A Better Cambridge backs Forest City, but wants A Better Plan

whitespaceWe’re a group of residents working to create a better Cambridge — a diverse and dynamic city on a path toward sustainable growth. We support approval of the Forest City zoning petition because, on balance, it serves to advance those goals.

The proposed development would revivify a desultory stretch of road, bridging the gap between the University Park development and the commercial corridor along Massachusetts Avenue. With at least three-quarters of its frontage devoted to retail, with an emphasis upon local and independent businesses, the development promises to restore active life to the street, creating a friendlier and more welcoming environment for neighbors and pedestrians.

The building would also allow Millennium Pharmaceuticals to expand its operations right here in Cambridge. Millennium is a home-grown firm with a proven record of engaging with and investing in our community and of treating its own employees in a responsible fashion. It is crucial that Cambridge’s economy remain dynamic, capable of developing, attracting and retaining firms such as Millennium. It is just as important that we find ways to accommodate their growth that complement and enrich our communities, without encroaching upon or displacing our vibrant residential neighborhoods. We believe that this proposal strikes that balance.

Forest City also pledges to preserve 168 units of affordable housing and to create 20 additional units within seven years or else pay $4 million to the Affordable Housing Trust. The preservation and creation of affordable housing is crucial to maintaining the identity and diversity of our neighborhoods. But paying a fraction of the cost of these 20 units seven years from now is not an adequate substitute for the housing we need today. We call on Forest City to display the same dogged zeal in creating housing that it has exhibited in developing commercial spaces. We will vigilantly monitor its commitments and look forward to seeing them fulfilled.

Despite its real virtues, the proposal leaves a good deal to be desired. It adds substantial new office and laboratory space without commensurately increasing the supply of units to house these workers. The project also poses the risk of placing a drab corporate building in a neighborhood marked by its distinctive and varied structures. We urge Forest City to produce a design that recognizes the texture of the neighborhood and enhances it distinctive character.

On balance, however, we find that the proposal merits our support. And we look forward to working with our members, other community groups, city officials, and developers to ensure that as the neighborhood continues to develop, it retains its diverse mix of residents, uses and structures.

A Better Cambridge
Jesse Kanson-Benanav, chairman

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