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H. Theodore Cohen, one of seven members of the Cambridge Planning Board, speaks at the Dec. 21, 2010 meeting.
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Zoning board lukewarm about MIT’s plan for Kendall

On Dec. 21, MIT representatives presented MIT’s vision for the future of Kendall Square to the City of Cambridge Planning Board. The response they got was mixed, with some of the five members present comfortable with the proposal, and others cautious. All had criticisms to offer.

MIT’s intention to proceed with its re-zoning application of Kendall Square for increased ground-floor retail and more lab space may have to wait — Cambridge has ordered a study to determine the future of development from Kendall Square to Central Square.

MIT had previously said it expected to propose zoning changes this month; however, that may be delayed due to the new study. The Cambridge Planning Board is the entity that approves city zoning changes.

The city will be hiring a consultant to run that study and is in the process of preparing a Request for Proposals. The RFP is expected to be released on Thursday, according to Susan Glazer, the acting assistant city manager for community development. Once that RFP is released and bids are submitted, the study could take months to complete, and MIT might choose to wait to propose its changes.

Planning board members expressed concern that MIT had failed to justify its proposal for two tall buildings: 130 feet and 250 feet in height. The zoning currently limits buildings in Kendall to be 120 feet tall.

MIT also proposed sidewalk cafes, but Thomas Anninger, vice chair of the board, does not think that is plausible.

“Plazas with cafes sitting outside are to me some sort of a Euro fantasy,” Anninger said. “Amsterdam, Vienna, Barcelona maybe. But I don’t see that here. We don’t have that here in Cambridge. We don’t have it in Boston. It’s very rare in this country. I’m not sure you can recreate that here.”

Other board members were worried about residential units, which barely figured into MIT’s plan. Charles Studen, a member of the board, said “additional residential development is what is going to generate the vitality and vibrancy. It’s been proven in case after case, you have to have people living in an area to make it interesting and worthwhile.” MIT’s presentation suggested 60 units of market-rate housing, rather than subsidized housing.

MIT’s presentation was given by Michael K. Owu ’86 and Steven C. Marsh, both of the MIT Investment Management Company, as well as David P. Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects.

A transcript of the meeting is available at http://www.cambridgema.gov/cdd/cp/zng/agenda/index_2010.html.

— John A. Hawkinson