US2 signs agreement to provide Green Line contribution and additional community benefits; covenant brings total developer payments and contributions to estimated $112M
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Covenant between US2 and city goes into effect if Board approves Union Square zoning. Benefits include funding for GLX, job programs, infrastructure projects, and more;also includes binding agreement to negotiate additional community benefits with new Union Square Neighborhood Council

Yes, it’s finally come this far. The City of Somerville now has an agreement in hand that, once in effect, will translate more than 8 years of community discussion on the future of Union Square into action—and pave the way for developer contributions and payments to the community totaling an estimated $112 million and expands the city’s real estate tax revenue by nearly one-half billion ($445 million) over the next 30 years. Contributions include funds for the Green Line extension, sewer and street upgrades, new open space, and more. In response to another key issue raised by community advocates, the covenant requires the developer, Union Square Station Associates (US2) to negotiate a community benefits agreement with community members via the Union Square Neighborhood Council (or an interim council), which is currently forming.

“To be clear, the city must still advance $94 million in infrastructure improvements for the Union Square development to proceed and $64 million of that amount is needed for long overdue area water and sewer upgrades that must be carried out whether Union is developed or not. However, we are confident that the estimated $557 million in combined contributions, payments, and projected tax revenues from this project will more than offset our investment. Our city is facing pressing infrastructure needs and has also set many goals from lowering residential taxes to enhancing our schools, streets, parks, and more. Smart, community-driven development is how we will get there, and I want to thank US2 for working collaboratively with us on this monumental step forward in that process,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

Residents and advocates shaped plan

Planning for Union Square development grew out of the multi-year SomerVision process that began in 2009 and created the 20-year comprehensive SomerVision plan for the city. SomerVision lays out shared community values and priorities including job and tax revenue creation while preserving affordability, expanding green space, increasing sustainability, and diversifying transportation options, among other goals. In 2014, US2 was selected as the master developer for Union Square to help advance these goals. In short, the community is partnering with US2 to change the model of solely profit-driven development to one of growth shaped by community preferences.

To achieve this, community members took part in a 17-month Union Square Neighborhood Planning process that produced a 393-page plan detailing local preferences on everything from aggressive affordable housing requirements to a creative vision for new open space. A 14-month process then identified community priorities for additional benefits such as anti-displacement measures and job training. To put these intentions into action, two measures were taken: resident priorities were built into new zoning for the Union Square neighborhood after intensive community input, and the covenant was negotiated to bind the developer to critically important community contributions.

Benefits range from affordable housing to job training funds

Now, in exchange for Board of Aldermen approval of the draft Union Square zoning that will allow construction to move forward, US2 has signed the covenant. If zoning is approved by the May 31 deadline, the covenant goes into effect. US2 will then be bound to make a number of contributions and adhere to development guidelines including providing funds to help offset the city’s contribution to extend the MBTA Green Line. Combined, the two measures, plus other required payments and fees, will yield an estimated $112 million in contributions and fees by US2. Approximately $72 million will come via the zoning, $19.2 million via the covenant, and $21.2 million via other required payments and fees.

The estimated value of these benefits include $55.6 million in funding and in-kind costs toward affordable housing creation and $20.5 million combined in building permit fees and future phase contributions, which can be applied where most needed. Another $13 million will go to environmental sustainability measures, $5.5 million will support the Green Line Extension, and close to $7.7 million is dedicated to infrastructure contributions for water and sewer upgrades and costs, streetscape improvements, and the redesign of Union Square Plaza.

A neighborhood council composed of community members will negotiate additional community benefits and possible in-kind contributions valued at $3.7 million in a community benefits agreement. The neighborhood council will also advise the city’s community benefits committee (to be established) on funding priorities for the neighborhood. Another $5 million will go toward open space creation, and approximately $1.7 million will go toward jobs programs to help prepare residents for the new employment opportunities created in the neighborhood.

Finally, the proposed zoning requires that 5 percent of designated commercial space be dedicated to arts and maker spaces. Beyond the $112 million, the developer will also pay approximately $9.3 million to acquire land for development from the Somerville Redevelopment Authority, effectively reimbursing the city for its land assembly costs.

Covenant increases open space requirement, sets local hiring policies

Directly due to community advocacy, the covenant includes two additional provisions. It requires the developer to add 66% more open space than anticipated in the 2016 Union Square zoning draft and it requires 70% of that open space to be in the form of high quality parks, playgrounds, and plazas. The covenant also sets forth that commercial tenants give hiring preference first to qualified residents and then to qualified veterans before considering other applicants.

“The power of idealism in our community cannot be overstated. Across the country, communities are struggling with gentrification, transit needs, environmental challenges, and crumbling infrastructure. So here in Somerville, rather than simply watching as developers pick off random lots to build luxury condos, we set a higher bar. We demanded a master plan. We envisioned a vibrant new section of the neighborhood with a range of businesses and civic space. Then we researched, discussed, argued, dreamed, and carefully drew up plans that will work harder for us. It’s a plan that won’t just chase tax revenues. Rather, it builds in aid to vulnerable residents, protects our environment, adds open space, and will help retain the artists, makers, small businesses and long-time residents that make Union Square great. We can’t solve every ill with one plan, but thanks to our residents—and our unwavering community advocates—we’re certainly trying to make a dent,” said Mayor Curtatone.

Contributions put city on track to recoup GLX and infrastructure costs

Of particular importance is US2’s Green Line contribution. In late 2016, the city was required by the State to contribute $50 million to the extension of this MBTA transit line in order for the project to proceed—and to avoid the loss of $1 billion in federal funds for the State project. To help cover this unprecedented and unplanned expense, the city seeks to recoup at least $25 million via developer contributions from projects built near the coming new T-stops. The $5.5 million US2 contribution equals just over one-fifth of that $25 million. This reflects that the 2.3 million sq ft of development that US2 is estimated to produce equals roughly one-fifth of the total square footage of development expected around all six new Green Line T-stops.

For information on how to participate in the formation of the Union Square Neighborhood Council that will negotiate and allocate further community benefits, please contact Sue Thomas sthomas@somervillema.gov. For updates on next steps, sign up for the city newsletter at www.somervillema.gov/newsletter.

— City of Somerville

 

6 Responses to “Somerville Union Sq. developer commits to contribute Green Line funds & other community benefits”

  1. CAP says:

    It should be noted that this a press release put out by the Mayor’s office, not an objective journalistic report of what the deal is. And it’s almost entirely spin and playing with semantics.

    The CBA is not a done deal. The Administration is trying to rig a community benefits agreement that they will control, and which will go easy on the billion dollar Chicago corporation they have sold Union Square to. This long press release is designed simply to dress up a sweetheart deal with the developers in the best possible light and then steer the whole thing to Joe’s handpicked ‘neighborhood council’ to be rubberstamped.

    Don’t be fooled.

  2. JAMES says:

    Just like Assembly, we are going to have lower taxes and all this great stuff , WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LOWER TAXES FROM ASSEMBLY SQ.

  3. Dorit says:

    Do you know what else wasn’t a objective journalistic report? The bullsh*t flyer handed out by union united earlier this week.

  4. Jess says:

    Don’t be fooled by CAP who obviously has other motives. This is a huge success for the City.

    I’m grateful to the Mayor and his staff. The City negotiated over $100 million in payments to the community while expanding the city’s real estate tax revenue by nearly half billion ($445 million) over the next 30 years. Best of all, the Green Line is coming to Union Square finally. Bravo!

    Seems to me there is clearly a “binding agreement to negotiate additional community benefits with new Union Square Neighborhood Council”. No one, including the City has said it is a done deal. Perhaps CAP should read more carefully.

    Now that the benefits issue is behind us, I sure hope the City will make sure that the proposed Council is representative of the neighborhood. The Council should be comprised of real people like parents, workers, merchants and people who spent years advocating for he Green Line. It should also include groups like Union Square Main Streets, Somerville Local First, and the Chamber of Commerce. I for one have had enough of SCC, its paid organizers and their fear mongering and lies. They’ve worn out their welcome.

  5. CAP says:

    PS: Ask the Mayor’s office why this ‘neighborhood council’ wouldn’t be reporting directly to the Board of Alderman on “funding priorities for the neighborhood” since they’re the ones who manage the City’s budget.

  6. Union Square Resident says:

    CAP, I’m not sure you actually know what is going on. The plan for the Neighborhood Council is for a Board to be democratically elected by the Union Square community. According to the draft of the Community Benefits Ordinance, the Neighborhood Council would actually have to be approved by the Board of Alderman every year under the guidelines of it being democratic and inclusive. It would also be free to negotiate a CBA with any developers in Union Square. Such a CBA does not need to be approved by the City.

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