Criterion Developers vs. City of Somerville

On March 13, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Residents clash with development proposal for Cross St.

120 rental apartment units may be built at the intersection of Cross Street and Mystic Avenue if Criterion Developers can convince the city and its residents that the project is in everyone’s best interest. ~Photo by Bobbie Toner

120 rental apartment units may be built at the intersection of Cross Street and Mystic Avenue if Criterion Developers can convince the city and its residents that the project is in everyone’s best interest. – Photo by Bobbie Toner

By Izak Shapiro

The scene in the senior room at 165 Broadway could have been from a movie: the team from Criterion Developers, dressed in business suits, sat in a tight row along the right side of the white-walled room. Somerville residents filled the rest of the space, some dressed going to or from work, others coming from home, but everyone meant business.

The meeting’s purpose was to discuss the proposal for a new five story, 120,000 square foot building to house 120 rental apartment units at the intersection of Cross Street and Mystic Avenue, adjacent to highway 93. Also part of the developer’s proposal is a plan to build a new park in place of the old Harris Playground.

“Changes like this don’t happen without community involvement,” said Criterion team leader Jack Englert.

The Criterion landscape leader made sure to emphasize they would not simply build the park, but would actively maintain the park; trees and other vegetation would populate the park as much as possible in order to ensure healthy air quality.

criterion_2_webBut one Somerville resident said they would need a whole forest to properly filter the air, an area thick with pollution due to Somerville’s density and its direct proximity to highway 93.

“They moved the old park because of health concerns,” said Somerville resident Ann Marie DiBella, who lives next to the proposed building site. “Now they’re going to build a new one? This isn’t going to happen.”

Perhaps even more pressing than the environmental issues to the Somerville residents were their concerns about the amount of cars the new residents would put onto the already crowded neighborhood streets. One resident, Dennis Sullivan, noted parking was already a disaster, so where would another potential 120 families park their cars?

The Criterion team set aside 140-150 parking spaces. Englert claims at Criterion’s Medford site they did a study of their residents and concluded each residency averages 1.1 cars, thus allowing the Somerville site to fit the new additions to the neighborhood.

Nick Stiles, a Somerville policeman for over thirty years who has lived in the area his whole life, cited the average American family as having two cars, not to mention that Somerville, unlike Medford, has been one of the most densely populated areas in the history of the United States.

So the senior room at 165 Broadway went from a meeting to a corporate versus citizen battlefield. One man stood up and told the Criterion team to “go back to the drawing board.” One woman looked at them and said, “You people come here for the money.”

“We need to spend more time in the neighborhood, we have a lot of work to do,” said Englert after the meeting. “I do believe in this design, but seeing it for the first time is always hard.”

The next step in the logistical process is that it has to be affirmed by the Planned Unit Development standards.



23 Responses to “Criterion Developers vs. City of Somerville”

  1. Sean Scanlon says:

    How do we expect to adequately develop our urban core to respond to population growth and increasing housing costs if we are constantly forced to adhere to policies from the 1950’s. Forcing developers to build as much on-site parking as we do, often makes a project financially unviable or aesthetically unpleasing. I believe we need to adapt our policies for the market and modern population demands. Suburban flight is over.

    Paul McMorrow wrote a great opinion piece in the Globe yesterday:

  2. Charlie says:

    I agree with Sean. On top of that, if people are concerned about traffic, the last thing you should do is build more parking. I think the developer has the right idea with one space per unit. This is within walking distance of Sullivan Station on the Orange Line as well as bus routes on Broadway and Mystic Ave. I’m sure that many of the people who live here will not have cars nor want to pay for a parking space they won’t use. The other important thing is that the parking is built in such a way to be pedestrian friendly (either underground or behind the building).

  3. sharon says:

    Mr. Scanlon, I can tell you that coming home after a long day of work, maybe lugging a couple of kids and some groceries, and having nowhere to park is pretty aesthetically unpleasing. Add in snow by the foot and the problem is exacerbated. This city is already dangerously overbuilt. We don’t need more housing, and cannot sustain it within our meager square miles. And actually, the policies from the 50’s don’t work, since in those days most families only had 1 car. Sorry if your profit margin will go down a little.

  4. Rosalie says:

    The argument that if you don’t include parking people will not have cars is disingenuous. How about one of the conditions states that owners of the units are not allowed to have cars (or visitors for that matter). If none of them will have a car anyway, what’s the problem? Let’s see, 120 units, with 140-150 parking spaces, is actually less than the 1.5 per unit (which I believe is the requirement). If even half of the units have 2 cars you would need 240 spaces. And if one unit should have guests (Heavens no!), you would need, say, 250 spaces. That’s 100 cars potentially taking up neighborhood parking spaces. And 100 cars is too many no matter who is doing the math.

  5. MarketMan says:

    sharon: In an urban environment, it is probably a good thing (for the community) that most families have only one car when possible. That’s the purpose of having public transportation and advocating for more. I have to say that I agree with Sean and Charlie, and I don’t any skin in the game (ie, I’m not concerned about profit margins).

    Actually, I’m not even sure I like the proposal… Not because of parking, but because of the size of the complex. I prefer projects on smaller scales. But I have to say… People complain about housing costs going up, but when someone proposes large scale housing that could help offset demand (ie, prices) a bit, they complain.

  6. so typical says:

    Sean, your pompous reply is so typical of what we’re all trying to fight. those were written in the 50’s in the interest of keeping Somerville a family friendly place to live, not overbuilt like Cambridge or Boston. People come along now and ridicule this idea, assuming you know more than us simpletons. My quaint, friendly neighborhood is gone, and only for greed of developers. Condos squished into every available place, with variances given to anyone who performs a song and dance for the board. Give some credit to what people who built Somerville envisioned, not whatever developer or newcomer thinks should happen now. You may not be as smart as you seem to think you are.

  7. Conn Ave says:

    Mr Scanlon and Charlie. I don’t know where you live, but the proposed site is directly behind my house. They want to build the Titanic on a tiny piece of land. I’ll get to look at this ugly building everyday. Just like the Titanic didn’t have enough life boats, this doesn’t have enough parking spaces. They proposed a 120 unit building with 143 spaces. When these residents go to get their parking permit, is the city going to deny them their two visitor passes? If they get them, they’ll be parking in my neighborhood. As much as you want people to use public transportation, people love their cars. I’m not against something being built there, maybe 60 units not 120. These developers are out of control.

  8. beenthere/donethat says:

    Just to second the comments in the story about the park – unless they’re going to put a dome on it — the ongoing Tufts CAFEH study being funded by the National Institutes of Health looks at the dangers of exposure to near highway pollution. It’s not just the regular pollution from I-93/Rte38, when you’re that close to the highway, there is additional health risk from smaller particulate matter. I think that’s why the park was moved up to behind 165 Broadway in the first place. Anyway, didn’t the city get $500,000 to rebuild the park in the new location? If developers want to build in Somerville, they should do some homework instead of rolling in with a know-it-all attitude and aggravating us.

  9. A. Moore says:

    We hava gazillion apartments going into Assembly Square, how many more people are we going to throw into this city? Enough already.

  10. Sam says:

    Chances are people willing to live that ridiculously close to a 93 will commute on it quite a bit, Charlie. Winter Hill and East Somerville are popular spots for people who reverse commute further up 93 or on 128. This is not an affordable housing project – even if they couldn’t accommodate each unit with a parking space, they’re going to charge through the nose because it’s new construction in Somerville and that area is getting a major streetscape facelift. If you want to live in a place that doesn’t include off-street parking in Somerville because you don’t “feel like paying for a parking space you won’t use” you’re not exactly without options. I agree with Conn Ave, 120 units and 5 stories is a bit much for that plot. I’d rather see it as mixed use or commercial than something that crams in many residential units in as possible.

  11. j. connelly says:

    There is no such thing as a half of car just another example of the fraud used to kiss the developers ass by the mayors in these cities.

    Tufts study..a joke. Between their private fleet of shuttle buses and the large buses on weekends that come in the area and drive repeatedly thru and around the neighborhoods. Their fleet of trucks and delivery trucks everyday, Tufts causes more pollution in the area than the regular traffic.

    Another city a few years ago the developer went by the book, neighborhood friendly. Any delivery trucks rubbish trucks, etc. all had access via the parking lot to specific areas of the bldg. he installed a filtration system for the parking lot so no pollutants from vehicles or sanding/salting would harm the environment, etc.

    The Councilors in the town nit picked every way that they could to try and get the old white envelope out of the developer by trying to force things that were not needed.

    The developer went above and beyond the requirements for the project. When they ran out of stuff they tried to force the developer to buy certain trees & bushes and the one good councilor stood up, told them to back off as they [other councilors] were on the brink of doing something that would get them indicted. Shows you just how bad some of these politicians in MA are, they are certainly not there to serve the citizens, they are there to fill their wallets.

  12. EmmaB says:

    I agree that the site is right next to the orange line and if they didn’t add any parking spaces they could still easily rent it out without adding any cars to the neighborhood’s traffic problems. While the average household has two cars, within Boston only 50% of the population has a car. The Medford study should clearly take precedent over that one woman’s comment.

    sotypical- Sorry if Somerville is no longer the same place it was over 60 years ago. But Boston is growing and changing, and so are the surrounding towns. This is an organic process happening in growing cities everywhere that you can only resist for so long until you start to border on just being backwards and stubborn.

    A. Moore- Actually Boston and the surrounding area has a chronic shortage of housing. It’s not “if you build it, they will come” it’s “they are coming, you better build it.” And why would you not want prices to go down and the city to be more populated? People are a wonderful resource of tax money and talent.

  13. EmmaB says:

    Also- What in the world about Cambridge and Boston is ‘overbuilt’??? There is a chronic housing shortage and very, very few of the buildings are high-rises- Most of them are old-fashioned triple deckers. Even the high-rises are pretty short compared to other cities.

  14. Blood Hound says:

    Was not this area going to be some “green space” and what was built commercial, so after six o’clock mostly only kids joyous squeals of delight?????

  15. so typical says:

    Emma B-if you can’t see how Boston & Cambridge have been overbuilt, i probably can’t help you. Do you really want to name call people who prefer some green space, yards and some landscaping to these huge, condo developments. Check out the corner of Summer/Central. used to be a small building, now 3 floors at an angle to fit in a small place. Then go to Harvard Place. Tiny little dead end. Zoning board allowed a ridiculous development, way too big for the street, and it destroys the character of a neighborhood.
    My neighborhood has several new structures. All had 3 sides of shrubs/trees. All removed, now fences. Lawns removed for parking. Then the city tries to figure why there’s such trouble with water. My neighbor removed a huge tree from the street to create an extra driveway so he could add extra units. If I’d like to limit this, I guess that’s stubborn & backward?
    The people are coming, we better build? Are you kidding? If we don’t build, won’t they just go somewhere else…..?
    Most important point that pols just don’t get. The people you bring in are just stopping here for awhile. They typically don’t vote locally, don’t contribute to the community. I chat with my neighbors, they have no idea who their alderman is, don’t know or care what’s going on. If you limit development and focus on 1-3 family structures, you keep a community alive.

  16. A. Moore says:

    “People are a wonderful resource of tax money and talent”
    Been here over 60 years and have yet to see any tax decrease due to the revenue they are adding. If anything they add revenue and the taxes go up as well.

  17. Rosalie says:

    so typical, you are so right and EmmaB you are so wrong. This development is far from ‘right next to’ the orange line. It’s quite a distance from Sullivan Square, actually. While growth is not bad in and of itself, there needs to be limits. People are coming, so we must destroy our community and build for them? Let them go elsewhere. It is developers who are cashing in on Somerville’s current popularity. When the over-building have totally destroyed what’s good about Somerville and traffic is a nightmare, supply and demand will eventually drive the popularity down. There are many reasons we do not want the city to be overpopulated. As the Mayor keeps telling us, property taxes continue to rise because we don’t have a commercial tax base. But he continues to advocate for more and larger residential developments. A large population is a drain on the city because we have to provide police and fire protection, trash collection, education, etc. The costs for commercial properties is much less.

  18. Boston Kate says:

    — “I agree that the site is right next to the orange line and if they didn’t add any parking spaces they could still easily rent it out without adding any cars to the neighborhood’s traffic problems. ” —

    No, it’s not right next to the Orange Line; it’s a 10-minute (at a good clip) walk. That aside, people want their own car, they don’t want to be limited to only traveling to destinations that are accessible by the T. If this place doesn’t provide it’s own homeowner and guest parking, there won’t be enough spaces. Still further aside, enough all-freakin’-ready with the development of residential units. Don’t build it, so they won’t come.

    — “But Boston is growing and changing, and so are the surrounding towns.” —

    Somerville has grown enough!!

    — “backwards and stubborn”–

    Your comments are rude and boorish.

    — “And why would you not want prices to go down and the city to be more populated” —

    You really don’t know anything about present-day Somerville, with a statement like that.

    Emma, B a nice girl and leave this up to people who know what they’re talking about.

    You mu$t be on the payroll of Criterion Developer$.

  19. MarketMan says:

    I am pro development, but the right kind of development. I do not think this is the right kind of development for this area for a couple of reasons.

    1. It’s too big. I agree with others that say if there isn’t enough housing, people will go elsewhere. Also, Somerville has a nice balance of semi-urban and small community feel. If we keep building these large residential buildings, the city will become anonymous… creating the NYC effect. I don’t want that. I think most people don’t want that.

    2. It’s not a smart use of space. Most people do not prefer to live right next to a major highway without anything blocking the view and pollution (sound and air). The area next to the highway should be developed in a way that barricades and protects the nearby residential neighborhood. This includes dense green areas full of trees, sound proofing walls, and/or commercial buildings that offer retail, services, and employment to the nearby neighborhood.

  20. so typical says:

    marketman sums it up—don’t want to become another NYC, dense & anonymous. If you believe they’ll come up with all those trees and barriers, I’ll walk you through my neighborhood to see all the properties that got approved and never followed through on promises. The Zoning Board of appeals does nothing if you break all your promises.

  21. A. Moore says:

    The city should be getting more into comercial development and getting away from it’s antibusiness position. Years ago we had a good mix here which is why the city did so well. Between the extra taxes and jobs and the fact that many businesses give back to the city would make it a better choice for the particular spot. Just common sense. We need more of that here.

  22. to EmmaB says:

    Emma–i hope you didn’t name call, then run. I want to point you to comments on a road race. The article is titled ‘Slainte’. It may help you understand what’s happening here. Som. is turning into a place that doesn’t even care about tying up streets and leaving people trapped in their driveways. This race has been around a long time, but it’s grown too big. great for bars/restaurants in Davis, but dangerous to the rest of us who may need help or gasp….to get to work.

  23. j. connelly says:

    What they do not tell you is that all this development causes unseen problems. Tufts has built on their own property and added bigger/taller bldgs for years. It is within their main campus and the city has ordinances that they cannot build along rthe property lines and devalue the taxpayers residences. So it appears well…BUT!…..

    Like all the new development by the Curtatone Development Group in the city. When they build it draws off of the existing city services/infrastructure. With all the budget cuts the past several decades, Prop 2n a half, etc., resulting in less Fire stations; then 7 – now 5, less responding fire apparatus; then 7 Engines, 4 Ladder trucks, 1 Rescue, 1 Fire Ambulance – now 5 Engines, 3 Ladder Trucks, 1 Rescue.
    The Police/Fire/DPW all now have way less personnel on the payroll while the City’s Administrative (appointed/consultant) personnel have increased dramatically over the years.

    All those $$ cut over 30 years, anyone see their tax bill reduced, where did those saved $$$ go????

    So they build new buildings thus calling for increased wear n tear on the existing water/sewer lines. The developer installs new connecting pipes from the bldg to the street but never down the street to Broadway/Highland Ave/Somerville Ave, etc. to the larger/newer lines.
    Thus placing a serious burden on the existing lines by the increased volumes of useage.

    Then we have the mayor’s buddies at FRIT where the taxpayers are going to foot the bill for a $25 Million dollar bond (Did any city official get the finders fee for this bond) to install the infrastructure that is FRIT’s responsibility to pay.

    The greed of the developers has to be stopped and the city needs to place ordinaces that these developers have to bear the cost of installing new water/sewer lines from the main feeds on the major streets down to their development sites and that they do proper paving of their street excavations so there are no potholes.

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