Forest City is looking for affordable-housing site, exec promises in bid for Central Square zoning

013013ii Forest City graphicThe search is under way for a site to hold 25 units of affordable housing in trade for the ability to build near Central Square, said Peter Calkins, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the developer Forest City.

“We are even as we speak actively looking at sites,” Calkins said at a Wednesday meeting of the City Council’s Ordinance Committee. “It’s very much our intention and goal to deliver the housing ourselves.”

The assurance came in response to city councillors worried about the developer’s promise to provide the units within seven years or pay $5 million into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust. That’s $1 million more than was promised officially just two weeks ago at a committee meeting but didn’t address the concerns of Denise Simmons, Minka vanBeuzekom or Leland Cheung that the default money wasn’t adjusted for inflation.

“I’m pleased that you’ve increased the amount, but the only thing – and I raised this at the last meeting – is that there should be some reflection of the consumer price index. If the housing isn’t built for another seven or eight years, the value [of $5 million] isn’t going to be the value it is now,” Simmons said.

Another step Forest City took in its quest to put up a 246,716-square-foot building at 300 Massachusetts Ave. for the Millennium biotech company was making it official that there would be 25 units, rather than the 20 promised in August. The company has been seeking a zoning change since May 1 that will let it build up to 95 feet high plus a “penthouse” of heating and air conditioning machinery in an area otherwise limited to 80-foot heights.

Two weeks ago councillors vanBeuzekom and Craig Kelley also asked for a lump-sum payment of $1.08 million in community benefits upon approval of the zoning, rather than in four equal payments, but like an adjustment for inflation, that change wasn’t reflected in the updated proposal by Forest City.

“There are some practical considerations,” Forest City attorney James Rafferty said. “There will be other councils in the future, and there would be nothing to prevent a future council from adopting a dissimilar zoning petition that would remove [Forest City’s] rights, in which case the petitioner would have paid for something it never got to build.” Paying after other city boards and departments takes steps to allow the building also guarantees those steps get taken, he said – while vanBeuzekom replied that it seemed to her that paying ahead of time was a stronger way to guarantee that.

Five approaches

Forest City is already locking in 168 units of affordable housing on its University Park, in which it has built office, lab and residential space with up to 75 years of land grants from the Massachusetts Institute of  Technology. The 25 units of additional affordable housing is roughly the amount in a residential tower Forest City wanted to build, but withdrew because of public backlash over it replacing much of a small park at Massachusetts Avenue and Sidney Street.

A letter from Forest City available at the Wednesday meeting laid out five ways the affordable housing units would be provided: construction of housing on a site not used for affordable housing before January 2007; conversion of a nonresidential structure; building of more units on a site that already has housing; conversion of existing market-rate units to affordable units; or “investment in and sponsorship of a project that will cause the production of 20 affordable units.”

Members of the public wondered how it would wind up.

While Charles Teague conjectured that the company could pay into and claim units already going up in the far-away NorthPoint as satisfying its requirement, resident Kathy Hoffman imagined Forest City taking the opportunity to put up another large project.

“We are talking about a building of 175 units, of which 150 will be not-affordable, will be market rate, will be, I don’t know what, micro-units?” Hoffman said. “To me it would be better to have them give the city the ability to build 25 affordable units … of course, $5 million isn’t going to build 25 affordable units, so that needs to be negotiated.”

If a 175-unit building went up, Sherri Tucker said, she hoped to see it hold large units that could house families instead of micro-units meant for single people who would likely not be residents for long.

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4 Responses to Forest City is looking for affordable-housing site, exec promises in bid for Central Square zoning

  1. Mark Jaquith

    January 30, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    I wasn’t able to make it to this hearing. Was there any promise, or discussion, of making these 25 affordable dwelling units affordable in perpetuity?

  2. patrickbarrett

    January 31, 2013 at 12:12 am

    No that word thankfully wasn’t abused tonight.

  3. Mark Jaquith

    February 1, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Patrick, you took the bait right on schedule. Seriously though, how many, What type, and for how long. Exactly what is under discussion.

  4. patrickbarrett

    February 2, 2013 at 7:57 am

    How could I not? This development and the C2K2 push is the single most exciting debate in the city. I would like the say though that I enjoyed your recent comment on the Chronicle, and whole heartedly agree. However local community groups need an oversight from the city lest we repeat 131 Harvard. Personally I blame the 80-10-10 distribution march the city cannot seem to extricate itself from. Toomey and Kelly have tried to reverse this with zero success. I think the other councilors get the fidgets when discussing the possibility of favoring open space and preserving historical over the low income grail. It looks a bit like zealotry to me.

    That being said, 25 units of housing is what was on the table. However, Maher stated at the onset that these unit were not to be included in any development but were extricated from the now removed “tower.” So, when Forest City finds a new site, if the inclusionary housing comes to the 25 number their obligation is satisfied. Minka did not understand this and asked about 15 minutes later if these units were over and above what would be required on a future site. The answer is clearly “no.” As to how long, well as far as I can tell Forest City is in the business of leasing land, I suppose if that were not the case any housing would most certainly be in that perpetuity, but there is nothing stated to that effect. 75 years isn’t enough?

    The discussion in a nutshell is:

    100k+ worth of additional lab space for 15000k of subsidized retail, the retention of 160+ low income units for the remainder of the 75 year term on FC’s ground lease, an additional 25 units to be discovered within 7 years time or $5million, and roughly 1mil+ in linkage cash on the barrel for the zoning bump.(In my personal opinion they aught to just take the 5mil and put it toward infrastructure. Waiting for housing to appear doesn’t have a good track record, and in seven years will any of you even remember? My guess is yes, but what you’ll remember and what actually is will be two different things. Take the money now Cambridge and leave it in the communities most effected by this development)

    The structure itself is scaled, and has a 65′ frontage with a 95′ slender section roughly the same height as the Novartis building next to it. I don’t even care about FC in the slightest, though they have some good guys working for them, I just want the retail front, and for that block to be active again. I also believe that its best to try to work with developers rather than try to repeatedly beat them with a stick. At this point city council meetings feel more like a ptsd recovery group. The opposition have turned 100k sqft into a lightning rod of reactive nonsense. However I’ll tell you this, when this building gets built if Cambridge is in flames and dogs and cats are marrying in the streets ice cream is on me!

    You may want the perpetuity cows to come home here, but forest city doesn’t own the land and they cannot give that which they do not own. However, I don’t see how anyone could say this isn’t a fair deal. The retail is worthless to them, which cuts the total sqft down to 85k and the height is within scale. Not to mention Millennium is the one moving in and they are already just around the block. Please poke a hole here if you can.

    What really bakes my bread is that no one on this council can say “market rate housing.” No one laments the 100+ units that are no longer present. I know I haven’t been here long (8 years) but you all must realize that we need both right? There is no shortage of low income in Area IV and Cambridge Port and there aught to be a moratorium on building that kind of housing in those areas until the rest of the city catches up, and then we should stop and work to maintain that which we built if you truly want something to remain in perpetuity.

    Wow, well set trap sir.

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