The Cambridge City Council voted 7-2 last night to pass MIT’s Kendall rezoning petition, permitting taller, denser development on the east side of MIT’s campus. The rezoning is the first step toward realizing plans to bring new retail to Kendall Square and to replace parking lots along Main Street with three new commercial buildings and a residential tower called “Innovation Landing.”
The name reflects hopes that Kendall Square — “the envy of the world,” Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki called it — will continue to grow as a vibrant hub for tech and biotech entrepreneurs.
For executives of MIT and the MIT Investment Management Company, the Council’s vote is the vindication of over three years of work to align goals with those of city officials.
Before the final vote, the Council heard nearly three hours of comments from the public, ranging from firm praise to passionate condemnation of the petition. Among the speakers were long-time city residents and owners of Kendall firms as well as MIT executives, administrators, and faculty, including both familiar faces like Jonathan A. King and new faces like Eric S. Lander.
Several startup founders extolled the petition’s provisions for attracting and keeping the smartest new companies in Kendall. The petition requires that five percent of new commercial floor area be “innovation space” with caps on the lease duration and floor area of each business.
President L. Rafael Reif spoke in favor of the petition at last week’s meeting, which Thomas A. Kochan, chair of the MIT 2030 task force, said was intended to be a deal “closer.” Reif’s remarks were accompanied by letters of support from the deans of MIT’s five schools. Last week, MIT also made a number of promises in response to demands from city councillors. Contributions to community benefits were upped from $10 million to $14 million, and MIT committed to using only union labor during construction.
Last night, opponents of the petition called these measures “bribes” and “eggs in [the councillors’] baskets.” They also took the opportunity to revisit long-standing points of contention such as graduate housing, noise levels, affordability, and economic diversity.
Fred P. Salvucci ’61 — MIT Civil Engineering lecturer and former Massachusetts secretary of transportation — struck a chord with many of the audience when he raised concerns that the developments MIT has in mind will exacerbate Cambridge’s housing squeeze, attracting technologists and business executives and leaving no room for lower- or even middle-income residents, who would be “priced out” of high-end restaurants and apartments. “This is about gentrification,” he said. In time, “nobody who voted for you will still be living in this neighborhood,” he told the city councillors to applause from the audience.
Of the more than 300 units of housing at Innovation Landing, MIT has committed to keeping 18 percent priced at an affordable rate for low-income households. The petition also includes other requirements for moderate-income housing and “innovation housing” that the city hopes will be ideally priced and sized for startup hires and graduate students.
Brian L. Spatocco G, president of the Graduate Student Council, announced a resolution of the GSC supporting the petition under the condition that interests of graduate students are taken into account.
Those interests include the need for graduate housing, which is currently being investigated by a working group under the leadership of Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, who also spoke to the City Council last week.
Other residents of the city echoed Salvucci’s worries, but not everyone.
“Yes, in my backyard,” said one resident of the types of developments MIT hopes to bring to Kendall Square. Another looked forward to new amenities in the area.
The rezoning allows for up to 980,000 new square feet of commercial development and at least 240,000 new square feet of residential development, in addition to the 800,000 square feet currently permitted for academic (including dormitory) uses. In some regions, the rezoning permits buildings as high as 300 feet, taller than the Green Building.