On Thursday, February 15, the City Council's Land Use Committee and the Planning Board will hold a joint public hearing on a petition by Rafi Properties to amend the zoning code of ordinances to upzone 7.4 acres in Ward 2 to build an additional 1.6 square feet of climate tech space. Since it became public several months back, the proposal has generated an enormous amount of attention, including two high-profile neighborhood meetings on the Somernova campus and a third, smaller off-site session.

Somernova zoning petition

A number of themes emerged at these meetings. Abutters expressed dismay at some dramatic increases in building heights proposed for the site, talking about how their homes and yards would be in the shadows of high-rise buildings up to 16 stories tall that would be built under this plan. Community members pointed out the impossibility of getting the vehicles through our city to and from the approximately 1,200 parking spots mentioned in the proposal and the fact introducing that much private vehicle traffic into Somerville runs counter to our mobility goals as a city. And artists and makers decried the potential loss of a large Fabrication district, which the site currently is zoned.

I've had a significant number of constituents reach out to me with their thoughts on the proposal in general, and this current petition before the Land Use Committee. I've met with groups of neighbors and members of our arts community, and my message to them has been that I have two main issues with the petition Rafi Properties submitted:

  1. The amount of parking. Roughly 1,200 parking spots feels way too much for a neighborhood not served by any highways. These private vehicles would be traveling on Somerville city streets to reach the Somernova site, and given current traffic congestion, I just don't see how this is workable.
  2. The loss of FAB space. I have a lot of thoughts on our zoning's current FAB regulations and the Arts & Creative Enterprise (ACE) uses allowed -- co-working, for example falls under ACE. I have a tough time swallowing the loss of FAB space in the city and it being replaced by climate tech companies.

At the neighborhood meetings, Rafi Properties representatives expressed a desire to meet with City staff to discuss issues like the parking -- which is required due to parking minimums in effect in our current regulations. So I'm expecting that these conversations will lead to the original petition being modified. I'm personally hoping to see dramatic changes to the amount of parking and a commitment to creating true spaces for the arts in Somerville.

In addition to Somernova's application to create a Climate & Equity Innovation Sub-Area Overlay District, there is a proposal from the Mayor to revisit FAB and tweak the zoning after seeing it in action for over four years. The changes were explained and discussed by the public at a neighborhood meeting hosted by Ward 2 Councilor J.T. Scott on January 16. I attended the meeting virtually, and I'll continue examining the propsal. While I support going back and revisiting Fab and ACE in our zoning to tighten up definitions, I have concerns about how these things are being at the moment, given that there is a petition to upzone a large property in the city.

I'll be paying very close attention what I hear from constituents at the public hearing at the Feb. 15 Land Use meeting. This and my meetings with constituents will help inform my opinion and my vote on the petition before us in the committee.

Jake Wilson


Somerville City Councilor-At-Large (he/him/él)