MIT’s Volpe petition is good for Cambridge, and grad students’ petition could undo deal

Received Oct. 21, 2017: We are longtime, active residents of Cambridge, living in the Wellington-Harrington, East Cambridge and Port neighborhoods, which abut Kendall Square and its Volpe center. We can’t begin to describe how proud we are to be a part of the Cambridge community. Our neighbors and friends are thoughtful people who work together openly to address concerns and aspirations about our collective quality of life and share our values of social equity, inclusivity and diversity. We are fortunate also to have elected officials and city administrators who care deeply about our community, its residents and our future. We feel grateful every day to live here.

We are writing to call attention to the many benefits to the community that have been carefully and tirelessly negotiated by many community groups into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s PUD-7 zoning petition and commitment letter, which, as a Cambridge city official reported at last week’s City Council meeting, will be nullified if the graduate student petition for housing is approved. Because some would rather sacrifice the affordable housing and other community benefits so they can advance a very narrow agenda, we’ve made the uncomfortable decision to raise our concerns in a more public way about the jeopardy we see for the fate of the current Volpe proposal.

We have had the opportunity over the past year to serve on the city-appointed Volpe Working Group, and are impressed with that hard-working group made up of residents, business representatives and city staff and led by a professional and insightful architect. When MIT was named by the federal government in January as the developer of the 14-acre Volpe site, the working group started an intensive dialogue with the institute about the future of the site. We pushed it on a range of topics related to housing, open space, amenities, pedestrian and bicycle access, retail and other urban design issues.

In the meantime, MIT has been out talking with all kinds of people about its proposed development. The institute has held or attended around 70 meetings and workshops to gather input on what people think and want.

The upshot of all that dialogue is that MIT has committed to the following community benefits:

bullet-gray-small $25.5 million for design and construction of an on-site community center and endowment to support operations and ensure ongoing affordability

bullet-gray-small $1.5 million to support the job connector program

bullet-gray-small $8.5 million for transit improvements to reduce vehicular traffic

bullet-gray-small $8.5 million to the city’s community fund to be distributed to Cambridge nonprofits

bullet-gray-small Access rights along MIT property conveyed to enable the creation of the Grand Junction multi-use path, plus $8.5 million for design and construction

bullet-gray-small 280 affordable residential units valued at approximately $140 million

bullet-gray-small 20 middle-income residential units valued at approximately $6 million

bullet-gray-small Approximately $26 million to the Affordable Housing Trust for commercial linkage payment (at $15 per square foot)

bullet-gray-small Approximately $23 million annually in taxes once stabilized on a currently tax-exempt site

bullet-gray-small $1 million for innovation arts program to recognize innovation and entrepreneurship in Kendall Square

bullet-gray-small $300,000 for community event programming

bullet-gray-small Minimum of 2.5 acres of public open space on the 10-acre site

In addition to the community benefits mentioned above, on Monday, the institute responded to the demands of graduate students for additional housing by pledging an additional 950 units of graduate student housing (this above the additional middle-income units it also pledged, and the previously agreed-to 280 affordable units). Despite MIT’s response, the graduate student advocates – including several candidates for City Council – have not withdrawn the petition. What could become a clear victory for our city, and particularly the adjacent neighborhoods of Volpe, hangs in the balance as students continue to rally in support of the grad petition at the expense of the many important benefits.

Currently, Kendall Square feels very isolated from the rest of the city. The Volpe proposal will create a real neighborhood with connections to the adjacent neighborhoods of East Cambridge, Wellington-Harrington and The Port. And the other benefits that have been proposed will be much-needed additions to addressing many of the challenges we face in our city. The housing it will provide, particularly the 280 units of affordable housing, will help to address a critical need in our city. While we need to work with MIT to urge them to continue to increase their stock of graduate student housing, this is a good beginning. In our view, the benefits from this proposal are clear and compelling.

We urge the City Council to pass MIT’s Volpe zoning petition now, so together we can begin to implement these new initiatives that will benefit the entire city.


The authors are residents and neighborhood representatives on the City of Cambridge Volpe Working Group: Steve LaMaster, of Windsor Street; Peter Crawley, of Thorndike Street; and Esther Hanig, of Pine Street.

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