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SomerVision: One Step Closer to Reality

Somerville's Mayor Joe Curtatone outlined his vision for a new neighborhood and commercial area in Union Square yesterday in a city hall meeting. We're talking about a $90 million transformation that could potentially add hundreds of new housing units and jumpstart the economy. His plan is ambitious, he is hoping for the Board of Aldermen to approve the plan in two months at the latest, after a public hearing, and then send the plan to the state for approval.

The lynchpin in this whole project is a familiar one, the pending arrival of the Green Line Extension. Earlier this month, Somerville and the MBTA entered into a memorandum of agreement where the city agreed to purchase land in Union Square for the station and then grant "permanent easement" to the MBTA. As part of the agreement, the MBTA and MassDOT will begin construction by spring of 2014 and be up and running no later than 2017.
Remember when we told you about SomerVision, the 20 year master plan for Somerville? Well this is it, (part of it anyway) that has been aptly named "2012 Union Square Revitalization Plan". While SomerVision sounded way cooler, its new name has some real value behind it. That's because areas of Union Square has been designated as a "decadent area", which is defined as an area that is "detrimental to safety, health, morals, welfare or sound growth of a community because of the existence of buildings which are out of repair, physically deteriorated, unfit for human habitation, or obsolete, or in need of major maintenance or repair". Under state law, that means the Department of Housing and Community Development can approve an urban renewal plan.

The 150-page revitalization plan (compared to SomerVision's 183-page comprehensive plan) breaks down how the $90 million dollars is used, and this is only for Phase One.
· $40 million for roadway and utility improvements
· $15 million for open space
· $5 million for engineering
· $26 million for acquiring properties
· $5.3 million to relocate businesses and residents.

The city itself won't be shouldering all the costs of the project. Curtatone said it's possible for private developers to purchase the land and he'll look to state and federal grants to cover some of costs as well.

If the development is intended for mixed-use, 35 percent is residential, 30 percent is commercial, and 30 percent research use. The residential plan outlines 75 percent residential, 10 percent office, and 10 percent research. The commercial plan allocates 15 percent residential, 40 percent office, and 40 percent research. Each plan also includes 5 percent of retail space. Besides commercial and residential buildings, the city is also looking to relocate its City Hall to a "Civic Center Block" along with a new central library.

The mixed-use plan falls in line with Somerville's plan for job creation and affordable housing, in light of an economy that's still recovering from the Recession and Boston's skyrocketing rents. The revitalization plan estimates more than 4,300 net new jobs and 850 net new housing units over its 20-year timeframe.

The problem is, the development relies heavily on being transit-oriented. It needs the Green Line extension to support the city's vision of being accessible and a blooming artist community and tech center. Mayor Curtatone has stomped his feet (and even took it to Facebook) to push for Green Line extension into Somerville and better transportation accessibility. In fact, Curtatone said the city could delay further development in the urban revitalization project if the station is not ready by 2017. Given the MBTA's laundry list of projects to complete, will we be waiting in vain for Union Square?

· Mayor Proposes $90 Million Urban Renewal Project For Union Square [Somerville Journal]
· Agreement Says Union Square Green Line Station Operational by 2017 [Somerville Patch]
· Dog Days of Boston Rentals [Curbed Boston]
· SomerVision Sees 6,000 New Homes, Lots of Green Line Riders [Curbed Boston]
· What's Riding on the Green Line Extension into Somerville [Curbed Boston]

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