In Somerville, Massachusetts, a $1 billion redevelopment scheme in the city’s Union Square neighborhood is edging closer to happening after Somerville’s Board of Alderman waved through a rezoning plan. The 9–1 vote in favor of the plan last week was the result of three years of planning done by a special development team with the community.
The 2.3 million-square-foot Union Square project, if fully approved, will bring 1.3 million square feet of new offices and civic facilities to the area as well as just over 100,000 square feet of public space. Twenty percent of the housing units built will be for families earning a low income, meanwhile, authorities estimate the scheme will see 5,000 permanent new jobs come to the area.
Plans for a Green Line extension for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are also in the works. The $2.3 billion project would link Union Square with the adjoining neighborhoods as well as the city of Boston, making Union Square the downtown of Somerville.
“Union Square’s proximity to Kendall Square, MIT, and Harvard—one the densest innovation centers in the world—makes it poised for the next wave of economic growth,” said Greg Karczewski, president of Union Square Station Associates (US2), a development team built specifically for the Union Square Redevelopment Project. “We’re bringing 2.3 million square feet of new mixed-use, transit-oriented development to one of the hottest real estate markets.”
For the Green Line extension to happen, US2 is providing $5.5 million in the form of a public benefits contribution and around 950 residences, all of which will supposedly result in new property tax growth. Now that the rezoning has been approved, US2 will present a development plan for Union Square to the community in the next few months.
Jennifer Park, a resident of Union Square who has long been tracking the project, welcomes the development but is skeptical of what the final result will be. “They’re really changing the look of Union Square. At community meetings there were lots of drawings of high buildings, but also lots of green space,” she told The Architect’s Newspaper. “As a resident and condo owner, I am happy that my property’s value is going up.”
Park, though, also stressed that the feel of Union Square—with its diverse culture of ethnic restaurants and wide range of activities—should be preserved. “We do not want this to be like Kendall Square where the commercial development is dead at night. I am glad there is development here, but just so long as the community supports that development,” Park added.
The current schedule has construction starting in 2018 and the new Green Line station open and operational by 2021. The plan in full can be read here.