Friday, May 24, 2024

Somerville’s armory in 2012. It’s since been converted into an arts center by the Sater family. (Photo: Carly Cassano via Flickr)

Somerville officials told residents of its Armory arts building in a Wednesday email that what looked like a Dec. 31 eviction notice was “a temporary, initial measure while the work to transform the Armory into an arts use begins.”

Leases were sent last week to the tenants of the 191 Highland Ave. building – owned by Cambridge’s Sater family until the city of Somerville took it in May with a City Council-approved $5 million eminent domain filing. In addition to the Dec. 31 termination date, the leases said overstaying would cost $300 a day; that no subleases are allowed; and that if there’s a legal clash over an Armory tenancy that causes the city to hire an attorney, it’s the tenant who “will pay the fee of such attorney, all court costs and constable charges.”

In a thread on the public Davis Square group on Facebook, city councilor Mark Niedergang said the $300 daily fines “seems excessive and is unfortunate.” Tenants expressed worry when the leases arrived with no explanation, but those worries were addressed a little less than a week later.

“None of the Armory tenants are being evicted at this time,” said the Wednesday email from Thomas Galligani, Somerville’s director of economic development. The new documents were sent because when the city took over the Armory, leases with the Saters “were no longer in effect and you all automatically became month-to-month tenants. The intention of the use and occupancy agreements is to provide you with greater stability.”

Galligani said the city must evaluate the building thoroughly; run a public process to get community input on “how to maximize the venue for programming that support the arts, Somerville artists and the public’s desire to engage with the arts”; and decide how to manage the property long term, which is subject to public bidding laws.

“Once this process is complete, the city will need time to hire staff or a management entity and begin implementation of the resulting plan,” Galligani said in his email to tenants. “We anticipate that this work will carry on through the remainder of the year. But it’s possible that it will take longer.”

In the meantime, “there is no intention to ask any tenants in good standing to leave in the near future or before the community process completes and the implementation of future uses gets underway, which could very well include maintaining current arts occupants,” Galligani wrote.

Last week, several tenants said a lack of communication from and with city officials had left them anxious about what was happening and even “not sure what is true.” Galligani said he was the tenants’ primary contact and that the city wanted to keep them fully informed and experiencing “the least disruption possible.”

Parama Chattopadhyay, of the Out of the Blue Art Gallery – a tenant in the Armory since last year after a long residency in Cambridge ended in 2017 – said Thursday that she was not satisfied, and believed other tenants also weren’t. “I am not happy with what I’ve seen,” Chattopadhyay said. “What’s the point in signing this? For all intents and purposes, this is an eviction notice … we don’t believe it’s saying anything else.”

She said she expected discussion of the situation at the Thursday meeting of the City Council.