The Central Square Advisory Committee to the Kendall-to-Central Square Planning Process (K2C2) held its final meeting last week on Wednesday, Nov. 28, and presented its work to the Cambridge Planning Board on Tuesday, Dec. 4. Near-final drafts of its work are available at http://cambridgema.gov/k2c2.
300 Mass. Ave petition
Yesterday, Forest City Enterprises, the developers of University Park, refiled its zoning petition for a life sciences building at 300 Mass. Ave, the block containing All Asia and MIT’s Random Hall dormitory. The petition was previously allowed to lapse after community residents protested that Forest City should wait for the K2C2 process to conclude before making zoning changes.
K2C2 Central process
The city’s Community Development Department staff, in conjunction with Goody Clancy & Associates, consultants to the city, will work with the Cambridge Planning Board to convert the K2C2 committee’s work into zoning language.
In addition to 23 public meetings, the committee also met privately at least four times in the past weeks to produce an eight-page memo summarizing the vision and principles that all members of the committee could agree on. The memo was signed by all 20 active members of the committee.
The ability of the committee to agree on contentious issues like housing (asking for additional height and density for residential buildings) is significant, especially given that the committee includes both residents and landowners, groups who often have opposing interests.
The committee’s formal work product is managed by the city’s staff, and represents compromises and adjustments. Those formal work products don’t necessarily have full agreement from every single committee member on every single item, so the committee-drafted memo is notable.
The planning board presentation was long on vision and short on specifics, but members of the planning board had read over the written recommendations, and expressed strong praise for the committee’s work.
The committee’s Plan and Recommendations document offers four major goals:
1. Public places to build community: Enrich the Square’s public realm to invite community interaction at many levels from meeting a friend to citywide festivals.
2. Retail, cultural and non-profit diversity: Celebrate the mix of old and new, verable [sic] and funky, culture and business and other sources of diverse activities that make the Square a great Main Street and Cultural District.
3. Residential diversity: Support a diverse community through more and varied housing choices.
4. Connecting people to the Square: Enrich neighborhood walkability and livability with safe, green streets and improved access choices.
The most significant change the K2C2 process offers is increasing the allowable residential density from a 3.0 floor area ratio (FAR) to a 4.0 FAR, along with changing maximum residential building heights from 80 feet to 140 feet. (Within the MIT-owned region southeast of Lafayette Square, called “The Osborn Triangle” by the committee, residential buildings may rise to 160 feet.)
The committee also recommended bonus increases to FAR in exchange for construction of middle-income housing.
The committee additionally recommended allowing developers to transfer development rights from the edges of neighborhoods into the heart of Central Square. This mechanism is intended to increase density along Massachusetts Avenue without negatively impacting the residential neighborhoods that surround it.
Opposition to proposal
Despite the unanimous agreement of the committee on the merits of the density and height changes to permit additional housing, there has been significant community opposition.
The Cambridge Residents Alliance, led by local resident Nancy Ryan, has strongly objected to the additional density, fearing more shadows and higher rents. The CRA is organizing a petition to the City Council asking them to institute a one-year moratorium on “upzoning,” or zoning changes that increase density.
Ryan said that the petition had 500 signatures so far. She did not speak in the public comment section at last week’s K2C2 meetings. Ryan had expressed herself and the CRA’s position at the Nov. 15 K2C2 meeting.
Ryan said she felt the K2C2 committee’s mind was made up and offering further public comment on the process would be fruitless.
Charles Teague, also of the CRA, circulated an email summary last Monday describing the K2C2 committee’s work as he saw it. Teague wrote that “massive ‘up zoning’ will lead to the demolition and replacement of most every building, business, and resident in Central Square ... this is ‘Urban Renewal’ disguised as providing housing to folks who already live here.”
Longtime Cambridge resident and political commentator Robert Winters (currently a math lecturer in the Concourse program at MIT) spoke up at last Tuesday’s meeting and described Teague’s email as a “screed” that mischaracterized the committee’s work product. Winters implored the Committee not to cede ground and not to let others mis-describe their work product.
This battle will surely play out in the next stages of this process, as the K2C2 recommendations go before the Planning Board and the City Council.
Parking lot issues
One issue that the K2C2 committee left unresolved was how to manage a significant resource that the committee has talked a lot about: the five open-air parking lots owned by the city that surround Central Square.
David Dixon from Goody Clancy has made clear to the committee that those parking lots represent an unprecedented bargaining chip to achieve change. Buildings can be built on them by the city; they can be sold in exchange for desirable developments; the can be repurposed for public spaces or farmers’s markets; etc.
But while the committee agrees in broad strokes, they have not been able to articulate a process for how to make those decisions, or present a clear path going forward.
Dixon has said that the window of opportunity to harness those lots may be limited.
It’s not clear how the city will proceed with those spaces. The committee’s eight-page memo calls for the city to “explore these possibilities and aggressively consider the public-private partnerships required to bring development of the selected alternatives to fruition.”