Friday, July 19, 2024

My name is Jhenny Saint-Surin, and before diving into the reasons why I support the zoning amendment for the Somernova campus in Somerville, I want to disclose that I have consulted for developer Rafi Properties on this project. Before being a consultant, though, I am a Ward 5 resident who has lived in Somerville for more than 10 years and worked for the city for seven years. I hope to call Somerville home for many years to come and wish for developers who come into our city to be as community-oriented as Rafi Properties.

While I could share sentimental reasons for my support – like the developer’s generosity toward underserved community members – I want to focus on the tangible benefits of this project for our community.

I am writing to support changing the zoning to allow the Somernova expansion. As a resident, my primary concern is the positive fiscal impact this project will have on our community. The expansion of Somernova promises substantial economic benefits. The increased commercial tax base will permit Somerville to continue providing essential social services to the city’s most underserved residents. If the zoning does not change and the project proceeds as of right, we will miss a significant opportunity to generate the resources needed to enhance our social safety nets, fix our aging infrastructure and address our financial challenges.

Our region faces a housing crisis, and every effort to alleviate it helps. An as-of-right project would not permit housing. The current zoning proposal includes a six-story, 100-unit residential building, with a minimum of 20 percent of the units designated as affordable. This contribution is crucial for addressing our community’s housing needs and ensuring that more residents have access to affordable living options.

The economic impact of job creation cannot be overstated. The project is expected to generate approximately 11,868 jobs, including permanent and construction-related positions. Additionally, funds allocated to the jobs trust will support workforce development and training programs, essential for increasing access to employment opportunities. This focus on workforce development is particularly important in sectors such as energy efficiency and climate tech, where I currently work, and can provide long-term career growth for residents. Connecting our underserved populations to jobs on the Somernova campus is an amazing opportunity that, while requiring some coordination, offers a chance to help people access a lucrative field with long-term viability. Affordability is also about connecting people to jobs and training that will help them advance economically.

The expansion also includes transformative civic spaces – including a 37,000-square-foot courtyard and park, 7,200-square-foot “day care” park and another 11,000-square-foot park. The new public-room civic space type will allow Somernova to create publicly accessible indoor spaces, fostering community engagement and social interaction. This will enhance the quality of life for all residents. Additionally, the proposed commuter rail expansion to the campus is an incredible benefit to Somerville residents, like me, who commute out of the city for work, improving access to public transportation.

I understand that residents living around the area are concerned mainly about traffic, and their concerns are valid. Rafi Properties has listened, and the new proposed mobility plan includes guardrails via a phased approach to ensure maximum efficiency. The Somernova Momentum Mobility Plan is designed to create an environment with various transportation options. By promoting walking, bicycling, micro-mobility and public transit, the plan will reduce car dependency and will help create a healthier, more connected community.

The project is designed with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and social equity. The Climate & Equity Innovation Overlay District will support climate-tech startups and ensure the most underserved populations in Somerville and the region benefit from the campus expansion. The expansion prioritizes providing resources and opportunities for youth, fostering innovation and supporting social equity.

Rafi Properties has demonstrated a model for working with the community that is unprecedented in Somerville. They have been accessible, responsive and committed to incorporating community feedback into their plans. In my opinion, this developer has truly embraced the community and listens, setting a new standard for community-oriented development.

This project offers numerous benefits that align with the greater good of our community. It supports economic growth, addresses housing needs, creates jobs and provides valuable civic spaces. By changing the zoning, we can leverage this opportunity to build a more prosperous and equitable Somerville. The phased approach to development and recognition of parking issues further highlight the thoughtful planning behind this project. As a community, we have much to gain from this project. I hope that we can maximize the benefits and extract as much good from this opportunity as possible. I urge the city to support the zoning amendment to allow the Somernova expansion.

Jhenny Saint-Surin, Trull Street, Somerville