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Cambridge Favors New CASPAR Plan

By Sarah Y. Keightley
News Editor

MIT presented a new proposal to the Cambridge City Council yesterday to provide a permanent shelter for the Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcoholic Rehabilitation at its current location on Institute property. In exchange for the building, MIT still seeks control of four city streets within the campus.

The new offer came after residents and several members of the city council voiced strong opposition to a plan to buy a permanent home for the CASPAR program in Central Square.

The city council's initial reaction to the new plan was favorable. "We're moving along -- this is a sudden movement of progress," said Councilor Jonathan S. Myers. "I think that we're on track."

The CASPAR shelter has been looking for a permanent location for 19 years. In the new proposal, MIT offers to build a permanent shelter on 240 Albany Street. The shelter has been in temporary trailers at this location since 1979.

The $1.8 million to $2 million proposal was officially announced yesterday, and to date, the parties involved have reacted favorably. MIT had originally proposed to build a shelter at 380 Green St., but residents opposed the plan.

In return for CASPAR's site and building, MIT wants control of Carleton Street and Hayward Street, and Amherst Street and the sidewalks of Vassar Street west of Massachusetts Avenue.

Original proposal opposed

In the first proposal, MIT offered to spend $2 million to buy and renovate a building at 380 Green St. for CASPAR's new home, in exchange for the four city streets. Some council members, as well as Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves, strongly opposed this proposal. Reeves believed that MIT should donate a building to the community. The choice of the Green Street location also upset local residents.

City councilors wanted to find a permanent location for CASPAR by March 1, but needed to find a way to fund the shelter if they chose not to accept MIT's original proposal. The council also studied six sites, including the Green Street site, as possible locations for the CASPAR shelter.

Announcing the new proposal, MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "We understand that there is presently no government money available to pay for a site, and it is clear that without a site, and a funding source, there will be no home for CASPAR. Therefore, the exchange proposal allows the city to work with MIT in a partnership effort to use a public asset -- some of the city streets on the MIT campus -- to fund a public need: CASPAR."

By building a permanent CASPAR shelter on MIT land, the council would no longer have to find an alternate site. Also, MIT would finance the construction.

In response to yesterday's announcement, the city's committee for CASPAR negotiations, headed by Myers, passed a motion accepting MIT's offer "as a positive step forward," Myers said. "Now the negotiation team will look at the issue of fair compensation for the site," he added.

Council member applauds MIT

"I'm pleased a site we can all agree on" has been proposed, said Councilor Sheila T. Russell. She added that she did not have a problem with the original proposal.

Myers said MIT's announcement came as a positive "surprise."

Vest said he did not know the detailed reactions of the council members, "but it is hard to imagine them being anything other than pleased that the impasse over a site has been broken." He added, "It is time to get on with finalizing this."

Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the president for government and community relations, said, "We, in an effort to resolve the issue for CASPAR and the city, made this initiative."

"Despite enormous efforts, no other site has been identified where CASPAR would be welcomed. In order to move the process forward, we decided to make this proposal," Vest added.

Street exchange still in question

Some council members believed that streets should not be exchanged for leased property, Russell said.

According to Myers, one difference between the two proposals is that in the original proposal, the city would retain ownership of the building. With the new proposal, MIT would keep the lease. However, the committee wants a solution "that brings everyone together."

MIT's original proposal was also attacked simply because it asked for public streets in return for funding the CASPAR shelter. "I profoundly disfavor this notion of selling city streets," Reeves said at a city council meeting earlier this month.

MIT would have given the Green Street building to Cambridge under the first proposal, Suduiko said. "The [new] proposal has us building a building for CASPAR, and also has us leasing to CASPAR for 20 years, with an option to renew," he added.

Still, both Russell and Myers are hopeful that the Council can settle the issue by the original March 11 deadline. Russell said, "This is the closest we've come."

Suduiko is also hopeful that the issue will finally be resolved. "We really hope that this will bring people together in the best interests of CASPAR and the community, and resolve an issue that's been hanging for 19 years."

CASPAR President excited

President of CASPAR Dick Brescia said, "I'm very excited. It is the most refreshing news we've had since the process began over 15 years ago."

Brescia added, "We were very impressed. It's been a long on-going relationship we've had with MIT. ... MIT has been forthcoming recently with their flexibility and offers."

"Obviously this goes a long way to breaking the gridlock with the city. We hope to see that things do emerge in the short term," Brescia said. He is already anxious for construction of the new building to begin. He hopes that the councilors "embrace the process and get on with business so CASPAR can do what we do best."

Suduiko said, "I think [the city] looks at this as having merit and potential. We are hopeful that it will lead to a solution."

Originally, MIT had hoped to use the land at Albany Street for a future graduate dormitory. Even with CASPAR remaining at the site, "it is likely that at some future date there will be housing constructed in this vicinity," according to Vest.

"Our plans call for us to build dorms along Vassar Street sometime in the future," and housing would be built on Albany Street, Suduiko said.