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300 Mass. Ave. project on hiatus until fall

On Aug. 6, the Cambridge City Council chose not to take action on the zoning petition which would approve construction of a new life sciences building for Millennium Pharmaceuticals at 300 Massachusetts Avenue, immediately north of Random Hall. The petition has now expired and lapsed.

Forest City and MIT, the developers of University Park, are expected to file their petition again in September. The council would not vote on the final petition until October or November.

The lapsed petition would have permitted a substantial increase in the density of the proposed building, as well as increases in height. The block currently consists mostly of vacant storefronts and the All Asia club. Random Hall and a gas station are on the south side, with a New England School of English dormitory behind Random on the Green Street side.

The council had three options: to approve the petition; to vote it down, which would prevent it from being filed again for two years; or to take no action, allowing it to be filed again for further consideration. It chose the last.

Community opposition to the building was significant, with local residents questioning why the building should be allowed to exceed agreed-upon height limits that were written into zoning. Though the building’s current height is a result of a request by the Planning Board to increase the building’s height in some places in exchange for reducing it in others, making it seem less monolithic.

The council’s choice to delay allows them to negotiate further with Forest City about the specifics of the proposal. Forest City had pledged a $1.1 million “community benefits” payment to the city, as well as the continuation of certain affordable housing guarantees.

For the time being, Random Hall residents can look forward to a fall semester without massive demolition on their block, but that could easily change.

— John A. Hawkinson