(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
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.