Participants use color-coded Lego pieces to suggest housing, stores, business and nonprofit offices, labs, medical/healthcare facilities, common areas, or green spaces for 90 Washington
(Somerville Wire) – The City of Somerville went beyond Zoom listening and traditional public meetings last Thursday at a Lego design workshop organized to help understand what Somervillians want from a four-acre plot around the site of the planned new Public Safety Building next to the Green Line Extension East Somerville stop.
90 Washington in Somerville is currently an empty space inhabited by parking lots and trees. The Somerville Redevelopment Authority took the land through eminent domain in 2019 from the owners of Cobble Hill apartments, a low-income, majority-senior housing development at 84 Washington. The plot was cleared the following year for this redevelopment project.
Ted Fields, senior planner on the project, said the City has big plans for the space, which is separated into three parcels of land and includes redirecting New Washington Street to create a new intersection with Franklin Street.
“We’ve gotten a good amount of feedback so people want to see the buildings fairly tall. Not single story, more like four plus stories because we’re close to the new T station here, the Green Line station,” he said. “This is a real opportunity to get some usable density close to a transit stop.”
In 2018, the City determined that 90 Washington is the ideal place for a new Public Safety Building, said Melissa Woods, director of capital projects with the city and the project manager for the PSB.
“The mayor was very clear that we took this property using the Demonstration Project Plan for the purposes of a Public Safety Building and other community benefits,” Woods said. “Our Public Safety Building in its present condition at 220 Washington Street needs to be replaced.”
Fields said the four-story PSB would house Somerville Fire Department Engine 3 and the Somerville Police Department on the first floor and SPD, SFD, and dispatch headquarters would take up the upper levels.
Participants were asked to use color-coded Lego pieces to show housing, stores, business and nonprofit offices, labs, medical/healthcare facilities, and common areas—as well as green spaces. Prebuilt Lego structures represented a Public Safety Building, a commercial building and a mixed-use building. Attendees were also encouraged to include the PSB in their Lego dioramas, but it was not required.
The mixed-use or commercial buildings that have ground floor shops and restaurants could house office space or affordable housing in the upper levels.
“We have heard loud and clear that residents want the community services that used to be part of the Cobble Hill Plaza back in the neighborhood,” Woods said. “Things like restaurants and services like dry cleaners or a bank, and a coffee shop and a laundromat or a dry cleaner, things like that on the first floor.”
Anne Ryan, an 81-year-old resident of Cobble Hill, said that preserving the green space is her number one priority. At the Lego event, the map marked three trees found to be the most worth preserving. The residents are the most affected by the potential 24-hour activities at the PSB and the changing of parking lots and streets.
“My concern is that what has gone on here is an example of the structural neglect of poor people and the structural neglect of climate change,” Ryan said. “East Somerville has almost no greenery whatsoever. Walking over, I got protection from buildings, not trees.”
Somerville City Council President and Ward 1 Councilor Matt McLaughlin attended the Lego meeting, and said after looking at the attendees’ creative efforts, he thinks the PSB and residents’ needs can coexist—Somerville City Council President and Ward 1 Councilor Matt McLaughlin attended the Lego meeting, and said after looking at the attendees’ creative efforts, he thinks the PSB and residents’ needs can coexist—although nearby residents are worried about noise from a 24-hour PSB and other residents oppose an SPD presence in the facility entirely.
“There’s a lot of people concerned about it, and I think there’s a lot of people who understand that it’s something that needs to exist, so we have to find a place for it,” he said. “I think you can have a project that leaves most of the trees intact, and creates a buffer between the senior home and everything else.”
The next public meeting will be in mid-September to present a finalized proposed concept with minimal edits. The meeting will be “not just a meeting but also a fun event,” Fields said, and will hopefully take place at 90 Washington.
Woods said this redevelopment project is a great opportunity for the city.
“Somerville has increased in visibility over the last decade or more,” Woods said. “On the Green Line Extension is our new high school, and we hope that the new public safety building is another great municipal project.”
Photo credit: Somerville residents participate in 90 Washington design workshop. Photo by Molly Farrar.
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