Somerville’s beloved Davis Square is in for quite the facelift.
On Sept. 26, the Planning Board heard from dozens of residents on the proposed Davis Square Neighborhood Plan.
This plan has been a long time coming, and has roots in community process starting in 2013. The 111-page plan document includes proposals for streetscape redesign, building height and density, and public space usage, as well as solutions for traffic, parking, and commercial loading challenges.
“I am strongly in favor of this plan,” said Walker Street resident Ara Shore. “This is a plan to grow and change — we have an affordable housing crisis in this region and we have a climate crisis in this world — and I think with the resources Davis Square has, with the Red Line and transit, this is a responsible way for us to maximize what the square can do to alleviate those crises.”
Building height and density was a contentious issue at the public hearing. Many residents were vehemently opposed to increasing building height zoning from 4-stories to 5 or 6-stories, while some said they would welcome the increased density. (Technically, though related to the planning process, zoning is the City Council’s jurisdiction and is currently being reviewed for a substantial update.)
“Get rid of that six-story planning — we don’t need it,” said Davis Square resident of 40 years Carole Demkowski, who also serves on the Davis Square Task Force. “Who wants to live in a house next to a building that is 80 feet high? Blocking all the light and air — we don’t need it, we don’t want it, it doesn’t belong there. I don’t know why you’re putting it in there — all I can think of is developer greed.”
According to the plan, there is only one lot — the Middlesex Federal lot — that would require 6-story zoning to make it financially feasible. Though 5-stories with a sixth story set back is preferred for many of the other lots, the plan does not note that it is required. City Councilor Mark Niedergang said at the hearing that this kind of site or block specific zoning could be worked out in the City Council.
“I am favor of maximizing density in the square,” Shore said. “I want more people to work in the square, I want more people to live in the square, I want more businesses to open in the square and I think the only way to do that is to build more in the square.”
Another significant part of the plan is streetscape design. There are several proposals, such as closing Dover Street for pedestrian use and making Davis a four-way intersection. The city is also looking into pedestrianizing Elm Street in some way.
Residents were particularly interested in making the intersection — however it is redesigned — safer for cyclists.
“I bike to work every day from Magoun Square into Boston — rain or shine year round — so, I’m an experience cyclist, I’m not afraid of biking in the city,” said Matthew Applegate. “One of the only places I don’t like to bike is in Davis Square because it is terrifying, frankly. There is virtually no infrastructure, there is rampant lawlessness, there are a lot of entrances into the intersection and I can never keep track of what the light cycles are, and it’s a terrifying place to bike.”
Ariel White emphasized the reason that they were all there: because they love Davis Square.
“So, let’s make sure people can enjoy it,” she said. “It means making room on the sidewalks for people on foot, prioritizing buses and bikes on the street — right now it’s scary to get around without a car in the square. I like this plan — but I am hoping that we have a future Davis Square with less room for cars and more room for people, for us.”