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MIT, Cambridge Tensions Focus On in Lieu of Taxes Agreement

By Frank Dabek


As MIT presented its annual town-gown report, Cambridge officials said they want an agreement on payments in lieu of taxes and more information on MIT’s future construction.

City Councillor Brian Murphy said that the lack of a signed payment in lieu of taxes agreement “certainly is the biggest stumbling block” in relations between MIT and the city. MIT’s 83 acres of commercial property represent about eight percent of the city’s tax base.

An agreement that MIT would not shift taxable property to its tax-exempt portfolio or, if it did shift property, would increase payments in lieu of taxes gives the city greater stability as it plans capital projects, Murphy said.

The lack of an agreement makes the city “vulnerable to [MIT’s] moves,” said Councillor Henrietta Davis.

Executive Vice President John R. Curry, speaking before the Cambridge Planning Board, said that MIT is aware of the city’s “impatience” to have an agreement and that he expects a “near term resolution.”

Last year MIT gave the city $1.164 million in lieu of taxes and paid $15.29 million on its taxable properties. The size of the in-lieu payment has remained relatively unchanged since 1997, when MIT gave the city $1.102 million.

Future development plans

Davis also raised concerns about the Institute’s future development plans. Although the Institute is only required to present the city with any future development it has planned, Davis asked Institute representatives to “give us some of their thoughts” on future developments which may have not reached the formal planning stage.

During his presentation to the board, Curry described a proposed “east campus project” which would redesign the campus of the Sloan School of Management along with the planned Brain and Cognitive Science building.

Deborah W. Poodry, director for capital project development, said that the Sloan buildings are “not in terrific shape” and that “Sloan has always felt they were a little in left field.”

Curry also said that the Institute may construct a fine arts center with a “black box theater” and performance rooms. Both the east campus project and fine arts buildings are tentative and waiting for funding. Curry said that MIT plans to rely more on gifts for future construction and that such gifts have not been forthcoming in the current economic climate.

In response to a question from Planning Board member Pamela Winters, Curry said that MIT had no plans for additional graduate housing in the near future.

Report well received

During his report, Curry touted MIT’s impact as an “economic engine” and outlined the Institute’s recent addition of the Sidney-Pacific, Warehouse, and Simmons dormitories.

“In general, a lot of what MIT does is positive,” Murphy said of the report, and the Institute is “to be applauded” for its efforts to engage the Cambridge community. Local “universities are part of what make Cambridge a great city just as Cambridge makes the universities great.”

Davis cited MIT’s commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions as a positive contribution of the Institute. An IAP course and UROP student will be studying ways to improve the environment in Cambridge, Davis said.

Cambridge residents in attendance were less generous.

Steven Kaiser called Simmons Hall “one of the ugliest buildings in Cambridge” and said that MIT officials “must have just gone bonkers.” He also referred to a low-cost eyeglasses program run by Saul T. Griffith G as a “rare positive product of the Media Lab.”

Eli Arden said that he had “gotten to know more grad students than I’d hoped to ever know” after the Sidney-Pacific street dormitory opened near his home.