Location: Union Square, straddling Ward 2 and Ward 3, consists of the conjunction of Somerville Avenue, Washington Street, Prospect Street, and Webster Avenue in the southeast corner of the city. The adjacent Boynton Yards is south of Union Square on the south side of the Fitchburg line right-of-way along the southern border of Somerville.
Access: Union Square is directly accessible from State Route 28. It is less than two miles from downtown Boston and will be the site of a future Green Line MBTA station. It is also within half of a mile of stops on the following bus routes: 69, 80, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, CT2.
Attractions: In past decades, Union Square served as the primary commercial center of Somerville. While this period is retained in some of the square's taller historic buildings, today the area is now known for its niche retail and varied selection of ethnic restaurants and markets. The square is also home to a number of key public buildings including the City's Public Safety building and the US Post Office.
History: Union Square is the city's oldest and largest commercial district. The area was originally referred to as Milk Row because of the small family farms that supplied milk and produce to Boston. The nineteenth century saw the establishment of brickyards, slaughterhouses, and the Union Glass Company. In 1835, a passenger railroad station opened near Union Square. By 1845, horsecar services provided transport between Union Square and Harvard Square. Union Square became a hub of activity with streetcars making over 80 stops each day by 1900. Boynton Yards, which was formerly a meat packing and rail yard district, is now a under developed industrial area.
Ongoing Development in Union Square and Boynton Yards
Project Description: The redevelopment of Union Square is regarded with the highest priority by Mayor Curtatone's administration. The City recently completed an over four-year process of developing new zoning to provide incentives for economic development, diverse housing, and the Arts community. The City owns several key sites including the former Kiley Barrel property at the intersection of Prospect and Somerville Avenue. The City is committed to using the development potential of these municipally owned properties to affect development in a positive way and ensure a successful future for this vital and historic district of Somerville. Specifically, the planned development in Union Square aims to accomplish the following:
Develop a local economy that emphasizes the tax base, service, residential, shopping, and employment needs of the community;
Strengthen and market Unions Square's image;
Pursue urban design projects that create a unified square, are compatible on a pedestrian scale, define the area as a commercial center, and are aesthetically pleasing;
Strengthen the role of public places and facilities;
Maintain an efficient and thorough system of transportation infrastructure that balances public transit, private and commercial vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians that is consistent with Union Square's image as a commercial center; and
Develop a comprehensive parking management plan.
Rezoning Proposal 2008: Union Square and Boynton Yards are strategically located districts, proximate to future rapid transit stations. The city desires to replace incompatible and environmentally unsound uses with appropriate density, compatible mixed-use development. The rezoning proposal was introduced in a community meeting on June 24, 2008 and was followed up with meetings on specific issues over the course of the summer (the various districts, business, pedestrian, open space, transit, etc). There was another community meeting on October 14, 2008 to discuss feedback and changes to the proposal. The public hearing of the Board of Aldermen Land Use Committee and Planning Board was held on December 4, 2008. The Planning Board met again on January 15, 2009 and unanimously recommended the proposal to the Land Use Committee. The Land Use Committee held meetings in February, March and April of 2009. The Board of Aldermen adopted and ordained the amendment on April 23, 2009. To view the amendment, click on the rezoning proposal link under "Studies and Regulations".
Union Square Transportation Plan: The City held its second community meeting Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at the Argenziano School in Lincoln Park, 290 Washington Street. At this meeting OSPCD Staff and our transportation consultant, Howard/Stein-Hudson (HSH), presented two redefined design alternatives based on input for the first community meeting. The first option leaves the plaza in place with a minor expansion and reduces Somerville Avenue to two lanes through the heart of the square. The second option would dramatically rework the square by reopening Washington Street and building a new, significantly larger plaza on the south side of Washington and allowing for one way east bound traffic on Somerville Avenue through woonerf (a European style street through the plaza that can be closed on weekends, evenings and special events.
Elements found in both options include the reopening of Prospect Street and Webster Avenue to two way traffic, the reconstruction of the Prospect and Webster viaducts over the Fitchburg line, extension of the Somerville Avenue Storm Drain and Sanitary Sewer lines from Webster Avenue to McGrath Highway (to meet the MWRA interceptor), and the reconstruction of Bow Street with one lane of traffic and three improved intersections at Somerville /Warren Avenue, Summer Street, and Somerville/Carlton Street, and of course, extensive streetscape improvements along all the roads within the project boundary.
The study has also identified two locations for public off street parking structures, both of which will be needed to facilitate the expected build out of the Square. The first would be located on the lot fronting Somerville Ave/Bow Street between Stone Avenue and Warren Avenue that is currently the site of Citizens Bank, the Reliable Market and Union Smoke Shop. The study has shown that the garage would hold approximately 400 vehicles and that the facilities could be constructed to replace the existing retail space and allowing these or new tenants to move back in. The second location would be on the block fronting Somerville Avenue, Prospect Street, and Washington Street that is currently the site of the Public Safety Building. This structure would hold 500 vehicles. It is anticipated that the construction of this garage would be part of a large public/private redevelopment mixed use project.
Union Square Main Streets: Union Square Main Streets is a volunteer-driven community organization group that aims to enhance the business district in Union Square and surrounding neighborhoods through community collaboration. Union Square Main Streets has been active in the redevelopment of Union Square and Boynton Yards. The Design Annex is a project of Union Square Main Streets; it provides resources for small forms and solo practitioners in design fields in Somerville and surrounding communities to grow their businesses.
Green Line Extension: In January 2009, the State Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) announced that the preferred alignment of the Union Square spur of the Green Line Extension will follow the Fitchburg Commuter Rail right-of-way. This means that the future Union Square station will be located in the right-of-way at the Prospect Street bridge.