Union Square Revitalization Plan discussed at special meeting

On August 22, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Union Square has come a long way since the “good old days.” Planning for its future could prove to be a long, arduous process for city strategists and officials.

By Cathleen Twardzik

The Union Square Revitalization Plan was discussed at a recent Board of Aldermen special meeting.

“There is an extensive process that must be followed for [the Union Square Revitalization Plan] to be implemented. First, the Board of Aldermen must hold a public hearing. Then, the Board of Aldermen would have to approve the plan, as well as the Planning Board, and then, the plan would have to be approved by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. Thus, the presentation at the August 16 meeting was very preliminary,” said William A. White Jr., Alderman At Large.

A vote did not occur at the special meeting.

However, the result was that the plan must be sent to a committee because that is mandatory, according to the Rules of the Board of Aldermen. Additionally, state law requires a public hearing to occur. The plan was sent to the Board’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, according to White.

It must be noted that the Union Square Revitalization Plan is an urban renewal plan.  Therefore, a main piece of such a plan is to “allow the public acquisition of private property.”  That contains “the use of eminent domain, to bring in a higher and better use of that private property that should result in economic improvement to an area,” said White.

“Urban renewal law first requires that an area must be declared to be ‘decadent’ by the local redevelopment authority,” he said.

More specifically, “if the proposed development envisioned by the plan does take place, Union Square will be transformed.”

For example, a T stop, as well as incredible economic development, will produce employment opportunities and taxes.

However, no assurance exists “that development will take place as envisioned by the plan.”

“As an alderman, I intend to study the plan, question the economic assumptions of the plan that would allow the city to acquire a substantial amount of private property at a cost $26 million, and evaluate the risk to the city’s economic future and benefits,” said White.

Mayor Curtatone submitted a draft of an Urban Revitalization Plan to the Board of Aldermen at their recent special meeting because of the Somerville Redevelopment Authority’s (SRA) vote at another recent meeting, which took place prior to the special meeting.

The plan, which spans 117 acres in the Union Square area, includes seven development blocks which are slated for acquisition by the city after a period of several years. It would implement the development vision.

“I look forward to the public process that’s going to accompany the discussion of the revitalization plan,” said Maryann Heuston, Alderman of Ward 2. She considers this plan as a “comprehensive approach.”

“The thing about this plan is it treats the whole area as a whole, it doesn’t just take portions of it. It’s a comprehensive approach,” she said.

“This is an enormous part of my ward, and I think it sounds like longstanding problems that we’ve had in the ward will be addressed by this, and there are a lot of things that I think will be part of the public discussion. I think the public discussion is going to be very important,” said Heuston.

To download a PDF copy of the complete plan click here.




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