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City Council Votes for CASPAR Plan

By Brian Rosenberg
Contributing Editor

The Cambridge City Council approved an agreement late last night under which MIT will build a shelter for homeless alcoholics and drug addicts on Albany Street in exchange for effective control over four city streets.

The agreement's passage marks the end of the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol Rehabilitation's 19-year search for a more permanent facility than the two trailers it currently occupies at 240 Albany St.

"A home at last," said CASPAR President Richard M. Brescia after the agreement was approved. "I'm absolutely grateful -- to President [Charles M.] Vest for his gracious offer, to Mayor [Kenneth E.] Reeves for appointing such a dedicated commission, and to the council for offering us the chance for a new day in Cambridge."

Under the agreement, which passed 8-1, CASPAR will receive a 20-year lease on an expanded shelter facility built by MIT. At the end of the lease, CASPAR will have the option of renewing the lease for an additional 20 years.

The city of Cambridge will lease Carleton and Hayward Streets and some of the sidewalks on Vassar Street to MIT on a similar basis. In addition, MIT will gain permanent control of the portion of Amherst Street west of Massachusetts Avenue.

CASPAR will pay MIT rent of $1 a year for the site, while MIT will pay the city $1 a year for each of the streets. The agreement specifies that MIT may make improvements to the leased streets but must preserve public access to them.

MIT will also receive two easements to build bridges or tunnels across Carleton Street and a third easement for a bridge or tunnel across Hayward Street. MIT will retain possession of any street-spanning structure when the lease on the streets expires.

The agreement describes in broad terms the substance of the new facility. The new 12,000-square-foot one- to three-story shelter will include "sleeping capacity for 55 persons with separate areas for men and women" and a "dining room for 50-75 persons," as well as areas for food preparation, administration, and many other activities.

Details of the agreement were still being ironed out by the Special Committee on the Siting of CASPAR as late as 7:30 p.m. last night. One of the final modifications was to a clause that places a time limit on MIT's construction of the shelter. MIT must complete construction within 15 months of being awarded a building permit, a change from the 18 months stipulated earlier.

Councilor Tim Toomey cast the sole vote against the agreement. He argued that the city would be better served by waiting to vote until its next meeting, on March 15. "I don't want my vote to be construed as a vote against CASPAR -- far from it. I just want to make sure that the city's interests are protected, that everybody knows exactly what everybody is getting," he said.

Most others involved with the agreement expressed a sense of relief. "I'm glad we put this issue behind us," said Councilor Jonathan S. Myers, who headed the committee that worked out the agreement. "It was very much a collective effort. We showed that people with many viewpoints can be brought together without having to conflict."

Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president for government and community relations, said he was "proud of MIT and the community leaders for forging a solution to this difficult problem. ... I'm pleased to have worked with people to bring this to a successful conclusion."