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MIT and Cambridge Swap New Park for Development Rights

By Hsiang Yin

Officials from MIT, the Cambridge City Council, and Cambridgeport came to an agreement last month that MIT would donate about 1.5 acres of land for the construction of a Cambridgeport park in exchange for development rights in the area, said Sarah E. Gallop, assistant for government relations in the president's office.

The possibility of building a park on Institute property was introduced in early 1992 after a 12-year rezoning effort in Cambridgeport, where MIT owns 40 acres of land, Gallop said.

Cambridgeport is bounded by the Charles River, Pearl Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and Memorial Drive, Gallop said. The park is located on Sidney Street, between Pacific Street and Tudor Street, she said.

MIT's development rights will be used to build housing, Gallop said. From donating the 1.5 acres, or 59,000 feet, of land for the park, the Institute will be allowed to develop between 73,750 and 103,250 square feet of building space, said Stuart Dash, a neighborhood planner in the City of Cambridge community development department. However, restrictions apply to the design and height of any buildings that are detailed in the zoning bylaw, he said.

When MIT helps the Cambridge community at no cost to the city government and gets something of value in return, "we get a win-win-win situation," Gallop said. "This is a unique way of addressing municipal issues in a time of economic strain."

Under the August agreement, MIT is responsible for donating the land contaminant-free. The cost of preparing the park was originally estimated at $200,000, but after high levels of lead and petroleum hydrocarbons were found in the soil it was found that an additional $400,000 to $500,000 would be needed to decontaminate the area, Gallop said.

"These are not unusual contaminants to find," Gallop said. "They are a result of the industrial fill that Cambridge was built on and are not hazardous to those who live and work in the area, but when kids are involved, we want to remove these types of substances," she said.

The process of site preparation began four weeks ago with the removal of asphalt from the area, which was previously used as a truck yard, Gallop said. Removal of the contaminants involved disposing all soil 4 feet from the surface, she said.

After the construction of an irrigation system and a fence and the planting of grass seed, the park will be turned over to the city, Gallop said. The park officially opens next spring, she said.

MIT involved in community

"The park is a valuable open space asset for a neighborhood not well served by city parks," Dash said. The city has been working closely with Cambridgeport residents in planning the park, he said.

The city and the Cambridgeport residents cooperated on a decision to keep one half of the park open, while the other half will contain a children's area, a natural sitting area, and a garden, Dash said.

MIT has been involved in a number of community projects, the most recent being the construction of a $1.9 million center for homeless substance abusers, Gallop said. In fiscal year 1994, MIT's financial contribution to the Cambridge community totaled about $42 million.

"We try to be as helpful as we can," Gallop said. "Our mission is to be a good neighbor and to work with the Cambridge community to make positive contributions."