Development and Zoning - Alderman Bob McWatters

Development and Zoning

How we manage real estate development will influence, constrain, or enable every other issue that we care about—affordability, neighborhood integrity, diversity, sustainability, jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities, and whether we can pay for the city services that we want.

In addition to housing affordability, our two greatest development challenges are expanding our commercial property tax base and empowering residents to protect their neighborhoods. We meet these challenges through zoning and enforcement. Crafting zoning is one of the Board of Aldermen’s most important responsibilities—so important that passing new zoning requires a supermajority among Aldermen.

Zoning must enable development that benefits everyone, not just real estate developers and special interests. That’s why I take this responsibility seriously. In fact, when city staff developed new comprehensive zoning in 2015, my colleagues and I on the Board of Aldermen asked so many tough questions, that the proposal had to go back to the drawing board.

More recently, the Board of Aldermen tackled new zoning for the heart of Union Square. We spent over nine months examining various policy options, and I listened carefully to the many thoughtful ideas, concerns, and analyses that came directly from Ward 3 constituents.

With your help, the final plan for Union Square will add up to 1,000 new housing units, of which 200 will be subsidized for low and middle income households. The plan will also result in 4,000 new jobs, 3.6 acres of new open space, and a package of other community benefits including job training funding and contributions toward the cost of the Green Line extension and our Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The Union Square zoning also set a precedent for rebuilding Somerville’s commercial tax base. We required that 60% of the uses be commercial property, a critical requirement that will ease the financial burden on residential property taxpayers, diversify our tax base, and create good-paying local jobs. My focus on creating middle-class jobs led me to support a zoning amendment that would have increased office and R&D space while decreasing retail and food establishments. I was only one of three Aldermen to support the amendment.

Zoning also affects our existing residential neighborhoods. Outsized developments assault the character of neighborhoods and are forced upon residents. Inconsistent zoning allows political appointees to make zoning decisions that enrich developers and trample on neighborhoods.

In the next term, the Board of Aldermen will be faced with many challenging issues including another shot at overhauling Somerville’s citywide zoning ordinance and passage of a community benefits ordinance.  I’ve learned much from your concerns and your wisdom over the last four years, and I want you to know that I will continue to make sure you have a real voice in guiding the development that will shape the future of our city.

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