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Board Grants IPOP For New Grad Dorm

Decision Contingent on Design Review

By Naveen Sunkavally


With a stern reprimand to better serve its graduate student population, the Cambridge Planning Board granted MIT the necessary IPOP permit to begin construction of its planned graduate dormitory on Sidney and Pacific street.

The Interim Planning Overlay Permit (IPOP) is required for all buildings greater than 50,000 square feet in Cambridge, and was given to MIT contingent on a future design review meeting.

“It was the most tense meeting I’ve ever been to,” said Graduate Student Council President Soulaymane Kachani G in describing Tuesday night’s meeting.

In a surprising turn of events, the Board said that MIT had been too responsive to the community, changing its design to the point that the dorm was no longer serving the needs of graduate students.

Since its two community meetings, MIT had lowered the number of stories on the Sidney side from six to five, added retail space on the ground floor of the Sidney side, and increased the number of parking spaces reserved for residents from the required minimum of 63 to 250.

“It looks like a parking lot with a building in it,” said Board member William Tibbs. Tibbs said that MIT could have better allocated parking spots between the underground lot and ground-level lot, and that MIT could have improved the quality of the open space.

“Very short term concerns are dictating a building that will be here long after you and I are gone,” said Board Vice-Chair Thomas Anniger, referring to MIT’s tight housing situation and the fact that the planned undergraduate dormitory on Vassar Street is tied up in litigation.

MIT administrators have said that the new graduate dorm may house undergraduates if the undergraduate dorm is not completed by 2002.

Anniger said that the design came across as “rushed” and not well thought out, especially given the effort MIT spent in designing the undergraduate dormitory, the Stata Complex, and the new Fitness Center.

MIT responds to concerns

One of the modifications that the Board asked MIT to make before the design review meeting was to reconfigure parking so that the number of spaces would minimized and the spaces would be confined to one location.

“Why can’t all the spaces be underground?” said Board Chair Larissa Brown.

In a previous community meeting, Cambridge City Councillor Henrietta Davis said that having too many spaces would create traffic problems by attracting commuters to the dorm.

Michael K. Owu ’86, project manager for the new dorm, said that the 250 parking spaces were necessary. Of the spaces, 150-187 spaces would be reserved for dorm residents, with some of the above-ground spots taken by workers of the retail outlets. In addition, graduate residents of the soon to-be-renovated warehouse on Albany and Pacific Street will also use some of the spaces, Owu said.

At a previous community hearing, however, Owu had said that only 100 spaces would be reserved for graduate student residents.

The Board also asked MIT to make the building look more residential in nature.

“Design and aesthetics are a very subjective thing. It’s impossible to meet everyone’s needs. Our goal is to listen to [the Board] as much as possible and try to respond to them within the constraints we have,” Owu said. Owu said that cost considerations would prevent the addition of more parking spaces underground.

“We have to keep the building as efficient as possible,” Owu said.

Kachani said the Planning Board was right in its concerns. MIT “could have done a much better job,” but the Board’s decision “still responds to the needs of students,” he said.

Kachani said that he did not expect the graduate dormitory to be delayed as a result of the need for modifications to the design. The dorm construction is expected to be completed by August 2002.

“It was the best outcome we could have dreamed of given all the opposition of the Planning Board,” Kachani said.