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Over the last three years, our neighborhood has advocated for the Powder House Community School property to be reused in a way that will enhance our incredible neighborhood and city. Our neighbors agreed that more open space was the top priority and that there was some desire for office space or a mixed-use development. As the City moves forward in the reuse process, it is clear that our neighborhood input made an impact. Just a few weeks ago, a technical advisory committee consisting of neighbors, aldermen and members of the city’s planning staff made a recommendation to Mayor Curtatone that Tufts University be the chosen developer for the site. The Tufts proposal includes office space and a public park that is nearly two times larger than required of the site. The proposal also includes the possibility of adding up to 35 homes. Including housing on the site would be a big win for our neighborhood and for Somerville.

Our neighborhood is among the most expensive in town. The average apartment rents for $2,300/month and an average condo list price is nearly $400,000. Compare these statistics with the citywide median rent of about $1,300/month.

As Somerville grows and changes, our City has admirable goals to support diversity and affordability. The SomerVision comprehensive plan, which came out of a three-year public participation process and has been widely embraced by Somerville residents and decision makers, is essentially Somerville’s roadmap for the next 16+ years. SomerVision is illustrated in numbers by five impressive goals:

1. 30,000 New Jobs as part of a responsible plan to create opportunity for all Somerville workers and entrepreneurs

2. 125 New Acres of Publicly-Accessible Open Space as part of our realistic plan to provide high-quality and well-programmed community spaces

3. 6,000 New Housing Units – 1,200 Permanently Affordable as part of a plan to attract and retain Somerville’s best asset: its people.

4. 50% of New Trips via Transit, Bike, or Walking as part of an equitable plan for access and circulation to and through the City.

5. 85% of New Development in Transformative Areas as part of a predictable land use plan that protects neighborhood character

Our city deserves great credit for putting forth such positive goals for our future. With a limited amount of public properties available, it is important that we look at how each property can help Somerville meet these goals. The new park at the Powder House Community School site will help our city to move forward on our open space goals. Let’s also use the site to produce some much-needed housing. Somerville’s inclusionary zoning policy will ensure that some of these homes are affordable. However, just as Tufts will provide twice the amount of open space than is required on the site, we should use this opportunity to provide more than the required amount of affordable homes as well.


Rachel Heller

Melissa McWhinney


8 Responses to “Letter to the Editor: Open Space is Great – Let’s Build Some Housing, Too”

  1. A.Moore says:

    SomerVision has been widely embraced by Somerville residents

    Not so, many are just not saying anything but this is what is wanted by a small percentage of people. Place this question on the ballet and see the response you would get.

  2. A.Moore,

    Someone should ask Mr. Monagle who sits on the committee weighing on the future of the Powerhouse School. My previous post was deleted which described someone who has inside knowledge of the planned expansion of West Somerville. None of it good for local homeowners who would see their homes devalued for non-profit purchases. The article below has some good information which Mr. Monagle highlights. Sounds like more short-term vision by the other members, one being a conflict of interest alderman.

    “I hope the aldermen stand tall,” Monagle said. “It’s certainly going to impact how I vote.”

  3. gregtowne says:

    Nicely written letter Rachel and Melissa. That said, you don’t speak for everyone in the neighborhood, nor did the advisory committee. As the process moves forward we will be heard.

  4. Winter Hill Barney says:

    Why does the most densely populated city in Massachusetts (indeed, New England) need more housing units?

  5. JPM says:

    OK. PDS – can someone explain why one person should pay market rates and another person pays 50% or less than market rate for the same house in the same community? Who decides who gets these apartments?? Hopefully we will not get into a NYC situation, where somehow Mayor Koch and Dinkins had rent controlled apartments while making nice salaries. :)

  6. PixiePocahontas says:

    Because they are far more profitable and shoddy workmanship goes undetected, plus those who buy can afford to pay high rents and condo loans.

    Because they can do whatever they want, whose going to stop them.
    The only way to know is to force a complete auditing on everything financial, especially who pays the most and who pays the least in RE taxes and water.
    Post the names in the paper as the globes spotlights. Mumbles was know to sell luxury high rises to his development pals during the big dig. How many families are getting 75% discounts?

    Ok, think I’ve reach my limit of characters for this post. See ya!

  7. Paul says:

    The writers want to remove parks in favor subsidized housing? Seriously??? Open space is in short supply, but housing is not.

  8. MarketMan says:

    More propaganda from the “affordable housing” mafia.

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