Sunday, July 21, 2024

A rendering of a Gilman Square space proposed by Somerville in 2014. (Image: Gilman Square Station Area Plan)

Residents of Somerville’s Gilman Square have wanted to see development at the area’s Homans site for nearly a decade.“We want development, we want density near a train station, we want transit-oriented development,” residents told the city, according to Christine Carlino, board president of the Gilman Square Neighborhood Council.

“There’s just no motivation in the city to execute on it,” Carlino said.

The neighborhood council plans a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday rally at the Homans site to call for the city to release the developer request for proposal that will bring in bids to work on the site.

Rally participants will march to City Hall, where a Housing and Community Development Committee meeting is expected to hear an update on the project’s status from the city’s director of economic development. The update was ordered by city councilor Jesse Clingan and council resident Ben Ewen-Campen.

There have been discussions around Gilman Square since 2012, according to Carlino. (An earlier renovation plan was proposed after the city’s $1.4 million purchase of the Homans site in 1999.) In 2014, the city released a “Gilman Square Station Area Plan,” and around 2017-2018 the neighborhood council got involved in partnership with the city. “We really started pushing for movement,” Carlino said.

Lost momentum

By 2020, due to the change of administration and staff turnover, what “momentum” the community had with the city around the Homans site started to “deteriorate,” she said. “The position of the city was that there isn’t enough revenue generation on this site for it to continue to be a priority for the city to develop, and there were other projects that took priority.”

The Dec. 12 opening of Gilman Square Station as part of the long-delayed MBTA green line extension has only added to residents’ interest in seeing development, residents say.

City staff plan to install underground storage tanks for storm water at the Homans site, said Matthew Carlino of the Gilman Square Neighborhood Council, but the community has a proposal for what else could be at the site.

The last update was in February, Christine Carlino said.

“They promised the community that they were not going to hold up the development projects for the tank. That was a big win for the community. But now since that, we’ve seen more delay tactics,” she said, including that the city needs to “assess the status” of every piece of property the city owns before it is allowed to sell the Homans site, and that staff now feels that contamination on the site means it must be paved to make it habitable. A delay has also meant changes in the real estate marketplace. To account for that, the city has said “maybe we’ll send out an RFI, or request for information, which they have not yet done.”

Conducting due diligence

The city’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development told Cambridge Day it is “conducting careful due diligence on the Homans site with the intention of maximizing this opportunity,” including meeting regularly with a civic advisory committee – which includes a representative of the Gilman Square Neighborhood Council – that is “focused specifically on engagement around the future of the city-owned properties in Gilman Square.”

After a process, the city will be ready to release a request for proposals “to identify capable real estate and community partners to help implement the vision,” the statement said.

The Homans site provides an opportunity to “knit together the fabric” of Gilman Square while taking advantage of the green line expansion, the city said.

The site is behind Somerville High School, which shares a Central Hill complex with City Hall and the city’s main library. It is named for the 1929 Homans building, a warehouse for a Chicago grocery chain called Reid, Murdoch & Co. and its Monarch brand foods.

Councilors are aboard

The rally is expected to include organizations such as the Community Land Trust and Green and Open Somerville, Christine Carlino said, and the Gilman Square Neighborhood Council’s Scott Farrell said members have been working with city councilors who “seem flummoxed as well on how decisions are being made.”

Clingan said that the city is “failing this area.”

“It’s a shame that it had to come to this,” Clingan said of the Wednesday rally. “When you continually feel like your area’s not being prioritized, it can be extremely frustrating … I just really hope that we make progress on this site.”

Ewen-Campen said frustration is widespread and has been building for years. “There’s been a series of reasons that action on this has been postponed,” he said. “It’s long past time for us to get this thing going.”