It has been two and a half years since we first covered the construction boom happening in Somerville and so many things have happened in the interim, we would need a six-part exposé to get to everything. Even so, we will hit on the main points and that’s construction, construction, and the reason the sidewalk is closed from Starbucks to the former candy store: Construction.
The work going on south of the train station has led to new roads, a parking deck, and a new red light, making it the sixth you will hit if you are going from 206 to 22. The Pulte Homes townhouse models that line Robeson St. loom large over the tracks, their model names such as Murray Hill, Union, Bowery, and Greenwich chosen to lull New Yorkers with a sense of familiarity. Next to them, a multi-story parking deck to accommodate commuters that used to park where these buildings now stand.
As for the proposed Central Park of Somerville, I really have no idea. I have not been able to find any information on its opening or even how to access it. Perhaps more information will come out once construction back there is finished. In fact, the only article I was able to find that referenced it goes all the way back to the groundbreaking in 2016. The good news is that Somerville just got a $2.5m grant for Chambres Park. If you are like me and wondering where that is, it is tucked away on Southside Ave just past Hamilton St. There is currently nothing to do there as frequent flooding led to its abandonment.
Back to the train station area, Station House apartments have been finished and are now leasing. Boasting such amenities as balconies, an outdoor sun deck and fire pit, a communal tech lounge for remote working, and a fitness center, it too hopes to cater to the luxury living minded. Unlike almost every other apartment building this complex is run by DGM Management, which also owns 190 West Main, home of Somerville’s Regent Theater once upon a time, and 6 North Doughty, located across from the Somerville Fireman’s Museum.
DGM’s work is not quite finished in town yet as they recently presented a new property as part of the Kirby Avenue Redevelopment Zone. To be called “The Foundry” it would be 112 apartments in two four-story buildings that front to Fairview Avenue with space for 225 cars behind them. While technically walkable to downtown it is still a bit of a hike. It is proposed to begin construction in 2023.
The other end of the Kirby Avenue Redevelopment Zone, though with some delays due to a fire, has now been completed and is called Somerville Parc, complete with its own road, Parcview Place. It comprises two buildings that make up 180 units.
Then at the for Baker & Taylor site on Kirby Avenue Fernmoor Homes has entered a contract to buy the lot from 50 Kirby Renewal and plans to put in 174 townhomes in 15 two-story buildings, all of which will be rentals. This is down from the original proposal of 400 apartments that was met with negativity from residents. Mayor Sullivan’s input was that the three new complexes on the street should start a shuttle service to downtown to cut down on traffic issues.
Further up Bridge Street the planning board unanimously approved the construction of an apartment building at 23-27 S. Bridge, across from the police station. This will replace four separate buildings currently on the site and put up 58 apartments and 91 parking spaces. There will also be 770sqft of retail/café space on the ground floor. A major plus of this construction is the building will be set back, allowing a wider sidewalk with space for trees. It will also strive to aesthetically complement the Three Oaks Steakhouse, another building approved earlier in March. Replacing Sunrise Luncheonette and a couple of other businesses with a three-story steakhouse with a rooftop terrace bar that overlooks the courthouse and an adjacent two-story restaurant with an open roof terrace.
The police station itself will eventually be sold, with the police headquarters relocating to the recently approved $31m police and fire headquarters at the corner of Gaston Ave. and East Cliff St. Originally proposed to also house 911 services and a parking deck the decision to remove those shaved $8m off the original price. The lot has been vacant since the three buildings that occupied the 1.77-acre site were knocked down in 2019. The town council will relocate its headquarters to the 4000sqft civic center in the transit village.
Robert Wood Johnson is also expanding, with recent approval to add a vertical expansion over the oncology and emergency departments, adding in 45 private rooms, to keep in line with current national trends. With the reallocation of beds throughout the hospital the net gain of beds to the hospital itself will only be four.
Back on Main Street The Edge Part 2 construction has been moving along. The parking deck has been completed and work on the main building has progressed along with the foundation and first floor nearing completion. Legal wrangling with the former dry cleaner across the street delayed the start of this project but with that resolved construction has been moving quickly.
The last count from the 2019 article had the total new apartments coming in at around 1,250. With the new proposals that have been approved recently that ups the number to 1,594. Somerville continues to grow at an almost breakneck pace with new projects being approved regularly but is it growth for growth’s sake? How can we ensure its growth that will improve the character and quality of town instead of having it become a gridlocked mess of people?
One street comes to mind as experiencing a tremendous increase in usage: Warren Street. A small street that connects Main Street and Veterans Memorial Drive East. Previously the only people going down it were heading to some of the government offices in the area. Now? It is a major thoroughfare of people turning off Main Street or taking the cattycorner trek from Grove to the apartments. So much so in fact that the state Department of Transportation (Main Street is also Route 28 so it is in their purview) will be adding in a traffic signal, changing Warren to a one-way street southbound, and moving the crosswalk to the east corner, next to Salted Lime.
That is one street. What is being done for Kirby Avenue? There will be 466 new apartments on that street alone and there is only a single stoplight to get out of that entire side of town at Gaston Avenue, which from personal experience only stays green for about four seconds. The other options are to make lefts onto what is already a very busy Main Street or add light upon light slowing down the town’s main artery even more. Coming out the other end you either end up at the Finderne and Main Street intersection or attempt to sneak out Bridgewater Avenue.
Not the infrastructure to support potentially a thousand people coming and going on any given day.
Taking a step back to look at taxation impact, these new buildings fall under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program broken down as such:
The Edge $450,000 (108 apartments, but also shoprite/retail)
Parcview apartments, $197,000 (180 units)
Cobalt Apartments, $158,000 (117 units)
SOMA apartments, $65,000 (69 units)
Davenport apartments, $62,000 (60 units)
6 North Doughty apartments, $31,000 (18 units)
With the remaining buildings TBD.
So a little over a million dollars a year for 444 apartments that are, based off just the lowest rental cost for each buildings, bringing in $800,000 a month (though far more likely well over a million). Broken down the developers are chipping in around $90/mo per unit they own to the town – or around 4.5% of the money they bring in monthly from a single unit.
Certainly, a better deal than the $1000 I personally pay per month towards property tax. Our taxes will be going up an additional $31.41 from the municipal increase this year (which does not account for school/county increases) or as Mayor Sullivan gleefully breaks down, “about nine, ten cents per day.” I ran into Mayor Sullivan shortly before the pandemic and asked how the PiLOT program benefits residents since it does not go towards schools. He informed me “that’s the best part, the money isn’t going towards schools, the town can spend it how it wants.” I really did not know what to make of that information and three years later I still do not.
Now this is just the active development in town. There have been several ongoing stories stemming from the destruction caused by Hurricane Ida, but that is a can of worms for another article entirely, with tense discussions between tenants, developers, and the planning board. This encompasses the Brookside Apartments off Mountain Avenue that had their first floors washed out and the other location on East Cliff St, which has been abandoned entirely after the devastating flood. There still is not a clear resolution for what is going to be done at the site.
Time will tell.
Read Part 1 of the Somerville Construction Boom from 2020