Union Square Somerville Infill and Small Developments

Morifen

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I haven't seen any recent debate on Somerville's Union Square redevelopment, so I figured I'd put together some information for discussion.

First, with the upcoming Green Line Extension, Union Square is the only area gaining two stations: Union Square/Inman Square and Washington St/Brickbottom

Coupled with the impending teardown of the McCarthy Overpass and the probable community path extension, big changes are afoot.

As part of SomerVision, the city has seized some properties and plan on seizing more. Some people unhappy about it while others, like Sebastian Marsical, are jumping at the opportunity.

Even street layouts are subject to change, with consultants drawing up new street layouts to optimize the future traffic flows.

So does anyone here have any additional insight? Maybe you're part of the Union Square Gateway redesign group, or maybe you're on the Community Advisory Committee. Any other interesting developments happening in the area that I haven't covered?

PS it gets confusing referring to Somerville's Union Square, since Allston has a Union Square of its own.
 
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Matthew

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Mariscal has nothing to do with the "Green district." That's marketing from the Mt Vernon company.

Mariscal tried to design a 40+ unit "green" building with ground floor retail, but wasn't able to successfully negotiate with abutters, and it's not clear he ever had an option to the land anyhow. Having met him on a number of occasions, I think he's a reasonable fellow. If in fact he has title to the land now, he will work with the community.

What I don't like about Curtatone's plan is to use powers of eminent domain to take land and give it to a private developer. There's no reason for that. I believe he ought to be seeking a greater diversity of land ownership in the area, not less.
 

Ron Newman

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I'm concerned that turning this over to a single developer could lead to a problem like Quincy is seeing right now.
 

fattony

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I'm concerned that turning this over to a single developer could lead to a problem like Quincy is seeing right now.
End of the article points out that not all lots are created equal. It will be difficult to get what they want out of the challenging and/or contaminated lots without coupling them to the easy breezey lots.

Would everything complete eventually on its own? Of course. Union is slam-dunk, home-run for mixed-use development. But I can see how the mayor doesn't want the last parcels developed to be the most complicated ones that are coincidentally closest to the T. The gateway to the neighborhood might remain light industrial for another generation or two...
 

Ron Newman

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I'm curious what the city plans to do about the big NStar electrical substation right across the street from the future T station. It's a prime piece of property, with a current use that is not desirable but also very hard to move elsewhere.
 

George_Apley

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^ the city can try to get NSTAR to move it, but other than that, there's not much they can do.

Probably the best way to pressure it's movement is to start pushing the GLX to Porter discussion. I believe that the substation will need to be moved for that to happen.
 

Ron Newman

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I don't think any part of the substation is on the railroad right-of-way.
 

whighlander

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^ the city can try to get NSTAR to move it, but other than that, there's not much they can do.

Probably the best way to pressure it's movement is to start pushing the GLX to Porter discussion. I believe that the substation will need to be moved for that to happen.
Busses -- those big downtown substations are very, very unlikely to move

Besides what you see on the surface -- like the proverbial iceberg -- they have deep basements with lots of connecting tunnels in the street carrying lots of heavy-duty oil or gas insulated power circuits

To pay for moving a substation you are talking major tower with several hundred thousand sq. ft. and that's before the developer makes anything on the building -- its comparable to bridging the Turnpike
 

George_Apley

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I've heard F-Line mention this one before. Sounded like a process, but doable.

Ron - Maybe it wouldn't need to be moved for a GLX past Union. I could be remembering incorrectly.
 

Arlington

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I'm curious what the city plans to do about the big NStar electrical substation right across the street from the future T station. It's a prime piece of property, with a current use that is not desirable but also very hard to move elsewhere.
It is possible to build over them. Maybe the City would give NStar a variance and the right to sell the building rights to construct something in the air rights.

A favorite novelty building of mine in DC 1620 L Street NW was built in this way in 1989, partly constructed on bridgework above/around an electrical substation dating to 1923 (at 1616 L Street) that they couldn't touch. The dark mirrored street facade was built right in front of the substation's walls. Not good for the streetscape, but way better for taxes and vitality than leaving a substation. In Google Streetview, you see a guy sitting on the facade, probably unaware of the scary thing right behind him.

Given that the Union Square substation is below the street level (of the Prospect St and Webster Ave viaducts, anyway) I'd suspect they could try the same thing here, with decent street presence on Prospect St and Webster Ave, and, say, 4 more stories above that.
 

davem

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Yeah, building over it is the easiest thing to do. http://goo.gl/maps/SqLOahttp://goo.gl/maps/SqLOa, its a good 20'-30' away from the road on all sides, so they could even get some street-level retail in there before bridging over the substation. All that space surrounding it would make the engineering a piece of cake too, that substation isn't much bigger than your average gymnasium. With the tracks right there the substation can vent out the side as well, precluding the issues usually found with this type of thing. They could probably leave the facility exactly as it is, driveway and all, and just build around and over it.

If GLX to Porter ever happens, they may have to move the supports for that fence, but that looks about it.
 

kjdonovan

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Parsons Brinckerhoff mentioned the substation in the Union Square street realignment kickoff meeting earlier this month. If anything can be done in the short term, it would be within the scope of their work to at least make recommendations or plan roadway renovations that take future improvements into consideration. In short, the city is well aware that the substation is not ideally placed for building out the area.
 

Matthew

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"B" line Harvard Ave has a substation adjacent, in an unfortunate spot. Just have had to deal with it, dunno what else could be done.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Horizontal clearance abutment-to-abutment under the Webster St. bridge is 82 ft. Constrained to 67 ft. on the side where that pipeline was bolted on because there's support girders for the whole truss structure holding the pipe (safe assumption that can all get moved or less obtrusively supported). Prospect St. bridge is only 36 ft. abutment-to-abutment, enough for just the 2 Fitchburg tracks. That's why the GLX tracks will literally stop at the Prospect retaining wall.

So to continue the line they'd punch through and underpin the Prospect retaining wall, rebuild that add-on pipeline truss on the Webster bridge to clear out those two metal poles, rebuild part of the retaining wall between the two bridges that looks like it's temp-patched with a lot of stacked loose blocks, and shift the Fitchburg tracks over so there's 6 ft. of wall clearance like under Prospect instead of the 18 ft. presently under Webster.

Otherwise they should be fine. Two double-track trackbeds @ 35 ft. each + 12 ft. of extra buffer space between them to fit security fencing and trolley overhead supports. The only places the substation gets close to the ROW are those metal buttresses that hold up the tall metal screen on the track-facing side. That's kind of a hacky design to begin with, so they'd be better off just building a partial concrete wall like the other sides of the substation. That puts all the existing substation safely out of the way of the ROW.



The height of it is the only impediment to neighborhood development. The parcel it sits on is two-thirds empty. If they wanted to build on air rights they can just have NStar modernize the thing by halving its height and spreading it around. Deck over, ventilate, build on top. That'd be a lot easier than trying to move it and its feeder cables in their entirety.
 

Arlington

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It is possible to build over [substations]. Maybe the City would give NStar a variance and the right to sell the building rights to construct something in the air rights....
The new plan clearly shows that the City intends to build something on top of the electrical substation's parcel (I'm assuming the substation will remain in the basement)

Plan is here http://www.somervillebydesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/FINAL-PRESENTATION-CIRCULATION.pdf

With pages 8, 9, 10 being the clearest in showing that a building will go on top.
 

kjdonovan

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The new plan clearly shows that the City intends to build something on top of the electrical substation's parcel (I'm assuming the substation will remain in the basement)
I believe this was an MIT class project, similar to the one done for Winter Hill: http://www.somervillema.gov/sites/default/files/Final Neighborhood Plan 12-31-2012.pdf

It is not an official city plan, but a "think big" vision that the city will work with to form actual plans. In the Winter Hill version, the city planner concluded the last presentation with essentially, "There's a lot to like, and some things I'd do differently."

Anyone living in this area can assert that it is truly Panglossian to imagine that many new ped/auto crossings built between Prospect and Medford St. But without dreams what do we have?
 

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