- May 25, 2006
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LinkThe Globe said:Pact could end row over project near Assembly Square
Promise of funds for MBTA station is the key to deal
By Chris Reidy, Globe Staff | October 17, 2006
A tentative agreement disclosed yesterday between developers and a community group could end nearly a decade of dispute and allow construction of an Ikea furniture store and an ambitious mixed-use project consisting of office space, a hotel, and more than 2,100 rental apartments and residential condominiums near Somerville's Assembly Square.
"It's just exciting and incredible to see we're moving forward," Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said. ``The sky's the limit."
A key to the accord was a promise by Ikea and Federal Realty Investment Trust , the mixed-use project's developer, to invest $15 million to help build an MBTA station nearby -- an Orange Line stop between the Sullivan Square and Wellington stations that would help address opponents' traffic concerns.
Over the years, members of a group of Somerville residents called the Mystic View Task Force sued the city and Ikea to block zoning changes and development proposals. Several suits are outstanding.
But because of the agreement, task force member Wig Zamore said, ``All the lawsuits are going away."
Mystic View objected to big-box stores such as Ikea on the grounds they would aggravate traffic without adding high-paying jobs and additional tax revenue to the city. Mystic View argued that proposals for transit-oriented development that included office buildings, residences, and open space were preferable.
In 2005, Federal Realty disclosed plans to purchase nearly a third of the roughly 145-acre Assembly Square site. Earlier this year, Mystic View began negotiating with Ikea and Federal Realty, whose vision for a mixed-use urban village has similarities to what Mystic View had been advocating.
``We deeply appreciate Federal's hard work with us to see that potential," Mystic View spokesman Bill Shelton said yesterday, who noted that Federal Realty's proposal now envisions far more office space than originally planned.
``We began this process with serious conflicts, but we kept working together until we found creative solutions," said Don Briggs , senior vice president at Federal Realty.
One important component for an urban village would be the proposed T stop. The federal government has earmarked $25 million toward a T station expected to cost $40 million, said US Representative Michael Capuano , a Somerville Democrat. Federal Realty's and Ikea's plan to contribute $15 million should expedite that.
Still, Capuano said, that station is ``several years away" from being a reality.
Once the agreement with Mystic View is finalized, Briggs said Federal Realty could break ground in 2009; depending on market conditions, the project would likely be built in phases over eight to 10 years.
The agreement follows a previously disclosed plan for a land swap between Federal Realty and Ikea. A call to Ikea was not returned. Briggs said Ikea could likely break ground in 2008.
An urban village next to a T stop would qualify as ``smart growth," the notion of developing high-density mixed-use projects near public transportation.
Assembly Square ``could be the most impressive smart growth project in New England," said Douglas Foy , a former Massachusetts secretary of commonwealth development who helped mediate the agreement.
Chris Reidy can be reached at email@example.com.