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Old 10-18-2006, 07:48 AM   #1
statler
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Union Sq. Redevelopment

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Globe
Union Sq. takes a run at the big time
Somerville's ambitious makeover plan hopes to turn neighborhood into what is hip

By Kristen Green, Globe Correspondent | October 14, 2006

Union Square in Somerville is one of those funky neighborhoods that always seems on the cusp on breaking into the big time of hip, urban centers.

Now, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has hatched an ambitious plan to complete that transition, one that involves allowing much denser development in the square and rerouting traffic. Union Square already is in close proximity to downtown Boston, and it is slated to receive a new Green Line MBTA station.

He envisions a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with 12-story condo buildings with city skyline views, boutique hotels, and great cafes and restaurants. And he's got the development community interested.

``Clearly it's an area that has a lot of potential just by virtue of where it is," said Will Smith of Boston's Intercontinental Real Estate Corp.

Curtatone's administration is trying to jump-start the square's revitalization by seeking partners to redevelop four city properties, including the police station on Washington Street. A historic firehouse, now rented to a community cable television operator, would be developed into a mixed-used property with retail space on the ground floor. A parking lot kitty corner would also be available for development.

The city is also proposing a zoning change that would double the density of buildings in the area, to about the same as Harvard Square, opening the door for construction of condominium towers with retail and office space on the ground floor.

And Somerville is also considering using ``district improvement financing" to earmark a portion of property value increases for maintaining the streetscape in Union Square.

``The goal here is to make Union Square into a thriving business district, not just to build buildings," Curtatone said. The plan would allow for higher-density development along Prospect Street, now mostly an industrial strip, but would leave intact the more historic part of the square, said James G. Kostaras, the director of Somerville's Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development.

The tallest buildings would be centered around the proposed T station, on Prospect Street just outside the square, with four to six-story buildings fronting Prospect, and 10- to 12-story buildings behind them. Somerville senior planner Joseph Merkel said the square used to have taller buildings, but years ago owners lopped off the top two and three floors. He said there's a good reason development in the square has not evolved naturally.

``The zoning has been prohibitive," he said, adding that he hopes the new rules will inspire property owners in Union Square's core to develop their property or sell it to someone who will.

Smith said his firm will consider bidding on the properties the city plans to offer next year. The company is developing more than 200 entry-level priced lofts nearby on South Street.

To address traffic issues, city planners are proposing to reroute Washington Street through the square so that businesses such as the popular restaurant and bar The Independent are more visible. The plan also calls for converting both Prospect and Webster into two-way streets to allow cars to bypass the square without clogging traffic there.

Much of the planning centers around the proposed Green Line station. While environmental reviews on the transit addition are not expected to start next year, Kostaras said transit-friendly development will proceed before it can be built.

The area of Union Square slated for development of taller buildings butts up against the Brickbottom District, another neighborhood that's slated for a makeover. It's also close to Cambridge's Inman Square, which does not have its own T stop. Union Square already has a certain appeal -- a handful of cool restaurants and regular arts events draw people there. Last year, the city formed Union Square Main Streets, which started a Saturday farmers market and sponsors regular events, like the recent Fluff Festival that drew hundreds.

Mimi Graney, the Main Streets executive director, said the makeover will not only maintain what makes Union Square attractive to artists, but could promote the arts even more. She said the city will provide incentives for developers to build artists' housing and workspaces, and Somerville will make it easier for performers to work the street and host arts events. Kostaras has no doubts about Union Square's future, even at this early stage. ``This is going to be another Davis Square," he said
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Old 10-18-2006, 09:13 AM   #2
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I'm sure the devil will be in the details, but this is great news. Union Square has so much potential if the Green Line can be successfully integrated into the square.

In other Somerville news, the Ikea proposal for Assembly Square was finally approved yesterday.
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Old 11-11-2006, 11:26 AM   #3
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already seeing improvements

A new location for the beloved Peruvian restaurant Machu Picchu, with an attractive facade...and a new bakery is setting up shop. My concern with all this development will be attracting people to the Cambridge side of Somerville Ave. Right now it has very little. A Chinese place, a convenience store and auto body shops.

An aside...what is going up in the new lot in Davis square? Always hated that building they just razed. Perhaps another coffee shop to replace the Someday Cafe? Or another seasonal Halloween shop? Oh please
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Old 11-11-2006, 02:35 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by statler
Union Square in Somerville is one of those funky neighborhoods that always seems on the cusp on breaking into the big time of hip, urban centers.
Years ago I lived in Union Square, and I certainly thought so way back then. Couldn?t understand its obscurity. Seemed to me all they needed to do was re-activate the commuter rail station as light or heavy rail for an immediate and direct connection to the heart of Boston. I also thought it needed high rise apartments (with small footprints of course).

Quote:
``Clearly it's an area that has a lot of potential just by virtue of where it is," said Will Smith of Boston's Intercontinental Real Estate Corp.
Thing is, it?s always been there. Development has always been viable, just not legal.

Quote:
The city is also proposing a zoning change that would double the density of buildings in the area, to about the same as Harvard Square, opening the door for construction of condominium towers with retail and office space on the ground floor? The tallest buildings would be centered around the proposed T station, on Prospect Street just outside the square, with four to six-story buildings fronting Prospect, and 10- to 12-story buildings behind them. Somerville senior planner Joseph Merkel said the square used to have taller buildings, but years ago owners lopped off the top two and three floors. He said there's a good reason development in the square has not evolved naturally.

``The zoning has been prohibitive," he said, adding that he hopes the new rules will inspire property owners in Union Square's core to develop their property or sell it to someone who will.
The zoning held it down ?as it holds down potentially viable places everywhere. By zoning, everything is illegal except what is specifically permitted. Now twelve story buildings will be permitted, and they will come into existence. If they allowed eighteen story buildings, then we?d have those. Almost no one in the public knows how much harm is done by zoning.

Quote:
Curtatone's administration is trying to jump-start the square's revitalization by seeking partners to redevelop four city properties, including the police station on Washington Street. A historic firehouse, now rented to a community cable television operator, would be developed into a mixed-used property with retail space on the ground floor. A parking lot kitty corner would also be available for development.
The city wants to raise money. Here?s one way to do it. Too bad their own pocket book had to be the prime motivator, but it?s better than nothing.

Quote:
``The goal here is to make Union Square into a thriving business district, not just to build buildings," Curtatone said.
Absent the zoning, this would have been done ages ago by market forces alone.

Quote:
It's also close to Cambridge's Inman Square, which does not have its own T stop?
?but should!!

Quote:
Kostaras has no doubts about Union Square's future, even at this early stage. ``This is going to be another Davis Square," he said
Even better, I hope. Davis Square could do with taller buildings.

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Old 11-11-2006, 04:03 PM   #5
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Inman and Davis squares, however, are also both good arguments that you can build great urban neighborhoods without tall buildings.
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Old 11-12-2006, 12:31 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Newman
you can build great urban neighborhoods without tall buildings.
Yeah, but in most cases there's no particular virtue to it.

Davis Square wouldn't be hurt by a quirky, small-footprint, little skyscraper or three.
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Old 11-12-2006, 01:25 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ablarc
Davis Square wouldn't be hurt by a quirky, small-footprint, little skyscraper or three.
Some sort of visual landmark like a clock tower or something would be great.
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Old 11-12-2006, 10:53 PM   #8
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Davis Square has some one-floor buildings that could be replaced with bigger things, maybe on the scale of the Citizens and Harvard Vanguard buildings.
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Old 11-13-2006, 05:46 AM   #9
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I agree with adding a few floors here and there, but I see no need for buildings over five stories in Davis Square. These were proposed in the early 1980s when the Red Line came in, and the community rejected them. I think they made the right choice.

The one exception I might make is to build a hotel on one of the Day Street parking lots. We could use one here.

Even in Union Square, I don't think current zoning is what prevented people from this kind of modest infill development.
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Old 11-14-2006, 08:09 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ablarc
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ron Newman
you can build great urban neighborhoods without tall buildings.
Yeah, but in most cases there's no particular virtue to it.
Is there, in most cases, particular virtue to building tall? If so, Houston might have something on Paris.

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Old 11-14-2006, 08:21 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by justin
Is there, in most cases, particular virtue to building tall? If so, Houston might have something on Paris.
Sure: greater density. Paris achieves it with uniform seven story buildings, but no other city is so uniform; most --like New York-- mix lower and higher buildings to achieve a comparable density.
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Old 11-26-2006, 09:23 PM   #12
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SOMERVILLE

In Square, High-Profile Plans Meet Low-Income Angst


By Kristen Green, Globe Correspondent | November 26, 2006

When city officials last week unveiled plans for a rezoning of Union Square they hope will infuse the area with new energy, the proposal was warmly received by the arts community. The plans provide incentives for developers to build housing and work spaces for artists.

But some are worried that low- and moderate-income residents will lose out in the makeover. The Affordable Housing Organizing Committee held a press conference Monday to call for more affordable units in the proposed overhaul , which includes a new Green Line stop on the T and four- to 12-story condominium towers with retail and office space .

The proposed zoning requires that all residential projects with more than eight units designate at least 12.5 percent of the units affordable. But the committee is asking that 15 percent of units be affordable, and is shopping its proposal around to aldermen before a Dec. 7 public hearing .

The housing committee, organized by the nonprofit Somerville Community Corporation, suggested that the project will displace a number of residents. The precedent was set when the MBTA's Red Line came to Davis Square and the area became too expensive for lower-income residents, members said.

But Joe Thompson, secretary of Union Square Main Streets, which helped develop revitalization plans, said because there is plenty of available land , he thinks improvements can be made without displacing a lot of people. "It's probably one of the more exciting projects that's come around in a long time," he said.

Next year Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone's administration will seek partners to redevelop four city-owned properties, including its Washington Street police station and a parking lot on Prospect Street across from Dunkin' Donuts. The plans also call for a historic firehouse at the same busy intersection to be developed into a mixed-used property with retail space on the ground floor.

None of that helps Donna Quinn, a 49-year-old disabled widow who was given an eviction notice this fall from her $1,000-a-month apartment after she fell behind on her rent. Finding somewhere affordable to live has been next to impossible on her $1,500 monthly income, she said.

"If we had a lot more low-income housing, I wouldn't be in this predicament," she said after the press conference. Curtatone has said he'd like to see Union Square transformed into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with boutique hotels and locally owned restaurants .

But Quinn doesn't like the idea of Union Square becoming another neighborhood filled with condo units that people on fixed incomes can't afford to live in.

"We need help," she said. "We need it now. . . . We don't need whatever else you want to put up."

James Kostaras, executive director of the city's Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development, said he's open to considering the 15 percent threshold proposed by the housing committee. But he also said the city's priority is to bring lots of housing to the square, pointing out the more units that are built, the more affordable units are included among them.

Ellen Shachter, a member of the housing committee, said she thinks developers can meet her group's goal of making 15 percent of residential units affordable and still be profitable. She said the city's first priority is to infuse the square with energy by attracting development. "Our goal is to make sure when that happens, housing is protected," she said.

? Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
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Old 11-27-2006, 06:48 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kz1000ps
...four- to 12-story condominium towers...
Wow. Keep an eye on those four-story towers.
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Old 08-16-2012, 10:32 AM   #14
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

Mayor proposes $90 million urban renewal project for Union Square in Somerville - Somerville, Massachusetts 02144 - Somerville Journal http://www.wickedlocal.com/somervill...#ixzz23iweTZfM
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Old 08-16-2012, 10:55 AM   #15
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

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Originally Posted by kjdonovan View Post
Mayor proposes $90 million urban renewal project for Union Square in Somerville - Somerville, Massachusetts 02144 - Somerville Journal http://www.wickedlocal.com/somervill...#ixzz23iweTZfM
It's great to see a mayor work with all parties, promote a vision, create a plan, then work to execute on it as best possible. Very happy I just moved there. This is what Menino should be doing and advocating for, instead of making a speech then doing everything behind the scenes or some opaque BRA processes and 'mitigation agreements'. Somerville is a great example of leadership that Boston should follow.
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Old 08-16-2012, 02:53 PM   #16
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

Very nice.

Also, kudos for finding a thread from way back in 2006 instead of starting a new one.
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Old 08-31-2012, 10:26 AM   #17
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

I thought it was worth it to post a link to the actual proposal the city is making, which isn't available through the link I provided a couple weeks ago. What's interesting about this proposal is that it looks like it is trying to relocate the core of the square. For those familiar with Union, activity is centered on the north side of Somerville Ave and around Bow St.

By proposing to demolish around 30 buildings (some of them quite large), the city envisions essentially building four large blocks of a major commercial center from scratch - and relocating the center of development in the square from the intersection of Somerville Ave/Prospect to Prospect/Webster, which is currently a wasteland.

http://somerville.patch.com/articles...e#pdf-11040113
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Old 09-05-2012, 10:51 AM   #18
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

Love that picture on the cover. Compare that square to the square of today, and the enormous differences.

I'll have to check this out later and find out why they are seizing a few shops and homes. That doesn't sound good.
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Old 12-28-2012, 10:04 AM   #19
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

Five-story mixed-use building going before the planning board. This is at one of corners of the Prospect/Webster intersection by bridge over the tracks. Not sure which side of the intersection though.

EDIT: Since it's being described as a "flatiron" design, it could take either of the two car lots at that intersection. Webster Auto Sales, or Inman Motor and Auto Center.

It's astounding how many little auto-body/used car lots there are in this part of Somerville. Sorry to the small-business owners, but those lots are better repurposed for mixed-use. The Union Square/Somerville Ave/Washington St neighborhood's days as mixed-retail/light-industrial are going to come to an end.
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Old 12-28-2012, 10:14 AM   #20
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Re: Union Sq. Redevelopment

The used-car and auto-body shops need to gradually go away, but I hope Union Square always has a place for light industry such as Fringe and Taza Chocolate and Artisan's Asylum.
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