City of Somerville

Agenda Item
Kept in Committee
Jun 18, 2020 6:00 PM

That the City Solicitor draft an ordinance requiring pollution mitigation for new housing built along high transit roads and highways.


Department:City CouncilSponsors:Ward One City Councilor Matthew McLaughlin, Ward Three City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, Ward Two City Councilor Jefferson Thomas ("J.T.") Scott, Ward Four City Councilor Jesse Clingan, Ward Seven City Councilor Katjana Ballantyne, Ward Six City Councilor Lance L. Davis, Ward Five City Councilor Mark Niedergang, City Councilor At Large Mary Jo Rossetti, City Councilor At Large Stephanie Hirsch, City Councilor At Large William A. White Jr.

Official Text

That the City Solicitor draft an ordinance requiring pollution mitigation for new housing built along high transit roads and highways.


Meeting History

Feb 13, 2020 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting

President McLaughlin noted the air pollution problem along I-93 and wants to draft an ordinance to require pollution mitigation for new projects along the corridor.

Apr 30, 2020 6:00 PM Video Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting

Chair Davis gave a brief background of how this request came about and Councilor Niedergang explained that a great deal of time was spent on this item in the Land Use Committee as a result of resident input about 1-2 years ago. He suggested that Ms. Pappenheim review the minutes from those earlier meetings and speak to Mr. Bartman and Mr. Proakis, as well. The committee is looking for guidance from the Law Department on how to address the matter. Councilor Ewen-Campen thinks that it makes more sense to address the matter by ordinance rather than zoning. Chair Davis asked what can legally be done to have adequate mitigation put into these projects while avoiding any state laws that may interfere with the city’s attempts. Ms. Pappenheim will research the information and prepare something for the committee to review. Chair Davis asked that she include any appropriate buildings, e.g., schools and return before the committee at least by its May 21 meeting.

May 21, 2020 6:00 PM Video Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting

Ms. Pappenheim reviewed her response with the committee and explained that M.G.L. c. 111, §31C gives the Board of Health the power to deal with air pollution, not the City Council. MA DEP has also extended regulatory power to local Boards of Health. She recommends that the City Council put in a resolution calling on the Board of Health to take up the matter. Chair Davis stated that his mindset is to write an ordinance to get it done and let someone argue the legality of it later. He recommended drafting a document as a suggestion of what the Board of Health might pass.

Councilor McLaughlin expressed disappointed with the answer that the City Council doesn’t have the authority to codify this and he agrees with Chair Davis’d suggestion that the Council to do the leg work in advance for the Board of Health. Ms. Pappenhein stated that regulating this through zoning would not be optimal, however, the city could pass a regulation, but it must be from the Board of Health. Councilor Clingan asked if something might be done to designate an area as a justice area and if state could be asked to grant powers.

Chair Davis commented that he’s happy to extend an invitation for the Board of Health to appear at the next Legislative Matters Committee meeting to discuss this and he asked Ms. Pappenheim to review the Open Meeting Law for any legalities in this respect. He also asked that the administration contact the Board of Health to ascertain their thoughts on this matter. Chair Davis would like to revisit this item on June 4th if possible.

Jun 4, 2020 6:00 PM Video Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting
draft Draft

Mr. Kress reported on his conversations with the Board of Health (BOH) regarding this item and said that the BOH had a previous presentation on this and started collecting information in late summer and gave the data to the Planning Department. Planning staff and Wig Zamore gave a presentation and the BOH was interested in addressing the issue and asked Planning for advice in December or January. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has sidelined progress on this matter. MEPC and others were brought in for collaboration, but neither the time nor capacity to work on this issues has been available. Mr. Kress asked for the committee's ideas on how to move this forward.

Councilor McLaughlin stated that he understands how overwhelmed everyone is, which is why the committee suggested doing the leg work. He would like to keep working on this, but he will get impatient if something doesn't get done.

Ms. Webber would like to go back to the Planning Department to see if there is one person available to work on this, as the Administration also wants to move forward on this matter. Councilor McLaughlin pointed out that the committee was previously told that the City Council couldn't legislate this through Planning and Ms. Webber replied that she will explore ways to get someone to work on this, perhaps in conjunction with the BOH.

Chair Davis suggested that, in the meantime, the committee should keep working on this item. Mr. Pappenheim offered to assist, from a legal perspective, with drafting the language of an ordinance. Councilor Niedergang offered to provide his noted on this matter to Ms. Pappenheim and added that a researcher/writer is needed to coordinate what experts know and pull it all together for review by the committee. Mr. Kress said he asked MEPC if there were any similar ordinances in the country that might be helpful and Chair Davisasked if those few ordinances (from CA) could be provided to the committee.

This item will be on the agenda for the committee’s next meeting on June 18th.

Jun 18, 2020 6:00 PM Video Legislative Matters Committee Committee Meeting
draft Draft

Chair Davis noted that the Committee has been informed that this action must be taken through the Board of Health, which is open to input. Ms. Webber shared that the administration has determined that it would be helpful to provide staff assistance for the Committee to make recommendations. Mr. Sellers-Garcia agreed and noted that the Office of Sustainability and Environment would benefit from more information on the Committee's interests, and introduced Mr. Deshpande to provide more expertise on the regulatory context. Councilor Clingan noted that the state continually refuses sound and pollution mitigation barriers, and asked if other communities had accomplished pollution mitigation by ordinance. Mr. Deshpande shared that there are limited regulations, but there are advisories from the EPA and DEP. A next step might be to require filtration systems and regulate design and green space requirements. The Chair asked whether the Board of Health could require existing buildings to provide upgrades, rather than only affecting new buildings. Councilor McLaughlin added that development benefits for pollution mitigation would be a useful requirement.