2012: The year in review

On January 2, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times
An architect's rendering of the building planned for 181 Washington Street.

An architect’s rendering of the building planned for 181 Washington Street.

By The News Staff

As we usher in the new year, it is always worthwhile to look back and survey the events of the year gone by. Through the reportage of The Somerville News staff, we can assemble an overview of the notable events of 2012.

In retrospect, it can certainly be said that the past year was packed with plenty of noteworthy events and happenings in and around Somerville. Major development projects rising, and sometimes falling. An election cycle that brings in new faces, as we say farewell to others. Natural disasters, and a few brought on by ourselves or those outside the community.

2012 was a year that saw much in the way of making progress in achieving certain goals, as well as facing limitations in what was possible, given the state of the economy and the challenge of living within our means financially. Other issues concerned how best to deal with problems confronting residents’ daily lives, and the qualities that make living in Somerville worthwhile.

The following stories topped our list of noteworthy events:

Union Square Revitalization/GLX

In the July 18, 2012, edition of The Somerville News, Elizabeth Sheeran reported on the controversy surrounding a proposed five-story, 40-unit apartment complex that the Somerville Community Corporation (SCC) hoped to build at 181 Washington Street, the former Boys and Girls Club site:

SCC Director Danny Leblanc said the project supports the non-profit’s mission to increase affordable housing options in Somerville. “We’re trying to maintain the economic diversity that we enjoy in the community today,” said Leblanc. “We’re trying to do everything we can to enable moderate and low income residents to stay here, to sustain a Somerville that can be for everyone.”

Opponents said the planned development would take the neighborhood in the wrong direction. “It’s too dense. It’s out of character for that end of the Square. It’s the wrong development as the new gateway into Union Square,” said Zac Zasloff, founder of Union Square Rising, a residents’ group that counters the SCC’s “Everyone’s Somerville” motto with the slogan, “There’s room for everyone. But let’s be smart about it.”

In the August 22, edition of The News, writer Cathleen Twardzik covered the Board of Aldermen special meeting, which examined the pros and cons of the Union Square Revitalization Plan, a draft of which was submitted to the Board by Mayor Curtatone:

The plan, which spans 117 acres in the Union Square area, includes seven development blocks that are slated for acquisition by the city after a period of several years. It would implement the development vision.

“I look forward to the public process that’s going to accompany the discussion of the revitalization plan,” said Maryann Heuston, Alderman of Ward 2. She considers this plan as a “comprehensive approach.”

In the October 10 edition of The News, Jim Clark reported that the Union Square Redevelopment Plan was approved by the Board of Aldermen:

The program, outlined in the 150-page document that the Board approved, calls for acquisition of certain properties in the D2 sector that will further facilitate the Green Line Extension effort.

Alderman Lafuente, in addressing the Board, said, “This is another opportunity to grow our tax base, which will allow us to maintain our public safety, city services, and keep our tax rate low. As a small business owner, I am mindful of what we do here today, and how it will impact other small business owners in Union Square.”

Assembly Square/IKEA

Retailer giant IKEA said, “thanks but no thanks” to an Assembly Square location.

Retailer giant IKEA said, “thanks but no thanks” to an Assembly Square location.

The trials and travails of the Assembly Square redevelopment effort has been followed closely by The News this past year.

Andrew Firestone filed an early report on January 11, relating Mayor Curtatone’s enthusiasm for the project:

“Assembly Square will be a neighborhood for all,” he said. “What we do not want are gated communities; gated in terms of who lives there, and gated in terms of who the consumers are. It has to be a neighborhood and district for all. That is what makes Somerville so Somerville.”

Assembly Square represents a public investment of almost $130 million, in terms of state funds, city bonds and federal stimulus money. All told, the development is planned to be a center of entertainment, shopping, commerce and community.

What will differentiate Assembly Square from other developments, such as the Natick Mall area, and Kendall Square, is that “it will be a neighborhood,” said Curtatone.

The development took a blow, however, when it was announced that IKEA would be pulling out of the project, leaving the huge parcel it would have occupied empty.

In the December 12 edition of The News, Jim Clark wrote of Federal Realty’s bid to purchase the land:

In a statement issued by Federal Realty, Senior Vice President for Development Don Briggs said. “The 12 acres being sold by IKEA is extremely well located real estate, less than two miles from downtown Boston and serviced by transit. Assembly Square is closer to downtown Boston than most of Boston and sits in the heart of the innovation talent pool. The vision for the 12 acre parcel would include mixed use buildings including office, medical office, residential, and a regional grocer as a major element in the overall design plan.”

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone commented on the matter saying, “Federal Realty has already demonstrated that it shares the city’s vision for the Assembly Square district as a true urban neighborhood. I think their preliminary development approach for the IKEA parcel will enhance the future of the entire district as a thriving community and a multimodal destination for shopping, dining and entertainment. No other developer in the country has more experience with projects based squarely on smart-growth, sustainable, mixed-use, transit-oriented development. The speed at which Assembly Row project is already moving confirms that the development model embraced by the city and Federal Realty has already begun to maximize the project’s value as a source of private sector growth, jobs, and long-term revenues for investors, tenants, the city and its residents.  I could not be more delighted about this announcement, including the grocery store component. We were sorry to lose IKEA, which has been a responsible development partner, but Federal’s plan will be even better for our city.”

Gene Brune retires; Maria Curtatone elected new Register of Deeds

Former Somerville mayor Gene Brune decided to retire from his current position as Register of Deeds for South Middlesex County.

In a close race, the present mayor’s sister, Maria Curtatone, edged out her closest competitor, Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston, to win election to the post.

Food trucks approved for Somerville

The Board of Aldermen and its Committee on Legislative Matters debated and ultimately approved the Mobile Food Vendor Ordinance at its October 23 meeting, as reported in the October 24 edition of The News by Harry Kane:

As defined by the City of Somerville, the Mobile Food Vender is “any mobile operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, sells, or otherwise provides for human consumption any prepared or packaged food or beverages from a truck or cart, including ice cream and non-ice cream food and beverage products.”

The criteria for issuance of vendor licenses, under the Boards’ ordinance, are based on the “general welfare and convenience of the community.”

For a new mobile vendor applicant the issuance of a license is in the ballpark of $750 dollars. There are additional fees associated with the license if the operator decides to work after-hours. All new applicants are required to have a public hearing before being granted the license.

Normal operating hours are from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. If the vendor decides to operate his food truck after the designated hours there is an additional $500 dollar fee.

Those vendors who are renewing their licenses in the new-year will pay $390 dollars, according to the Board of Aldermen.

Angle-in Parking given a try

The July 4 edition of The News reported that “angle-in parking” had commenced on a trial basis on Bow St.:

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and Acting Traffic and Parking Director Matthew Dias announced that initial data suggests that the pilot program to calm traffic, promote pedestrian and bicycle safety, and increase the parking supply in Union Square is working as intended.  Traffic radar data indicates that traffic along Bow Street has slowed by an average of ten percent and bicyclists report that the new bike lane makes the area safer. By nearly doubling the supply of parking, the new configuration also helps support additional customer visits, which results in added revenue for local businesses.

“We’re going to continue to monitor the experiment, but so far, so good,” said Dias. “Radar data shows a modest drop in average speeds, which is something we were hoping for: area residents and residents from Properzi Manor on Warren Ave had repeatedly expressed concerns about high-speeds and cut-through traffic.  We’ve slowed things down slightly by reducing travel to a single lane, but the reality is that the pace of traffic is more consistent with what you’d experience in a mixed-use neighborhood with heavy foot traffic.”

City declares war on rats

The ever-present problem of rodent infestation was taken on in earnest by city officials last year. Elizabeth Sheeran reported on the issue in the July 25 edition of The News:

The local rat population has exploded this year, and the Board of Aldermen has declared war on the advancing army of rodents, enlisting the health department, city inspectors and even the city’s lawyers to formulate a battle plan.

“We’ve been asking for things to be stepped up a notch, because it’s been a real problem this summer,” said Ward Two Alderman Maryann Heuston. “There are people in the Lincoln Park area who cannot enjoy their backyards at all.”

Alderman Heuston said absentee landlords are a big issue in Ward Two, where there’s a lot of rental housing, and tenants are often new to the city and not even aware of the tough trash guidelines put in place a few years ago to combat the problem.

She said she has constituents whose homes and yards are “pristine,” but who are at the mercy of a handful of neighborhood properties that have been serving up a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet for local rats, with debris-filled yards, overgrown plants, untended fruit trees, and overflowing bird feeders.

Armory under assault, wins a victory

The financially challenged Arts at the Armory saw some highs and lows last year as reported in The News:

After taking some heat for not providing adequate wheelchair access earlier in the year, Armory representatives later went before the Zoning Board of Appeals to ask for easement of restrictions on hours of operation and alcohol consumption limitations, which the Board eventually approved, in spite of some complaints by area residents.

And so it goes…

Many events from last year are noteworthy.

The MBTA took heat from angered citizens for announcing fare hikes and simultaneous service cuts.

The mayor got a pay raise, and asked for the same for non-union city workers.

Alderman Bill Roche stepped down from the Board, nominating Maureen Bastardi as his successor.

Ground was broken for the Orange Line extension, and the Green Line Extension effort made headway as well.

Somerville High welcomed a new headmaster.

Hurricane Sandy breezed by to give us a taste of nature’s mighty force.

And, although not strictly a local story, we can say with confidence that the encouraging news that the loudly heralded end of the world by misguided interpreters of the Mayan calendar were more than a little exaggerated comes as a welcome sign to all of us that we will indeed be here for awhile longer anyway.

And as long as we are here, The Somerville News will continue to investigate and report on everything that matters to us as residents of the greatest little city in the world.



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