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Cambridge Ponders MIT Street Proposal

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

The Cambridge City Council discussed MIT's offer to pay the $2 million in expenses for creating the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholic Rehabilitation shelter from its current Albany Street location at a Jan. 25 hearing. In exchange, MIT would be given control of over four city streets.

O. Robert Simha MCP '57, MIT director of planning, detailed the Institute's offer to move the CASPAR shelter to a building at 380 Green St. in Cambridge. In return, MIT asked for control of Amherst Street west of Massachusetts Avenue, Carleton Street, Hayward Street, and a section of Vassar Street sidewalks running from Massachusetts Avenue to Audrey Street.

MIT estimated the cost of preparing the facility for CASPAR at no more than $2 million. Estimates of the value of the streets prepared for the city ranged from $1.5 to $2.2 million.

CASPAR has been trying to find a permanent location for its shelter, which currently sits on MIT property at 240 Albany St. Members of CASPAR's board of directors are enthusiastic about the MIT offer, because they see it as their best chance of finding of permanent site after 19 years in temporary quarters on Albany Street.

Three Cambridge city councillors expressed their support for MIT's offer at the Monday hearing. "We're talking about an Institute that has done so much for the city. The only issues here tonight is to find funding for a permanent site for CASPAR," Councillor William Walsh said.

Mayor opposes sale of streets

Nearly every speaker at the hearing supported the goal of finding a permanent home for the CASPAR shelter, but MIT's proposal drew strong criticism. Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves said, "I profoundly disfavor this notion of giving away streets."

City Manager Robert W. Healy, however, endorsed MIT plan as "the financing vehicle for a permanent solution to the CASPAR problem."

Several Cambridge residents and a some city councillors who spoke at the hearing were concerned about MIT's long-term development plans in the city. MIT currently owns 226 acres of land in the city -- about 12 percent of its total acreage.

"The things occurring over the last six months have raised concerns in the community," said Councillor Jonathan S. Myers, apparently referring to MIT's recent purchase of three parcels of land worth more over $5 million near the University Park development project. "We would like to see some more of MIT's long range plans," Myers said.

Reeves described MIT's plans as "a mystery."

Simha portrayed the effects of the purchase of the streets as relatively innocuous. He described the streets as "largely interior" to the MIT campus.

Simha also argued the MIT had discussed many of its long range plans with Cambridge planning officials. "The Institute has long-term plans that are generally quite straightforward," he said.

According to the plans outlined by Simha, MIT would assume responsibility for maintaining the streets, in addition to making improvements to the landscaping, lighting, and paving. Haywood Street, which runs between Amherst and Main Streets at the MIT Press, would be closed to traffic and become a pedestrian zone.

Request for streets questioned

MIT was attacked several times during the hearing for not offering to donate a permanent site for CASPAR. The Institute claimed it was "not in a position to make an outright grant to the city," Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president for government and community relations, said.

Reeves was furious with MIT's claim that it couldn't make a donation. "It doesn't make sense. Why can't MIT make a $2 million grant?" he said.