Friday, February 23, 2024

Husam “Sam” Azzam must surely be Cambridge’s most loathed developer.

For a one-time building inspector, he has a remarkable amount of trouble on zoning issues. Having just settled a dispute in East Cambridge, he’s facing new regulatory hassles in Porter Square, both involving an insistence on putting a lot in a little space that could be commendable, but just winds up being questionable: If it’s not legal, this is one guy who should know better.

He was spared tear-down of his six units in East Cambridge by the city, which decreed that for creating too much square footage of housing, he must fill in some basement space.

Neighbors are reasonably upset, since the sanction doesn’t really speak to the problem. The punishment for foisting illegal construction on a neighborhood forever seems to be less closet space.

The 15 units of office space and condominiums Azzam is building in Porter — including a minitower with bold two-story strips of window facing Massachusetts Avenue, carefully overlaid on the remains of the Long Funeral Service — could be destroyed, but somehow, considering his last experience with City Hall, that seems unlikely. The project is at a virtual standstill, frozen not just in anticipation of a zoning board hearing a week from today, but by angry carpenters, who picketed yesterday to protest what they call inadequate wages and benefits by the construction company.

And here comes the cold, rain and snow that makes progress impossible.

Unfortunately, an abandoned construction site decaying under attack by the elements is not the ideal accompaniment for the St. James Episcopal Church across the street, a Richardson Romanesque built in 1888 that is one of the square’s rare attractive sights.

It should be nice that housing is going up in Cambridge. Azzam has a magic touch for making the nice seem awful.