Friday, July 19, 2024

An overhead image of the pool at Hanover North Cambridge apartments, which changed owners in a $182 million deal. (Image: Hanover North Cambridge via Yelp)

Despite the Somerville Planning Board being in favor of green roofs as a concept, the state’s authority over the building code led the board to caution against passing them into law during its Sept. 21 meeting.

The new law would require large midrise, high-rise and commercial buildings to cover 80 percent of the available space on their roofs with vegetation.

The city’s law department couldn’t say whether the ordinance would be legal, only assess risk associated with it, said Dan Bartman, Somerville’s senior planner, and “the Attorney General’s Office has not wavered from identifying” that similar topics such as gas lines “are regulated by the building code.”

The state’s regulation of the building code came up during a meeting with the city’s Land Use Committee meeting on Sept. 7 as well. Ward 3 city councilor Ben Ewen-Campen noted that the law’s language was vague and provided exemptions and allowances for other roof equipment such as solar panels – equipment that is partially regulated by state energy and building codes.

Despite the worry that Somerville may run into issues with the Attorney General’s Office, Cambridge has a similar law that applies to buildings over 25,000 square feet. Somerville took its inspiration partially from Cambridge, which also requires 80 percent of available space on large building roofs to be 80 percent vegetation or face paying additional fees to the city. This similar law was not brought up during the Sept. 21 board meeting.

Still, Bartman recalled that Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, when she was a city councilor, requested a similar green roofs ordinance, and Somerville’s law department found it “unenforceable.” Instead, he said, they passed a green roofs or solar panel option in overlay districts – special areas selected for the city for development such as Union Square.

“I think this is an amendment rooted in the right place and moving toward the right goals. I am hesitant, however, to recommend for approval an amendment where we have faced some concern from our attorneys,” chair of the Planning Board Michael Capuano said.

Vice chair Amelia Aboff agreed, while encouraging the city “to continue exploring alternative means to achieve these goals.”

The board passed no recommendation on the green roofs initiative, but said the goals could be incentivized other ways, such as by “green scores” that give bragging rights to more environmentally conscious construction.

In other development news:

  • 50 CP Development Limited – a firm with connections to Goldman Sachs – has acquired Hanover North Cambridge, 50 CambridgePark Drive, for $182 million, the BldUp real estate site reported Sept. 28. The building features 294 luxury apartments near Alewife with 26,000 square feet of amenities and a 7,000-square-foot space reserved for a restaurant tenant.
  • Demolition began at 300 Binney St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, to convert the existing building into a 225,000-square-foot biomedical research facility, which will provide an extra home to the Broad Institute through a long-term lease, BldUp reported Sept. 13. Broad said in a September 2022 press release that it was undertaking the project with the Kendall Square developer Boston Properties.
  • A small housing addition for a growing family mired in what Capuano described as an “unintended red tape issue” made its way through Somerville’s bureaucratic process during the Sept. 28 meeting of the City Council. The 113 Prospect St. family, unable to build a simple addition to the rear of their house between Inman and Union squares, asked the city for a change to the zoning map to allow the construction – requiring two Land Use Committee meetings, review by the Planning Board and ordainment of an amendment by the council. During the Sept. 21 meeting of the Planning Board, Bartman said city staff were trying to fix the red tape issue “in a comprehensive way.”
  • The board also recommended the adoption of an amendment to change the zoning in Porter Square at 14 White St. Place so the owner, David Einis, could build a multifamily residential property. Having originally proposed changing the zoning to a midrise district, Einis changed the application to request an urban residence district – essentially, the middle ground between one- to three-unit houses and large apartment buildings – after hearing feedback that neighbors wanted the area to serve as a transition point to the commercial square. The Land Use Committee and City Council have yet to make a decision, as the area’s ward councilor, Beatriz Gomez-Mouakad, has been unable to attend meetings on the project.
  • After a proposed apartment building at 394 McGrath Highway in Somerville’s Prospect Hill changed ownership, the new developer, Sugarloaf Development, submitted updated plans, including the complete elimination of all five parking spaces, creating additional room for bikes, amenities and green space. The developer also learned that, had they filed to build, their application would have been rejected because their loading plan on the side of McGrath Highway in front of the building was not allowed. As a result, the plan also changed to have loading occur on an easement coming from Prospect Street. The board approved the amendment unanimously.