Comparing Charlesview and Somerville's Max Pak project

While we are considering the Charlesview proposal in North Brighton, here is a look at the plans for a new housing development just a few miles away at the site of the former Maxwell Packaging factory (click for map) in Somerville.

In response to KSS Realty's original proposal for 305 units of new housing, the City of Somerville asked the developer to fund a community planning process supported by independent consultants. The developer contributed $35,000 to support this process and a series of community workshops were held in the fall and winter of 2004/5.

The proposal has changed significantly since then and here is a summary comparing the end result of this Somerville project and where we are right now with Charlesview:

MaxPak: 199 units on 5.5 acres (36 units per acre)
Charlesview: 400 units on 6.9 acres (58 units per acre)

MaxPak: 234 spaces for 199 units (1.2 spaces per unit)
Charlesview: 454 spaces for 400 units (1.1 spaces per unit)

Building Height
MaxPak: 2-5 stories
Charlesview: 4-10 stories

Community Planning Process
MaxPak: 3+ years
Charlesview: ?

While Charlesview surrounds its 2 small parks on at least 3 sides with Charlesview buildings, the Mak Pak design consolidates its parkland into a single, larger area. The park has public streets on all four sides, making it feel much more welcoming for people from the surrounding neighborhood.

Another difference is that the Max Pak project will be much better served by public transportation. It will be adjacent to the Green Line extension planned to be completed in 2011.

One similarity with the Charlesview proposal is the small size of the units which will discourage families from living there as described in this story - Neighbors wary of Max Pak site - Somerville Journal:

Ward 5 Alderman Sean O’Donovan said the condos are likely to be bought by single people or couples without children, and this could be a problem for neighbors.
“It’s going to attract non-family buyers,” O’Donovan said. “Not having families in the neighborhood is a concern for families with children.”
Charlesview (Brighton Mills portion)



  1. Anonymous9:37 PM

    A few heretical thoughts:

    Is density necessarily bad? We talk a lot about how we would like to see retail revived along Western Avenue, but stores need shoppers. Maybe it would help our local businesses to have a little more foot traffic on Western Avenue. I for one would much rather see a dense development than the open wasteland of our current parking lot.

    Also: are private lawns necessarily bad? I know that the open space of the current plan is divided mostly into small yards, but maybe that's a safer design? I think neighbors are more likely to pay attention to suspicious activity in a plot right outside their homes than they would in an open park. I'd rather that Charlesview residents have a little land to call their own than to have them bunched on the edges of a big park that became no-man's-land after nightfall.

    Finally: are we sure that condos appropriate to families would sell in the new Charlesview? I can see the logic for having a lot of rental units there: get the HBS students to rent in Charlesview rather than in old homes in the neighborhood they now take up. That way you free up those homes for families to purchase and renovate. That seems preferable to me to demanding that the developer put in big units that might have no market at all, especially these days.

    I make these points only to demonstrate that there may well be logical reasons for the developers to have designed as they have. The first principle of all debate is to hear your interlocutors out. Our neighborhood will be best served if we have an open mind toward people who, after all, are doing us a great favor by removing the dangerous asphalt tundra in our midst.

  2. Anonymous9:41 PM

    I have to say, the Charlesview proposal looks a lot more attractive than that MaxPack thing you found. Who wants regimented blocks wrapped around big dark holes? I'd rather see the space broken up in interesting little pockets.

    Nicely done, Charlesview!

  3. There are a lot of benefits to density. Creating more foot traffic on Western Ave would certainly be one of them. But we will only have foot traffic if there is some place for those feet to go - i.e. plenty of new public businesses, shops, and services on our "main street". This is one of the many ways I think the Charlesview proposal falls short by using less than 1/2 of its frontage along Western Ave & Telford St to house these businesses.

    Private lawns are not necessarily bad, but there are no private lawns in the Charlesview proposal. There are lots of tiny strips of grass here and there and the two small courtyards surrounded by the Charlesview buildings. Of course nobody wants a park that would be a no-man's land at night. I wonder why you think a park like the one in the MaxPak project would be less safe than the Charlesview courtyards. In both cases there are plenty of homes next to the open space whose residents could keep an eye on what is happening there.

    Creating rental units in Charlesview for HBS students is an idea I haven't heard before. I expect Harvard will build its own new student housing. Three years from now (when Charlesview could be complete) I don't know what the residential housing market will be, but I do know that the dismally low homeownership rate in our neighborhood needs careful attention.

    I have no affection for the "asphalt tundra in our midst" and I look forward to having new development replace it. It would be great to hear more from Charlesview about the reasons for what they have proposed. So far they have been quite unwilling to talk with neighbors about much of anything.

  4. Where are the "interesting little pockets" in the Charlesview design? If you are too old for a "tot lot" and don't want to play half-court basketball I don't see any outdoor space of interest.

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