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New Central Square Building Challenged

Courtesy of The Architectural Team, inc.
Artist's rendition of the proposed development in Central Square.

By Douglas E. Heimburger
Associate News Editor

Developers and citizen activists squared off Wednesday night at a public hearing regarding a seven-story building proposed to be built in the heart of Central Square.

The Central Square Advisory Committee, which provides advice on projects in the area, held the hearing to discuss whether or not to approve the project.

The building, which would replace a cluster of one- and two-story buildings located at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue andMagazine Street, is the latest revision of a plan originally submitted by the Holmes Trust Corp. last spring that called for an eleven-story building.

The revised building plans include two stories of commercial space with 72 luxury apartments on the upper floors.Aparking facility with 80 spaces would be in the basement of the facility.

After objections at three public hearings last spring, the owners realized that the original proposal needed to be redesigned, said James T. Rafferty, an attorney who represents the owners of the site.

The new proposal "essentially puts two buildings on the site,"Rafferty said. A courtyard located 12 feet above street level connects both sides of the corner to retail space within the site.

Residents also objected earlier this year to the potential eviction of many of the long-term tenants of the current buildings, including the Ethiopian Restaurant and the Golden Donut, in favor of high-priced chain stores.

However, the owners reached an agreement with many of the tenants. All the tenants except three have been invited to return following construction, Rafferty said.

The new building also features a commitment to affordable housing, with 15 percent of the units, or 11 total, being made available at "affordable rates" - which is currently $970 for a two-bedroom apartment in Cambridge, Rafferty said.

"Iwas somewhat at a loss" to figure out how to incorporate all the design comments, said Michael Lio of The Architectural Team, Inc., which designed the project. The ideal building "looks as if it has always been there."

Public still opposed to project

At Wednesday's public hearing, most people still opposed the construction of the new building.

Agroup calling itself Save Central Square has been meeting for several months to oppose the project, said Mykol Larvie G.

Prior to the hearing, the group held a march fromCentral Square to the meeting site at the Cambridge Senior Center, and supporters packed into the room with signs and placards opposing the development.

"I'm not opposed to development per se, I'm opposed to this development,"said Ellen El-Weqayan. "This community does not need 61 luxury apartments."

Many residents were concerned that the new apartments would cause their rents to go up. "There's no way you can put in substantial development and not have the ripple effect occur"where rents rise in other buildings, said Jeff Duritz. "The majority of people inCentral Square are not white men in suits" who can afford an additional increase, he said.

Others objected that the Golden Donut had not been asked to return. "Cambridge is a city of history and character,"said Gene Kelledis, a life-long resident. "The Golden Donut is a meeting place for people from all over Cambridge."

"We're looking for responsible citizenship,"said attorney David A. Hoicka '77. "Tell the architects, Nice try, it's better than the last plan but it's not good enough.'"

"We don't need to look like every other suburb in the United States," said Kim Kalkowski.

Some support new development

Afew residents expressed their support for the project. "I'm very pleased that this proposal has been responsible" in addressing the concerns made earlier by the committee, said Clifford Trusdell. Opponents who oppose any construction are practicing "kamikaze politics,"he continued.

Opponents who claim that the construction will lead to suburbia encroaching in on Central Square are incorrect, Trusdell said. "That has got to be the most ridiculous thing I've heard since Richard Nixon said he wasn't a crook."

"I am fabulously impressed with the response" of the owners to the earlier concerns,said Robert Winters. "I have never seen a property owner act with such good faith."

"There are a whole lot of people supporting the project who aren't here,"Rafferty said. "Speaking up is not for the faint of heart."

Many of those who support the project do not speak out in favor of it because of the strong atmosphere against the project at the public hearings, Rafferty said.

Both sides optimistic for future

Both sides expressed optimism that they will prevail in the upcoming series of public hearings.

The chances of building the project in its revised form are "reasonable,"Rafferty said. "Ithink the amount of zoning relief required is modest."

"The buildings there [now] are an anomaly,"Lio said. Originally, they were taller, but during the Depression their upper floors were removed to decrease the tax burden on the owners.

As a result, the current buildings are not in scale with the roads and other architectural features, Lio said.

Opponents differed about the project's prospects. "Ithink it'll be very unlikely that they'll be able to build this building,"Hoicka said. "Ithink we have a high likelihood of success of changing what the developer plans for the corner."

Save Central Square filed a lawsuit on Monday asking that the city be required to open and rehold all meetings with the developers. "We're asking the judge to make them do it over again and do it in the sunshine this time,"Hoicka said.

The committee will hold an open meeting on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss what changes to make in its initial report, which called for the significant changes addressed at the latest hearing.

At 8:30 p.m., the planning board of the city will hold an open hearing on the project's request for several variances and waivers from the board needed to build the project. Both meetings are at Cambridge City Hall, located on Massachusetts Avenue just beyond Central Square.