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Commercial Building Displeases Graduates

By Nathan Collins


The leadership of several graduate dormitories have sent a letter to the Cambridge Planning Board complaining that plans for a new research-oriented space will harm the living environment for graduate student residents.

Forest City, Inc. proposed plans to build a research space at a Nov. 12 planning board meeting. Forest City had originally planned to build more residential units on Landsdowne Street as part of its University Park complex, but the management company now seeks to modify its original permit in order to build an office building next to the Sidney-Pacific graduate dormitory.

The letter specifically complains that Forest City is not doing enough to ensure an appropriate living environment for current residents. “We feel that additional housing along Pacific Street is vital to developing a safer, more vibrant, and generally more livable environment,” the letter said.

“It would be much more beneficial” to build more housing, said Jeffrey C. Roberts G, Sidney-Pacific neighborhood outreach chair.

The three graduate dormitories north of MIT’s campus -- Edgerton House, the Warehouse, and Sidney-Pacific -- are mostly surrounded by technology companies. “In my opinion ... we live in a fairly miserable environment,” Roberts said.

Roberts says permit was violated

Roberts said that a key aspect of the original University Park plans was to make sure the area was compatible with the graduate student residences, and that by trying to modify its permit, Forest City was going against the spirit of the permit.

“That permit represents an agreement” between Forest City and the City of Cambridge that should be respected, Roberts said.

“That zoning and its agreements allow for a great deal of flexibility within the park granted that zoning thresholds are met,” Peter Calkins, senior vice president of planning and development for Forest City, told the Cambridge Chronicle.

Forest City has met the requirements of the development’s master plan to include several hundred housing units at University Park, the Chronicle reported, but some Cambridge citizens said that more housing at University Park would help alleviate the city’s housing shortage.

Residents complain about area

Roberts and Warehouse Executive Committee President Ramin Haghgooie G expressed concerns that more research space would not improve the current living environment.

“This place is great during the day,” Haghgooie said, but he added the area “is deserted at night.” More research space might bring restaurants and other businesses, Haghgooie said, “but they’ll be closed at night.”

“The more residences there are ... the more lively [the area] will be,” Haghgooie said.

He said safety is also an issue. With more people living in the area, “you’ll feel less isolated,” he said.

Roberts said that part of the motivation to write the letter to the planning board was “to promote civic responsibility among people who live” in graduate residences. They are “making a statement that we’re part of the community.”

Sidney-Pacific Executive Committee President Shunmugavelu Sokka G, Edgerton House Executive Committee President Yu-Han Chang G, and Haghgooie signed the letter. The three dormitories together house about 1,000 graduate students.