Company Opposes New Dorm Permit
Complaint Filed by Vassar Street Neighbor Threatens New Dorm Building ScheduleBy Frank Dabek
EDITOR IN CHIEF
The planned Vassar Street dormitory is likely to be delayed past its scheduled August 2001 opening after a Cambridge business filed a protest against the building’s city-issued development permit.
Cambridge Executive Enterprises, a management consulting company located directly adjacent to the site of the new dorm, appealed the IPOP proposal required to begin construction, according to Lester Barker, director of land use and zoning in Cambridge’s Community Development office.
The appeal will take place in land court, a process that could take months, while MIT waits to begin construction.
Project Manger for the new dormitory, Deborah Poodry, said that the dorm’s construction “schedule has been extraordinarily tight.” Although the full impact of the delay is not yet known, Poodry said that she was “not optimistic” that the schedule could be met.
With a projected completion time of 18 months, the group had hoped to break ground in January to finish before August of 2001. Given the possibility of a lengthy appeal, that schedule now seems untenable.
Such a delay could have a severe impact on MIT’s plan to move all freshmen to campus in 2001. If the dormitory is not completed, the 350 additional spaces it provided would have to be found elsewhere in the housing system.
Business concerned about parking
Alan Roth, general council for Cambridge Executive Enterprises, said that the appeal was in response to the parking and traffic impact of the new building. The new dorm will eliminate parking in an area where it is already in high demand, Roth said.
The dorm is being built on a parking lot which will not be replaced. In addition, construction will replace angled parking spots on Vassar with a smaller number of parallel parking spaces.
This elimination of parking and additional traffic from the dorm will “make it much tougher for people to have access to our building,” Roth said. “We are trying to conduct a business next door.”
According to Roth, the city’s “planning board didn’t do an adequate job analyzing the traffic” impact of the dorm in their consideration of the project’s IPOP permit. The city approved the permit for the dorm’s construction but under law any abutter has 20 days to appeal that approval. Cambridge Executive Enterprises exercised that right last week near the end of the appeals period.
Roth said that he expected the appeal to require several months to work its way through the court system.
MIT confident in appeal outcome
Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 said that the Institute has engaged council and is prepared to fight the appeal.
“This dorm is going to get built,” Bacow said. “We are very confident about our position.”
During the appeal process MIT will also be in discussions with Cambridge Executive. Roth said, however, that he had spoken to an MIT official who indicated that the Institute would not alter their parking plans.
While the appeal is underway, the implementation of the new residence system outlined by Bacow last term will continue despite the crucial role the dorm plays in the plan and the possibility of its delay.
We are “continuing with the plan to implement in the fall of 2001,” said Associate Dean Kirk D. Kolendbrander, who is heading up the implementation of Bacow’s residence report.
That implementation will proceed “mindful that President Vest and the Chancellor have always linked having freshmen on campus with a new dorm,” Kolenbrander said. We will be “moving forward with our planned implementation unless and until some one tells us that is not possible.”
Kolenbrander said that his office was “not at this time actually pursuing contingency plans,” since it expected to be notified of any changes in the dorm’s schedule in time to alter plans.
The Founder’s Group, a collection of faculty and students who are working with architects to design the new dorm will continue that process under the assumption that it will be completed on time, said Jeff C. Roberts ’02, a student member of the group.
Director of Project Development Stephen D. Immerman, however, said that his office was developing contingency plans should the dorm be delayed but declined to discuss any details citing the early stages of planning. We have a “lot more decisions; a lot more data to collect,” Immerman said.
When facing housing shortages in the past MIT has moved undergraduates into Tang Hall or Ashdown House, which are typically reserved for graduate students. Students have also been housed in MacGregor lounges during instances of severe crowding.
Appellant has ties to MIT
The CEO of Cambridge Executive Enterprises, John J. Donovan, was a former professor in the Sloan School at MIT.
While Roth said that the group harbors no ill will towards the Institute Roberts suggested that the timing of the appeal near the end of the 20 day period “makes it seem like its ... a delay tactic.”
Part of that delay may have been due to the fact that Cambridge Executive Partners was not originally informed of a community meeting held to discuss the dorm’s plans and impact on the community. Such meetings are required of any project built under an IPOP permit. Cambridge and MIT held a second meeting when the error was pointed out to them.