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Possible compromise pauses suit over Somerville development

Posted by Brock Parker  February 4, 2014 10:41 AM

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A rendering of a development proposed along Washington Street in Union Square by the Somerville Community Corporation and Cathartes Private Investments. Rendering from design plans submitted to the city of Somerville by architectural firm DiMella Shaffer.

A court battle over two residential buildings approved for Somerville’s Union Square has been put on hold while the developers try to strike an accord with neighbors.

Facing an appeal of their approved project in the state Land Court, the Somerville Community Corporation and development partner Cathartes Private Investments are seeking approval of a scaled-back plan to redevelopment of the old Boys and Girls Club of Somerville and the Cota Funeral Home properties at 181-197 Washington St.

In July, Somerville’s Planning Board approved a proposal that would build two new buildings including a total of 74 residential units along with ground-floor retail space at the properties.

But neighbors Soren Harrison and Zachary Zasloff filed a suit appealing the decision in the state Land Court saying the height of the development, along with traffic and noise it would create, would have a negative impact on the surrounding properties. They also claim the design was approved before the public had a chance to view or comment on it.

In an effort to keep the project from being delayed further by litigation, however, Jim Goldenberg, a co-founder of Cathartes Private Investments, said the developers approached the neighbors with the idea of proposing a scaled back design. In January, the both sides agreed to stay the litigation until late April to see if the new plan will be approved by the city.

But Goldenberg said that if the new proposal isn’t approved, the court battle over the larger design will resume.

“Then we’ll both pick up where we left off,” he said.

The new proposal decreases the number of residential units from 74 to 65 and eliminates a parking structure proposed for the funeral home site. It would also decrease the height of portions of the development that were approved for five stories down to four stories.

Danny LeBlanc, the chief operation officer for the Sommerville Community Corporation, said he believes discussion with the neighbors who filed the appeal have been productive, and if the developers didn’t believe the new plans would garner neighborhood support they wouldn’t have filed them.

“These are changes we can live with,” said LeBlanc.

Helen Millen, an attorney representing Harrison and Zasloff, declined to comment.

LeBlanc said if the new proposal is approved, he would hope to break ground on the Somerville Community Corporation portion of the project by the end of 2014. The Somerville Community Corporation will demolish the old boys and girls club and build 35 units of affordable housing, including one, two and three bedroom apartments.

Under the new proposal, Cathartes would build retail space and 30 residential units, including one and two bedroom condominiums and four affordable units.

George Proakis, Somerville’s director of planning, said the city’s planning board would likely hold a public hearing about the new proposal later this month.

“We’re hoping that we have something here that the community and the applicants can both embrace and move forward at this point,” Proakis said.

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