Somerville Zoning Board Meeting Focuses on Bank of America Site Upgrades and Appointment of Planner and Engineer

At the recent Somerville Zoning Board meeting, the board discussed a variety of matters including the swearing-in of new member Eric Alvarez and the election of Arthur Adair as chairman. Additional noteworthy topics included the proposed site upgrades for the Bank of America building and the appointment of Michael Cole as planner and engineer. The upgrades include new signage, HVAC equipment, and other site improvements, with discussions on the requested variances and design waivers. The appointment of Mr. Cole raised concerns about transparency and the impact on ongoing applications.

The Bank of America application, presented by attorney Tom Lazia, outlined a comprehensive plan for updating the branch building located within the municipality. Central to the application were the site improvements, particularly the modernization of the HVAC system, which involved moving units from the roof to the ground and screening them with fencing to preserve the building’s aesthetic. The plan also included general maintenance such as curb and sidewalk repairs, and upgrades to ADA parking spaces to meet federal standards. To enhance the site’s landscaping, the proposal included replacing existing plantings and adding new ones, as well as installing shade and street trees.

A contentious aspect of the proposed improvements was the signage package, specifically the monument sign and wall signage. The applicant sought approval for four new signs that would necessitate variances due to their dimensions exceeding what is permitted by current ordinances. The proposed wall signs, with a white backing for increased visibility, would exceed the allowable height, leading to an extensive discussion on the need for a variance. The applicant agreed to add a no-left-turn sign at the request of a member of the audience and affirmed that runoff management would be adequate when questioned about it.

Licensed professional planner Thomas REI provided expert testimony on the variance relief for the signage, stating the proposed changes did not intend to intensify the nonconforming use of the site and were consistent with the purposes of the municipal land law. He underscored the suitability of the wall signs given the building’s size and the safety benefits of improved visibility. The board and audience members engaged in a Q&A session, during which the applicant agreed to adhere to recommendations and comments in the report. A sound study related to the compressors and the unique criteria for signage due to nonconforming use were also topics of discussion. The board ultimately approved the application, with the stipulation that a hard copy of the report be submitted.

The board’s appointment of Michael Cole Co and Associates as the planner and engineer for the town was another point of discussion. Some members of the board were uncomfortable proceeding with the appointment without a thorough discussion of the applications and letters received for the position. Concerns about transparency and the need for open debate were raised. The board decided to appoint Mr. Cole, with the provision to revisit the appointment in 90 days and to schedule a joint meeting with the planning board and the mayor to discuss the town’s direction.

Further debate arose over the implications of placing a timeline on Mr. Cole’s contract. Concerns were voiced that a 90-day review could affect ongoing applications and might lead to increased costs for the applicants. The practicality of freezing the planner position was debated, as was the idea of allowing Mr. Cole to remain on board to complete ongoing applications. The board’s attorney emphasized the need to honor responses to the request for qualifications (RFQs) and to make a timely decision based on those responses.

Other administrative matters included the approval of the minutes from the December sixth meeting and the swearing-in of board members. Mayor Brian Gallagher expressed his appreciation for the board’s hard work and dedication. Several resolutions were approved, with the application for the Granits building being postponed to April 17th.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Brian Gallagher
Zoning Board Officials:
Arthur Adair, Ed Allatt, John Flores, Roberta Karpinecz, Morgan McLachlan, Richard O’Neill, Brian Vadimsky, Eric Alvarez, Stewart Daniels, Jenna LaRusso (Planning and Zoning Board Secretary), Clifford Gibbons (Board Attorney), Michael Cole (Board Planner and Engineer)

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