Assembly Square DIF to receive board vote

by Tom Nash on December 2, 2010

The Board of Aldermen will vote tonight on whether to start the process of requesting $25 million in bonds to pay for public infrastructure that will make way for development at Assembly Square, even as some insist the city is moving too quickly.

Following a 9-1 vote from the Finance Committee on Tuesday, the full board will vote at a special meeting tonight on the proposed Assembly Square DIF plan, an emergency measure that would fill the gap left by lost state and federal funding for an Orange Line T-stop and other infrastructure by reinvesting tax revenue from three blocks of the development.

Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz voted against sending the plan to the board, saying she was skeptical that the company needed public financing to go through with its proposed development, which is owned by Maryland-based Federal Realty Investment Trust.

“[Federal Realty] is worth $3.2 billion. Our annual budget is a fraction of that,” Gewirtz said. “My concern here is we have a developer who has rights to this site … who is coming back asking tax payers and future generations to pay a bill that they wouldn’t pay upfront.”

Mayor Joseph Curtatone defended the plan as a way to ensure the developer does not abandon the project.

“Investing in public infrastructure in a down economy is a smart move,” Curtatone said.

In another exchange with Gewirtz, Briggs said he was “offended” at the implication that Federal Realty was relying on the city to secure funding for the project and that the company was “holding a gun to our heads,” as Alderman-at-Large Bill White had earlier put it.

“Frankly we have stepped up, and to imply that we haven’t is disingenuous,” Briggs said. “I’m not putting a gun to your head.”

Both Curtatone and Alderman-at-Large Bill White stressed the committee wasn’t being asked to vote on a bond.

“All we’re voting on tonight is for the submission of a plan to allow them to go forward,” White said.

In a statement posted on Somerville Voices after the vote, Mystic Valley Task Force member Fred Berman said he sees the bond situation differently.

“An affirmative vote on the DIF is like signing a purchase and sale on a house,” Berman said. “If there are any conditions you want to include — problems you want the old owner to address, assurances you want an inspector to provide — these have to be included as part of the purchase and sale agreement.”

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ron Newman December 3, 2010 at 9:09 AM

What was the final vote? Surprisingly, none of Somerville’s five online news sites has a report this morning.

Joe Lynch December 3, 2010 at 9:54 AM

Ten Alderman voted in favor of allowing the city to proceed with the application for the DIF for Assembly Row. One was absent. It is unclear why Alderman Bob Trane has recused himself from voting on this proposal.

Alderman Bill White laid out the understanding in a two page resolution ensuring the public understood that the vote to proceed in no way obligated the BOA to bond (debt) for this project.

The vote simly allows the Mayor to proceed witht he application.

More to come.

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