Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Brian Murphy, assistant city manager for Community Development, at a Planning Board meeting. He says the city has narrowed development consultant candidates to a single firm. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The consultant meant to lead Cambridge into its next phase of development, including crafting a cohesive plan for Kendall and Central squares, will likely be hired next week, Assistant City Manager for Community Development Brian Murphy said.

He expected the city manager to ask city councillors to okay the consultant’s fee Monday, Murphy said. The national search for a consultant, which the council approved Feb. 28, has narrowed to a single candidate.

“They’ve been made aware that they will have to not  just hit the ground running, but sprinting at breakneck speed,” Murphy told the Planning Board at its Tuesday meeting, where members heard the latest details of a proposal by the biotech firm Novartis to add to its campus on Massachusetts Avenue between Central Square and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The $600 million plan would add more than 400,000 square feet across the street from the company’s current space (sparking conversation of whether a tunnel under the avenue could connect the campuses, rather than have workers having to constantly cross the street).

Board members such as Charles Student worried that they were approving aspects of projects that would run counter to the consultant’s opinions. Murphy assured him that the consultant candidate was already briefed on, and thinking about, Novartis and other projects under way throughout the city.

“We were pleased with the level of depth and breadth and creativity in their proposal that gives us a great deal of confidence that they will be able to do that in such a way as to not impede this applicant or others,” Murphy said.

In addition to a revival of Central Square and the institute’s proposal for 1.1 million square feet of retail, laboratory, office and housing in a key 25 acres of Kendall Square, the 43 acres of NorthPoint are in play again after a lengthy legal hiatus and there is an ongoing review of development along Massachusetts Avenue in North Cambridge. Throughout the city there are some 3,000 apartment units being built or under consideration, among them 1,500 in NorthPoint; some 400 in the Kendall Square plans of Alexandria Real Estate Equities and Boston Properties; 430 at 70 Fawcett St. and 108 replacing Fawcett Oil; 227 replacing the defunct Faces nightclub on Route 2; 140 replacing and around the former Rounder Records building; and 30 at the Cambridge Lumber site.

Residents have been blasting city officials for months for “spot zoning” and the cacophony of zoning proposals and counterarguments arising from a lack of cohesive plan for a city that has evolved since comprehensive zoning was last done in the 1990s; one of those, the so-called Fox petition, came up again Tuesday before the Planning Board, sparking newly common confusion and debate among board members, residents and Murphy’s department, and there is yet a “Hegarty amendment” and an overall revamp of a section of zoning called 5.28.2 to be addressed, much of it centered around large business or school sites that could be turned into apartments or condominiums and change the nature of a street or neighborhood.

“There are all these issues we’ve talked about tonight that need to be fleshed out, and I think we’re going to need the help of that consultant,” Studen said toward the end of discussion about the Novartis expansion.

No other details were available about the consultant candidate, Murphy said.