ICYMI: City Planning Board unanimously supports Union Square Zoning

Move seen as another positive step in the process

Bluntly Speaking by Ross Blouin

The City’s Planning Board last Thursday voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Alderman approve the City’s Union Square Zoning Overlay District. The overlay as written will allow the City’s development partner, Union Square Station Associates (US2), to move forward with the redevelopment of 15.6 acres in Union Square. The development is expected to generate over $10 million annually in new tax revenue and create over 5,000 permanent jobs.

The unanimous decision to recommend the zoning was made after a lengthy discussion of two topics: open space and enforcement of a commercial and residential balance. Several members of the Board actively questioned whether the city could increase the amount of open space required under the plan. City representatives noted that increases to open space would either require additional project height or a reduction in overall development and subsequent tax revenue. Others looked for assurance from the City that the plan contains sufficient enforcement authority to make sure developers build accordingly.

The Board deferred dealing with a proposal by Alderman William White to increase the percent of commercial development required in the Square to 68% while reducing the amount of residential building for this project. Currently the Neighborhood Plan establishes 60% of the project for commercial space and 40% for residential. White’s proposal would not count retail, manufacturing or hotel use as commercial usage, though those uses are taxed at the commercial rate. Concerns have been expressed that a drastic change to the percentage in the Neighborhood Plan may adversely impact neighborhood parking availability, and have other far reaching implications.

As previously reported in the Times, Mayor Curtatone spoke in favor of the zoning for this project at the last Board of Aldermen meeting late last month, “If we don’t move forward with this zoning, we will be solely responsible for paying for other infrastructure needs in Union Square which must be addressed regardless of the development of Union Square,” he said, referring to the $40 million utility upgrades in the square as well as the $50 million responsibility of the city to pay for the Green Line Extension.

The approved zoning recommendations will be presented to the Board of Aldermen for final approval. The Board of Aldermen are currently reviewing the Union Square Zoning overlay and are expected to vote on it later this year.

Click here to read the full article in the Somerville Times.