Meeting reaches early consensus

On January 15, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Neighbors want just one building at Powder House site

A model of the property being developed by Tufts, which includes the TAB on Holland Street and the site of the current Powder House School on Broadway.

A model of the property being developed by Tufts, which includes the TAB on Holland Street and the site of the current Powder House School on Broadway. – Photos by David R. Smith

By David R. Smith

While there are still plenty of details to be worked out and many more meetings to be held, a clear consensus is emerging on what Tufts should do as it solidifies its plans for the Powder House School on Broadway directly behind the Tufts Administration Building (TAB) on Holland Street. And what that looks like now is one office building, not two, and no residential developments on the site.

Around 50 neighbors took part in a two-and-a-half-hour design-brainstorming meeting (called a “charrette,” should it ever come up on Jeopardy) with representatives from the Boston-based architectural and design company ADD Inc. at the Tufts Administration Building (TAB) Monday evening.

George Proakis, the city’s director of planning and zoning, gave a brief overview of the project’s history, which included the creation of the Powder House Community School Technical Advisory Committee.

The city and the committee drafted a request for proposals based on what was and was not wanted at the site. The committee recommended three of six proposals for consideration, with the proposal by Tufts University receiving the top recommendation and the mayor’s approval.

The city is in an exclusive negotiating agreement with Tufts as the process moves forward. The site includes an 87,599-square-foot parcel with the existing 80,857-square-foot building. A land-use disposition agreement will be drafted, which will require Board of Aldermen approval, once the proposal becomes a solid and detailed plan. Zoning changes will also likely need to be drafted and approved based on those plans.

B.K. Boley, a principal at ADD Inc., explained to residents that in addition to the final design still far from a done deal, there is also surveying work that still needs to be done at the school site to see whether plans for underground parking are even feasible.

“We are very early on in the process,” he said.

Participants were broken into three groups based on colored dots on the nametags they filled out coming into the meeting. The groups covered open space/recreation, circulation (pedestrian, bike and vehicle flow) and massing (the number and size of the strictures being considered).

After meeting for close to an hour, the participants reconvened, with members from each group presenting a summary of what was discussed.

ADD Inc. Principal B.K. Boley addresses the 50-plus residents who joined in a community-brainstorming meeting about Tufts’ plans for the site where the Powder House School now stands.

ADD Inc. Principal B.K. Boley addresses the 50-plus residents who joined in a community-brainstorming meeting about Tufts’ plans for the site where the Powder House School now stands.

Plan options included two office buildings, or an office building and housing with a cap of 35 units. Not surprisingly, participants opted for a scaled-back plan of just one office building, which creates less traffic and more green space. Because Tufts does not pay taxes on the TAB, some residents mistakenly believed it would also not pay taxes on the Powder House property. To make that point clear, a Post-it note with “Tufts will pay taxes” written in black marker was placed on top of one of the model buildings in the massing group by ADD Inc. Senior Associate Principal Tamara Roy.

During the subgroups, several neighbors expressed an interest in including a basketball court in the park plans that could be also used for ice-skating in the winter. Other ideas included tables or even tables with chessboards. Many residents, however, did not want to see the park part of the project become overrun with structures.

“Think of grass as a multi-use space,” one resident said.

There was also interest in ensuring there would be ample space for both bicyclists and pedestrians to easily access the area and use it as a well-lit cut through.

There will be approximately 230 to 245 parking spaces required based on current zoning. Some of the current parking spaces at the TAB will be removed, and the total number of spaces will be divided between the TAB and a proposed underground garage at the new building. One resident asked whether neighbors would be able to use those garage spaces in the evenings and weekends. A Tufts representative said she wasn’t sure and noted that security concerns would need to be addressed.

Because it is so early in the planning stages, an estimate of how many people would be working in the new building was not provided. Once that figure is established and zoning changes are addressed, the number of parking spaces could be adjusted.

Moving forward, there will be a community meeting Monday, Feb. 10, a charrette follow-up Wednesday, March 5, and a wrap-up meeting Wednesday, March 26. All meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at the TAB. In addition to those meetings, the plans will need to go before several town boards during the permitting and approval process in the coming months.

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10 Responses to “Meeting reaches early consensus”

  1. wth says:

    Follow this closely and watch to see if the neighbors’ wishes are followed, and if the promise to pay taxes is followed. Especially noteworthy, will they pay the actual tax levy, or an amount Tufts decides is acceptable to them. And if they will pay taxes on this development, why then not on their other properties? And perhaps they could consider eliminating the rental fees they charge the city for space used in the TAB building. Also watch for the basketball court to be nixed, despite the mayors’ promises.

  2. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Divide and conquer tactics are used by assigning residents and appointees to designated tables. You can’t ask a question unless it pertains to the type of project: building, landscape, traffic.

    Bocci courts and yoga? Mixed use for basketball court? Obviously, they don’t want it and serves as an olive branch for the rest of their shenanigans.

    35 luxury condos at the corner of Holland Street where the parking lot is located next to TAB, across from Alibrandis? Who benefits? Not us. Please provide names and affiliations of new owners as well as assessed values and sale price/cancelled checks.

    They boast about other forms of transportation used by employees of Tufts, yet want 245 parking above and below ground. Will they be commuting from Sudbury or Dorchester?

    My sympathies to those on Paulina Street who will be disturbed by delivery trucks going into newly constructed driveway. Nice slip about parking permits being issued to those deprived of Tufts owned parking. It’s ok to use our on street parking during the day, who would know?

    When the VP of Operations at Tufts was asked about how many start ups have they supported to move in town, she fell down that slippery slope. There is one and it resides in 02155 not 02144.

    Also when she was asked what will be housed at the PHCS footprint- they don’t know, nor can they tell us how many are currently housed in TAB.

    $1.3 billion endowment and now they become another RE landlord billionaire like Union Square.

    All the people on advisory committees are hand picked to ensure lucrative politically motivated goals.

    Names, titles, affiliations, former employers and campaign contributions. Have it on the table at the next meeting, then we will talk.

    Lease PHCS to commercial tenants, let them pay taxes Tufts is too cheap to pay.

    Their own strategic plan was so the mayor and Tufts can reap the many benefits we the taxpayers will continue to be burdened with– thanks to Dennis Sullivan alderman at large who spoke up, “I’ve received many emails filled with animosity towards Tufts”. It’s only just begun.

  3. ritepride says:

    How can the mayor and Board of Aldermen justify to the taxpayers selling Powder House Community School…. while they need to lease space for the city’s Water & Sewer Departments.

    Seems like the city is needlessly leasing space to benefit an aquaintance of the Administration at a needless expense to the residents. There is NO justification for the sale.

    If the city needs more space there are alternatives that are beneficial to the budget and taxpayers. Use the PHCS and if more space is needed take back by eminent domain the Western Jr High School that was given to tax exempt Tufts for $1.00. Framingham and other municipalities lease out vacant school space thus keeping the buildings in shape with waiver that should the space be needed for students the lessees have to vacate.

    This is not the first time the city needed space and will not be the last.
    Hired consultants and “contract” workers… working for the mayor’s Planning & Development, etc., should not be using city space and saving $$$ for thermselves while placing their cost burden on the taxpayers.
    I expect the Board of Aldermen to support the taxpayers on issues like this and to introduce appropriate orders to cease the sale of any city property.

    Years back I was at Fantasia’s Restaurant off of Fresh Pond in Cambridge. Who did I see sitting having dinner together, Jean Mayer, Tufts President with the Somerville Mayor Brune. Who knew that the deal to give away the Western Jr. High to Tufts was probably being negotiated there as it happened shortly after that date. Wonder if the Tufts Endowment picked up the tab.

  4. the know says:

    The cost to fix up the school is far beyond the city’s financial ability right now. I DO NOT agree with selling it to tufts because their plan included risk when the other proposals did not have this. Mayor had more of the power on this one–the board of ald. just received the communication that it was going to be sold to tufts because a group recommonded it.

  5. JMB says:

    What a shock. I thought the mayor’s handpicked advisory group was all for Tufts? Wasn’t it the handpicked advisory group members who supported the new Ward 7 Alderwoman for her deferral of judgment to the group, and demonized Joe Capuano for even suggesting more meetings with neighbors? Yet another tactic of the useless, yet somehow electable PDS.

  6. the know says:

    JMB, you are right on the money. PDS has their agenda and it has nothing to do with the bettering of somerville as a city. If they had their way powderhouse would be a empty lot or a community garden that looks like crap half the year. 2 more years of uselessness on the board between ward 7, 5 and 1.

  7. teelesquared says:

    as a direct abutter I am very pleased to see tufts getting the land. anything but a condo developer

  8. ritepride says:

    Yeh “teelesquared” but your taxes went up because everytime Tufts, or Group homes, or the”T”, or B&M, etc buy property it then becomes Tax Exempt for them.
    Mean while of the total land in Somerville, nearly 60% is tax exempt. Nice that YOU can afford to support tax-exempt Tufts whose endowments (gifts from supporters) gives Tufts a nest egg of over a billion dollars. Tufts, B&M, Group Home Operators can all afford to pay taxes like the rest of us.

  9. Pixie Pocahontas says:

    Tufts is the developer building condos at the site and underground parking. So much for going green!

  10. Richard says:

    There is so much mis-information on this project that I could pull my hair out, but I won’t. I am an abutter and have attended over 5 years of meetings on this project and we finally have a party that will build an attractive building and give our community 2 acres of open space. Shoot it down, will you. How about coming to meetings and speaking up. Hundreds of residents have participated in this process and the number one interest was more open space. Well we got it. And Tufts will create and maintain the park and pay commercial rates for its payments in lieu of taxes. That deal will need to be ironclad to get our Aldermen to approve.

    I imagine many of you wanted to Walgreen’s with a large parking lot and 40 units of non-affordable housing.

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