On Monday, the Cambridge City Council voted in favor of a rezoning petition proposed by MIT to allow development of Kendall Square with tall buildings for residential and commercial use. There were seven votes in favor of the proposal, with Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom voting against and Vice Mayor Denise Simmons abstaining.
Several amendments and changes to the plan were passed during Monday’s meeting. The proposal also saw many changes during the past month. MIT Investment Management Company, MITIMCo, has worked for three years to modify the development plan to be compatible with the goals of the City Council. President L. Rafael Reif and Thomas A. Kochan, head of the 2030 task force, also spoke in support of the plan at Monday’s meeting.
A variety of reactions to this plan have arisen from both Cambridge residents and relevant officials. According to the Cambridge Day, there was an even split of support for and opposition to the proposal during the public comment section, but the vast majority of those in favor were representatives of MIT.
Gregory Bialecki, the Governor’s secretary of housing and economic development, said that approving the plan was critical to promote innovation and keep the Massachusetts economy growing.
Most reactions by local residents cited Cambridge-specific concerns in their opposition to the plan. In particular, many suggested that the changes in the local economy brought about by the zoning changes would create a squeeze on low-income and graduate housing. The Cambridge Day cited resident Gerald Bergman, who said “Now we know what kind of bribe it takes from MIT to secure that land. They want land for votes. This is what happens when Cambridge becomes a company town for the universities and biotech corporations.”
According to the Boston Globe, MIT professor Frederick P. Salvucci said that MIT’s lack of initiative to incorporate sufficient low-income and graduate housing in the plan was particularly harmful. “This is about gentrification,” he said.
In a Letter to the Editor appearing in this issue, Cambridge resident Phyllis Bretholtz echoed similar concerns. “Young families cannot afford to buy homes and are moving out. The school population is shrinking. We are losing our middle class. And in the process, we are losing a sense of community.”
Denise Simmons, who voted “present” on Monday, wrote a column in the Cambridge Chronicle elaborating on her position. She said that while she did not support the plan in its form at the time of voting, she did not want to symbolically denounce a plan she had worked to improve. She listed many of her concerns with the plan that passed on Monday. She argued that provisions for affordable and graduate housing in the plan were insufficient, saying that the issue had “not been resolved to my satisfaction.”
Simmons also felt that provisions for green space were lacking. She said she was satisfied with MIT’s concessions for affordable ground level retail space and short-term “innovation space,” but regretted that many of those points had not been formalized in writing.
Simmons also sought a scholarship for Cambridge students to attend MIT and urged MIT to allow the city to develop its Cherry Street property. She said that it would have been possible to achieve more concessions to and considerations for the local community if negotiations had more time.