewer, water, and so on), the bonds to be paid back by increased city tax revenues from Blocks 1, 3, and 4 of the Assembly Row development.

The following concerns were raised about the DIF proposal:

  • The DIF proposal should include realistic estimates of the costs to the city of proposed development at the three blocks so that the rest of the city does not end up subsidizing city services for these blocks.
  • The developer parent company was not being required to guarantee the quality of the infrastructure. The City could end up paying for any mistakes.
  • The developer agreement does not require the developer to find R&D developments for the blocks, those being the true tax and job generators for the area.

The bonds were authorized in May 2011 and are due to be issued when the developer (Federal Realty or its residential development partner Avalon Bay) finishes the shell of buildings on Blocks 1, 3, and 4.

Self-Storage Permitted in Assembly Square:

Through late 2010 and early 2011, MVTF met with SSG Development to discuss replacing a truck storage depot at the foot of Foley Street with a 6-story self-storage facility. The development required a change of Assembly Square zoning to allow the use. The site abuts planned improvements to the existing bike and pedestrian passage under I-93 between Assembly Square and Stop & Shop and, in the long term, will be traversed by a planned extension of Foley Street under I-93 to provide another vehicular entrance to Assembly Square. Because of its location near the bike and pedestrian passage and the proposed Foley Street extension, any development here is the de facto gateway to Assembly Square.

As part of these discussions, SSG Development agreed to add a corner café or retail space, a community room, a bicycle storage unit, and a pedestrian plaza integrated with the pedestrian passage under I-93. In addition, with support from MVTF and local designers, they proposed a modernistic design for the facility that pointed to the future of Assembly Square as a high-tech R&D area and not to its past as a manufacturing and warehousing facility.

As of April 2011, the project had passed the Planning Board with a Special Permit with Site Plan Review including as conditions the above additions.

Restaurant Permitted in Assembly Square:

In June 2011, the Design Review Committee and later the Planning Board approved a design for a restaurant between the Assembly Square mall parking lot and the new Assembly Square Drive. The design featured white brick and glass and was intended to support up to two restaurants.

IKEA Building Permits Extended Again:

In July 2011, the Planning Board held a public hearing on extending the IKEA building permits again to 2013. They had extended these before, in 2009, two years after IKEA executed a land swap with Federal Realty that moved their development inland from the river front. At the hearing, IKEA stated that they would begin contributing the $100,000 they had promised for an employment training program. Members of MVTF spoke generally in favor of the development and thanked them for beginning the employment training program. They asked that the Planning Board add conditions that would require IKEA to:

  • Begin implementing the Transportation Management Plan required by the MVTF settlement.
  • Improve access from the Assembly Square Orange Line T-Stop second head house to IKEA.
  • Begin work on their part of the multiuse path that will connect East Somerville to the river by a route parallel to the Orange Line.
  • Reconfigure their parking to create additional green space facing the T-stop.

That night, the Planning Board voted for the two-year extension without discussion, stating that they were there to vote only on the extension and not on any other issue.

WalMart Grocery Store Proposed in Assembly Square:

In July 2011, the Somerville Journal and Boston Globe printed stories suggesting that WalMart wanted to start a grocery store in Assembly Square at the old Circuit City location. This proposal has drawn considerable ire from people who believe that WalMart is a bad employer and from those who fear it could finish branding Assembly Square as a big-box haven.

Mystic River Master Plan Design Work:

On July 20, 2011, the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation held a public meeting at the Winter Hill Yacht Club to present ideas about the Assembly Square Riverfront Park design. The meeting was well attended, with over forty present. Design work is continuing.

Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee:

For the last two years, members of the Mystic View Task Force have actively participated in the public committee convened to develop a Comprehensive Plan for Somerville. The document is intended to guide planning decisions over the next 20 years, particularly after the Green Line Extension is completed. The draft plan is to be presented for review in Fall 2011.

Green Line Extension to Somerville Delayed Again:

The Green Line Extension team has been working for over two years with the community on station designs. However, in August 2011, the news media revealed that the State was planning to postpone the Green Line Extension again, to 2018.

Posted Sep 30, 2011

The Mystic View Task Force Annual Meeting will take place on Wednesday, October 5, 7:15 p.m. at Third Life Studio, 33 Union Square, Somerville. We will present a summary of the City’s almost finished Comprehensive Plan, followed by discussion. The plan is the product of over two years of work by the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. The usual Annual Meeting business, including election of board members, will follow.

Please note: MVTF has developed a system to keep track of the public meetings required by the ongoing development of Assembly Square, and we are distributing information about these meetings through weekly emails and posts to a Somerville Voices blog, Beat Reporter. If you would like to subscribe to the weekly emails, send an email to dd@whyisthisimportant.net . You can also subscribe to the Beat Reporter RSS feed at www.SomervilleVoices.org/Category/Beat-Reporter/

Last update Mon, Oct 17, 2011