Monday, June 24, 2024

The site of proposed apartment buildings at 45-51 Broadway, East Somerville. (Image: Sullivan & Worcester)

A former lab project in East Somerville will become residential instead because of objections to proposed height and traffic impacts at neighborhood meetings, said developers at Sept. 13 hearings about 45-51 Broadway.

“We heard your comments,” representatives from Highland Development said at the first neighborhood meeting for two proposed six-story apartment buildings with shared underground parking. The site is across the street from another planned six-story residential development approved by the city last year.

The building at 45 Broadway is proposed to include 49 units with a mix of studios, “junior one-bedrooms” – studios with a walled-off area – two-, and three-bedroom units with retail space on the ground floor. The other building at 51 Broadway will have 106 units, none with three bedrooms. The presenters said they would meet Somerville’s requirement for 20 percent of the 155 units to be kept as affordable, but did not say if they would consider more.

The project will need to seek site plan approval and a special permit from the Planning Board after another neighborhood meeting with more specifics.

The 45 Broadway site currently houses a two-story automotive shop, Broadway Brake; 51 Broadway holds a triple-decker house built around 1900.

Neighbors and abutters were concerned about the potential impacts of loading and unloading zones in the area, as well as displacement of nearby residents to create space for the lab. “I’m glad those concerns were taken seriously,” said Ward 1 city councilor Matthew McLaughlin, who was present for previous meetings on the project.

Slowdown in labs

Lab construction is also less appealing now to developers, with the real estate brokerage Newmark reporting that millions of square feet of space recently expected to become labs could be put on hold – though there’s still more demand for lab space than office space. The trend of dropping demand in the region is being felt elsewhere in Somerville too, said Sarah Lewis, the city’s director of planning, preservation and zoning in the Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development.

The developer Asana, after winning site plan approval April 6 for its 7th Spoke project in Davis Square, “paused, given the fact that what they have approval for is a lab building,” Lewis said in a Tuesday call. “All the lab buildings seem to be pausing at the moment based on the economy.”

“Our understanding is that Asana is marketing the property but won’t commence construction until they have a tenant for the lab stories,” Lewis said.

Affordable housing

With Highland Development switching purposes entirely at 45-51 Broadway, at-large city councilor Jake Wilson said he hoped the developer would make the project more dense.

“I would happily trade some density for some additional affordable housing there,” said Wilson, noting that the council was discussing zoning to incentivize that more broadly.

Comments from the public, though showing concern about a large development, were generally neutral or in favor of the 45-51 Broadway project. Matt Marotta of Icon Architecture noted that it was still in the very early stages, and the presentation was mostly conceptual to give the public a general idea of massing. Jordan Smith, an attorney with Sullivan & Worcester representing Highland Development, said more detailed plans would come in the second neighborhood meeting, after review by the Urban Design Commission.

Streetscape improvements

A rendering of a possible look for a neighboring Highland Development project at 44 Broadway, East Somerville. (Image: Icon Architecture)

Improvements to the streetscape are also proposed. Ben Rogan, another representative from Highland Development, noted improvements to the pedestrian traffic in the area. In particular, Stephen Sawyer, a civil engineer with the project, noted a pedestrian crossing from George Street to the entrance of 51 Broadway. Another planner, landscape architect Allison Desbonnet, highlighted the uneven sidewalks along the street as a result of heavy trucks coming in and out. Additionally, bike racks, seating and planting beds would be added along the sidewalk.

Several large trees would be removed due to their level of deterioration, with eight additional trees would be planted as a result, Desbonnet said.

Given the industrial use of the site over decades, some residents remained concerned about construction kicking up polluted dust. In response to a question from abutter Chris Galvin, Marotta noted that the building process – including soil testing and mitigations such as spraying the building before demolition – are highly regulated processes.

“I’m hoping that these two developments can really bring about some improvements in this area and also be sure that they’re taking consideration from the people nearby,” neighbor Sarah Lynch said, asking the developer to consider rat control for the development.

Rogan responded by saying during their demolition at 44 Broadway across the street, “we brought in rat dogs that actually hunted down the rats and killed them.”