When the Cambridge Square Advisory Committee was first convened to make recommendations for the future of Central Square, its members were enjoined to be bold. Now that we’ve seen the recommendations coming out of their yearlong study, it’s clear they chose instead to be reckless. Their recommendations would bring truly bold and perhaps dangerous changes in zoning that would upset the rhythm of life in our neighborhood and the unique personality of Central Square. If accepted by the Planning Board and City Council they would bring 14- to 18-story towers to the Central Square area on streets now populated by mostly two- and three-story buildings.
Forgive me if I get some of this wrong, but the recommendations are highly complex, easily obfuscating the bare facts.
The advisory committee, whose 21-person membership featured 12 non-Cambridge residents, is recommending an overlay district for the Central Square area that would raise height restrictions dramatically, to 140 feet and 160 feet. Ordinarily that could result in 14- and 16-story buildings, but the committee and Community Development Department added a little more gravy to the developer’s pot by facilitating transferable development rights. This little twist confuses me, I admit, but essentially it allows developers to add an additional 20 feet to their 140- or 160-foot tower if they own property elsewhere. Simple math says we are now looking at the potential for 16- and 18-story towers, each of which would have 15- to 20-foot structures on top to accommodate heating, cooling and elevator systems.
If you go to my blog on the CCTV website you can see what two 18-story towers look like. Suffice it to say these look a lot different than the watercolor smudges the CDD added to their Cambridge cityscapes when they first began selling the idea of replacing our city-owned parking lots and garage with new developments.
As a member of the Cambridge Residents Alliance, I reiterate our concern about the pending tsunami of mindless and planning-less citywide development despite efforts to discredit our integrity. Understandably, especially in light of the CDD-led abandonment of zoning protections in Central Square, we renew and hopefully reinvigorate our call for a one-year citywide moratorium on all upzoning – not a moratorium on development, but on upzoning. On developer giveaways. One year for the city to take a hard look at its future and start planning for it.
We also invite anyone who cares about the future of our city and the quality of life it affords us to join the CRA in resisting the lure of easy money and the CDD’s flawed arguments about inclusionary zoning offsetting the loss of families and low-income households driven out by the rising rents these towers for the affluent historically breed. The Alliance of Cambridge Tenants has joined us in this effort precisely because it knows this kind of towering development is detrimental to low- and middle-income tenants and families, and has seen no future for those parties in the recommendations the advisory committee and CDD are making.
To those with eyes to see, there is little in those recommendations that brings anything but congestion and long shadows to the future of Central Square and Cambridge.
I conclude with what should be an anthem for the citizens who value the texture and quality of life in our city: Housing, yes — towers, no! Density, yes — congestion, no!
Interested parties can get more information at CambridgeResidentsAlliance.org.