By Joseph A. Curtatone
(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)
It’s almost gone. At the end of October, we held a ‘wallbreaking ceremony’—a groundbreaking ceremony, but in reverse—for the Brickbottom waste transfer station. That wallbreaking ceremony was not about celebrating destroying things. We celebrated what we are building—and what is to come. We’re removing what is, along with McGrath Highway, the biggest barrier to redevelopment in Brickbottom. We’re tearing down the walls that divide our community. Since 1950, anyone entering Somerville from Boston and Cambridge has been greeted by an unwelcoming sight—and smell. That ends now.
Closing the waste facility and bringing it down is part of the solution to unlocking the economic potential both in this area and for our entire city, along with grounding McGrath and bringing the Green Line Extension to Somerville. Brickbottom used to be a thriving neighborhood until the incinerator drove nearly everyone out as it spewed ash and pollutants into the air. Starting with the demolition of the waste transfer station, we are taking the first step to making Brickbottom a thriving neighborhood and business district once again.
Unlocking the economic potential of this neighborhood is critical to helping us reach our shared SomerVision goals for the city to create 30,000 new jobs, 6,000 new housing units including 1,200 permanently affordable units, and to bring in new commercial tax revenues to fund our services and schools. As the areas around the former transfer station site evolve into regional employment centers, as new offices, homes and businesses take root here as part of a mixed-use and transit-oriented neighborhood, expanding our city’s tax base and alleviating the property tax burden on residents, it’ll be hard for us to ever remember that it wasn’t always like this.
There’s a short-term loss in revenue: $1 million in hauling and tipping fees, because trash now needs to be taken out of the city, and $500,000 in lost rent and royalty from Waste Management’s previous rental agreement with the city for the transfer station. But any short-term loss will return to us tenfold with the transformative redevelopment of Brickbottom. SomerVision identifies 52 buildable acres in Brickbottom, accounting for 15 percent of the city’s growth through the year 2030. That’s 1.6 million square feet of new commercial space and close to a million square feet of new residential space. That’s 4,500 new jobs and 750 new housing units. Creating this growth and reclaiming this neighborhood and reconnecting it with other neighborhoods, transforming it into a walkable, transit-oriented urban neighborhood that supports job creation with a mix of daytime and nighttime activity, will realize a far greater impact than $1.5 million.
This is how we do it in Somerville. We don’t lose out by only thinking about the short-term. We collect the data and facts, analyze carefully, and then invest patiently and prudently. We plan for the long-term.
Removing the transfer station is only part of the solution. I have stridently advocated healing the scar that runs through our city, McGrath Highway’s McCarthy Overpass. Our partners at MassDOT are doing their part. They’ve agreed to bring down that relic of the 1950s and create a boulevard for all forms of travel, including walking and biking, that reknits Union Square with Brickbottom and the Inner Belt. MassDOT’s Board recently approved nearly $400 million for the first phase of the Green Line Extension, which will bring a T station right around the corner from the former transfer station.
This is more than just a vision now. It’s real. We’re no longer just hoping to bring the Green Line to Somerville. We’re not just daydreaming of a boulevard replacing McGrath. We’re not just wishing this waste transfer station would disappear. We’re making it happen. We are building the future our community wants—all based on our SomerVision plan. With the transfer station coming down, the Green Line Extension coming in, and the grounding of McGrath in our sights, we are well on our way. So good riddance, transfer station. And hello to the new Brickbottom.