The potential project, still in an early stage of planning, has benefited from community feedback
(Somerville Wire) – On Nov. 8, the Land Use Committee held a public hearing to discuss the possibility of having the Winter Hill Star Market site developed by Mark Development, LLC. While community members did express some concerns, the response to the presentation was generally positive. The space would be at 299 Broadway and 15 Temple Street, where a vacant Star Market and currently open Walgreens sit. The project plan is to create mixed use development, with retail and residential units. According to Adam Benjamin, development manager with Mark Development, Bow Market was an inspiration for the design, although he noted differences.
“What we see is not just the immediate benefit of jobs and economic development and new population to the Winter Hill neighborhood, in the development itself, but we feel it could be a catalyst for revival along that entire Broadway corridor,” said Benjamin. “It’s such a large site and so underutilized. We’re hopeful that the redevelopment at the end could be the first spark in a redevelopment all along Broadway. It’s a wide corridor. While there’s retail there, I think there’s certainly opportunity for more. There’s certainly opportunity for more mixed use and multi-family development. … Obviously affordable housing is a component of that.”
The design involves four distinct buildings which have stories set up in a “wedding cake fashion,” the highest structure being six stories tall. On the ground floor, there will be retail and restaurant spaces, and there will be housing on the higher levels. Benjamin said that they would like to prioritize the needs of local artists by creating work/live units, and Mark Development has been reaching out to arts organizations such as Artisans’ Asylum and Mad Oyster Studios. There will be an open space public plaza with a mews, a public park along Sewall Street, and part of the street will be pedestrian only. Community input has been an important part of Mark Development’s process, and they have held two neighborhood meetings, even though they were not required. Ward 4 councilor Jesse Clingan said that he believes the development could bring improvements to the neighborhood.
“The community seems to be generally in support of it. This is a deal that could fall apart tomorrow. … But because of the response that we’ve gotten, I generally support this project. Based on what we see, I do think it would be an overall improvement for the area,” said Clingan. He added, “What the neighborhood plan calls for and what I’ve always envisioned myself is a place where there would be some sort of open space towards the middle, rather than just have an urban wall and have storefronts. … It’ll bring some more residents in. It’ll bring some more commercial area. And it won’t be an empty parking lot and an abandoned building anymore.”
At the Nov. 8 meeting, some attendees voiced concerns. Newly elected councilor Jake Wilson asked whether the space would be accessible to people with disabilities. Resident Hala Jadallah asked whether higher buildings would block nearby residents’ views. Mary Jo Connelly raised the question of whether issues of equity could be addressed through the project.
“I understand that people are concerned about the traffic and the views. But there’s also another concern, and that is bridging some of the divides in our community,” said Connelly. “We have a wide range of socioeconomic statuses. This is an opportunity to create some really good affordable housing and family housing, and an opportunity to create jobs and pathways for many people who haven’t got them. … My decision, if I had a vote—which I don’t—would be based on how many more affordable units are we going to get … and how many more jobs will be created in the construction opportunities and [through] the longer-term jobs?”
Wilson said that the Star Market site, as it stands, is both “an eyesore and a blight.” At the public hearing, he explained that residents he encountered on the campaign trail are hopeful about the potential project but that they will not accept just anything.
“I’m cautiously impressed by what Mark Development has come in here and done,” said Wilson. “It’s a refreshing change. … They really made an effort to engage with the neighborhood and take feedback from [community members] and incorporate that into the design.” He added, “I’m a neighbor. I live blocks away from there. I’ve walked and drove and biked past that pretty much empty site there for over a decade. It badly needs something in there. I’m glad what they’re looking at in terms of what kind of development is put in there has that much thought put into it.”
This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.