What’s New: City Beat

Find out what's new in this month's City Beat: Ayanna Presley bans facial recognition in public housing, the SPOC sues over condo conversion and more.Photo by Ryan Johnson.

Ayanna Pressley announces bill to ban facial recognition in public housing 

In July, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, whose district represents Somerville, announced a bill to ban the use of biometric recognition technology in public housing funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the Somerville Journal. The proposed legislation, known as the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019, is the first of its kind at a federal level, according to the Journal, and is designed to protect residents from “biased surveillance technology.”

“Vulnerable communities are constantly being policed, profiled, and punished, and facial recognition technology will only make it worse,” Pressley told the Journal.

Somerville Property Owners Coalition sues over condo conversion 

An Aug. 15 hearing on a lawsuit against the city of Somerville’s proposed updates to the condo conversion ordinance didn’t bring any resolution to the issue, as a judge heard the arguments had not issued a ruling as of press time at the end of the month. The suit, led by the Somerville Property Owners Coalition (SPOC) in July, contests the revisions to the ordinance, which was originally passed in 1985, including “regulations around vacancy, notice periods for conversion, tenants rights in public hearings and third-party purchase, and increasing relocation payments from landlords.” 

The SPOC believes that the recent revision will hinder rather than help small property owners, according to the Somerville Journal. “Somerville is one of the only communities that have a condo review board, so this is something that is already policed through a board, making it strict,” founding member of  SPOC Steve Bremis told the Journal. “It’s clear they are trying to flat-out stop development and put small developers out of business.” The group has raised over $16,000 to fund its lawsuit. 

New bill aims to regulate body-cam use 

City representative Denise Provost’s proposal of a new statewide bill regulating police body cam usage is sparking controversy. The bill is aimed at enforcing a “uniform code” of body-worn camera use across the state, with one section prohibiting members of the public from viewing footage and exempting footage from the state’s public records, according to the Somerville Journal. Critics argue that a “one size fits all” approach fails to account for the differences in each city. 

City awarded grants from Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Community Mitigation Fund

Somerville and Everett received two shared grants from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Community Mitigation Fund at the end of July to help offset costs associated with expanding transportation and infrastructure surrounding casinos (namely the new Encore Casino), according to Somerville Patch. The two cities received $425,000 to plan an MBTA Silver Line bus route with a stop at Encore Boston Harbor, and $400,000 to connect Draw 7 Park in Somerville to the Assembly Square Orange Line station head house. 

New lab building coming to Boynton Yards

Boynton Yards will be getting a huge update in the next few years. Joint developers DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners and Leggat McCall Properties started construction on a nine- story building this summer at 101 South St., according to Somerville Patch. The building will be “the largest state-of-the-art lab development in the city’s life science market,” the developers told Somerville Patch, and will also house first-floor retail space and four levels of underground parking. The building is expected to be ready for use in the summer of 2021. 

Union Square Neighborhood Council agrees on US2 community benefits 

The Union Square Neighborhood Council (USNC) is taking negotiations with developer US2 slowly but steadily—the community group announced in early July that they reached an agreement with US2 on the “long awaited” community benefits after nearly a year of meetings, according to the Somerville Journal. The terms and amenities stipulated by the community benefits agreement (CBA) have not yet been announced, but next steps include voting to ratify the CBA later this fall. 

Student housing developer buys building in Davis Square 

British student housing developer Scape is stepping into Davis Square, according to the Boston Globe. The firm purchased property on Elm Street for nearly $10 million, and might have plans to convert the string of storefront buildings into privately operated dorms for undergraduate and graduate students in the area. Scape also has larger plans—as its first undertaking in the United States, the firm intends to invest at least $1 billion in creating student housing around the Boston area, including constructing a proposed 15-story building on Boylston Street. 

Scape’s recent purchase on Elm Street includes the storefront of the Burren, but fear not—the Irish pub isn’t going anywhere, according to Boston Magazine. “I’m glad to say the Burren is not affected,” Burren owner Tommy McCarthy told the magazine. “Long live the Burren.” Sligo Pub, housed on the same block, might not be as lucky, and announced that it would be “directly affected” by the impending changes, according to Eater Boston. 

This story appears in the Sept/Oct/Nov print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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