Sunday, July 14, 2024

As Somerville welcomes commercial development in its transformational zones, the administration needs to be more selective in the choices it makes for who does the building. The latest purchase by US2 of the 200 McGrath Highway site (across from the Target parking lot) is an example of how not to choose a developer. Indeed, US2 is the wrong developer to build on the 3.1-acre former Glass Stop and Pat’s Towing site for five significant reasons.

From the perspective of seizing the life-science space needs of companies wanting to be near the biolab hub of Kendall Square, the fact that US2 is three years behind in its schedule to build in Union Square should be of concern to the city. There are four more buildings designated for life-science use in the US2 master plan approved by the city. Does the city really want to wait while US2 works on them one at a time? Waiting for US2 means waiting for a developer who hasn’t proved it can attract life-science companies to its first building now under construction at 10 Prospect St.

From the perspective of increasing commercial tax revenue at a quicker pace, it would make more sense for the city to permit Union Square Development One LLC, which owns the block across Somerville Avenue from the Somerville Media Center, to move ahead with its plan for the life sciences. The city should confront US2’s opposition to Union Square One Development LLC’s plans and expedite additional commercial tax revenue to the city.

From the perspective of the city’s Jobs Creation and Retention Trust Fund Board’s mission and goals, US2’s purchase of the property now occupied by Royal Hospitality Services, Green Cab and Green City Growers does not further the creation or the retention of Somerville jobs. The purchase and proposed reuse of the property will displace more than 500 union and working-class jobs. Furthermore, US2’s failure to make best efforts to hire Somerville residents on its construction sites runs counter to the workforce development goals of the city. This failure breaks the resident job commitment in the covenant US2 signed with the city.

From the perspective of Somerville’s plan to respond to the climate crisis, US2’s failure to commit to the city’s connectivity goals by helping finance the pedestrian and bike bridge from Boynton Yards across the railroad tracks to the new green line station has the effect of incentivizing automobile use. This, plus US2’s insistence on building thousands of parking spaces and its failure to contribute to an existing DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners-funded shuttle bus service from Boynton Yards to Kendall and Sullivan squares means that the city’s response to climate change will fall far short of its goals.

From the perspective of Brickbottom residents, neighbors to the 200 McGrath project, a 12-story and 16-story pair of towers will make life on Medford, Linwood and Fitchburg Streets a traffic-congestion nightmare. This congestion has the potential to undermine the full realization of the Boynton Yards development because one of its main auto access routes is Medford Street. The pollution from automobile exhausts of thousands of cars idling in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Medford and Linwood streets will make the future planting of vegetables at the nearby city-sponsored Art Farm a nonstarter.

US2 cannot be trusted to follow through with promises to the city because it is already in serious noncompliance with the Community Benefits Agreement contract it signed in 2019 with the Union Square Neighborhood Council. That CBA contract committed US2 to complete construction of 39 apartments affordable to low- and moderate-income residents at 45 Webster Ave. in time for the opening of the Union Square green line station. It has yet to buy the parcel, let alone begin construction. US2 also committed to 20 percent of construction jobs for Somerville residents; it hasn’t even reached single digits toward this commitment.

For all these reasons, and because of the long and forceful outcry from the site’s neighbors, we are concerned that staff recommends the Planning Board approve US2’s site plan for 200 McGrath Highway. Does Mayor Katjana Ballantyne know the repercussions of moving in this direction? If so, how can she make this decision? We urge all Somerville residents to write and call Somerville’s Planning Board and Ballantyne asking that US2 not be granted site plan approval on its proposal for 200 McGrath Highway.

Union Square Neighborhood Council