Timing of meeting for MIT’s Kendall plan draws fire
Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans for Kendall Square are scheduled to be presented tonight to the Planning Board, prompting charges from city councillors of poor timing, considering the holiday taking place three days later, if not outright secretiveness.
“It’s unusual to have the Planning Board have any hearings about major proposals on Dec. 21,” said councillor Ken Reeves at a brief Monday meeting of the council, although he also noted the meeting’s description as informational, based in part on feedback its gotten from the public and city officials, not a public hearing. “MIT has a large proposal, and it seems to me it would be logical that they would bring it in at a time people might actually come to hear it.”
Other councillors shared his concern, with Marjorie Decker calling it “problematic” that the board would schedule the presentation only days before a major holiday and Leland Cheung — a student at the institute — saying the timing didn’t surprise him.
“Anything that affects the community, it always seems that it’s happening over a break, whether it’s summer or winter,” Cheung said. “This really should be done when more members of the community can participate.”
Cheung hoped the school and board would reschedule the meeting or repeat the information for a bigger audience, while Decker and Reeves vowed to attend the meeting to keep an eye on the proceedings.
“I had planned to begin the holiday, but it seems our work is never completed,” Reeves said.
It’s unlikely the presentation would be rescheduled, but it could be repeated if the board chooses, said Susan Glazer, acting assistant manager for Community Development. She stressed Tuesday that there would be public hearings set up for the plan, as “this is really the beginning of a long conversation.”
The plan would affect several parcels on the south side of Main Street and one by 1 Broadway and the red line T stop in Kendall Square, Glazer said, with the goal of adding density and improving ground-floor spaces into “more lively destinations that would better serve residents and businesses.” She called the plans so far “very conceptual” and said she hoped to put information online soon.
The school has come in for major criticism from the council, especially Reeves, over how it goes about development in the city. The councillor repeated some of his criticisms Monday, including the school’s seeming inability to rent a storefront at 450 Massachusetts Ave. in Central Square, by the Central Square Theater, that is “about to have its third, maybe fourth birthday as a vacancy,” and unwillingness to reveal there was a developer for the so-called All Asia block — a selection he discovered by chance just hours after meeting with school officials who denied it.
“There’s judgment and there’s poor judgment,” Reeves said. “MIT has not exhibited anywhere in the city its capability to do a major project like that plan for Kendall Square, so we on the council have to be vigilant to be sure we don’t get more dead zones in the city.” He has complained about University Park’s failure to draw people, and noted that it is the developer of University Park that the school chose for its larger Massachusetts Avenue project off Central Square.
The council has also been accused of holding meetings at times inconvenient for residents, Craig Kelley reminded his fellow councillors, citing summertime holiday meetings involving the recent disastrous — and ultimately rescinded — change in the city’s rules in how businesses could brand their buildings.
But when the council heard accusations of sneaking policy through secret meetings, it responded by holding more public meetings, Decker said.
The Planning Board schedules meetings on its own, but “we will be held responsible,” she said.
The meeting is set for 7 p.m. on the second floor of the City Hall Annex at 344 Broadway. For information, call (617) 349-447.
Resignation, policy order go through
Also at the council meeting, Tim Toomey’s one-sentence letter of resignation as co-chairman of the panel’s Ordinance Committee was accepted and put on file. Toomey, asked to explain the move by Cambridge Day, declined, saying the letter spoke for itself.
The resignation followed last week’s 8-1 acceptance of an agreement with the Education First Foundation to expand in the nascent NorthPoint area that would spread nearly $1 million throughout the city rather than a lesser amount focused solely on East Cambridge. Toomey, a proponent of East Cambridge, was the opposing vote.
A policy order by Toomey to look at the foundation’s education-based tax-exempt status in the city passed 8-1 on Monday, with Kelley being the holdout because the order seemed like a case of “sour grapes.” Others in the city agreed at the inspiration for the order, mainly privately, but Reeves also articulated support for it by explaining that the information would be good to have, given the deal’s 50-year impact on the city and confusion resulting from changes in the foundation’s plans along the way.
Toomey also explained his order as merely a request for information.
“I’m just looking for clarification. It’s not sour grapes by any stretch of the imagination,” Toomey said. “It’s to clarify the tax base of the city.”