Thursday, April 18, 2024

Michael Cantalupa, senior vice president of development at Boston Properties, presents a plan for a structure to be built in a Kendall Square rooftop garden during a March 14 neighborhood meeting. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The charge for the next meeting of the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is to take a detailed look at the structure a developer wants to build across a rooftop garden in Kendall Square, taking almost half the garden from public use.

The developer, Boston Properties, is to make a presentation at that July 18 meeting after taking more than a dozen comments from the five-member board, including alternatives proposed by member Barry Zevin that would avoid taking 40 percent of the garden from the public for private use by a future residential tower and a two-story structure connecting Google offices in two buildings.

Whatever the board suggests, the next meeting’s presentation may not be much different from the current proposal.

Michael Cantalupa, senior vice president of development at Boston Properties, suggested as much in comments to the board made at the last meeting of the authority, held June 20.

“Having looked through the comments Mr. Zevin made, the two basic moves, which are to open up the walkway between Three and Five Cambridge Place, we examined that. We wouldn’t do that. And so I don’t want you walking away approving something thinking we would come back and be advocating that we change that. Secondly, with respect to moving the connector over to the residential building, we wouldn’t build the residential building that way. And so I wouldn’t want you to walk away thinking that we would come back and be supportive of that as well … Those are problematic for us,” Cantalupa said. “We think we’ve submitted a good design. We would expect to go through design review and further refine designs that have been made … we’re hoping to leave here and build this.”

The Google structure was proposed to the City Council for fast approval Feb. 27, but outraged councillors threw it out because there had been no public process for the design. By March 19, though, enough councillors were satisfied to vote 7-2 to let the plan go forward in exchange for five “commitments,” with the most prominent being the developer promising $2 million to make a ground-level park some blocks away. There was still a problem in the total lack of active board members for the authority, but the council voted in its four members on April 9, and Zevin’s continued membership was clarified by the state.

Slower, but not severe

The rooftop plan, proposed by “Boston Properties, together with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority,” was presented by City Manager Robert W. Healy as being urgent, but the fact it was done so without a single board member has slowed the process dramatically, as several residents have opposed it relentlessly and the board members have demanded to understand what they’re voting on.

“It’s difficult to act on something you’re seeing for the first time,” authority chairwoman Kathleen Born said at the June 20 meeting.

The position seemed to come as something of surprise, if not frustration, to Cantalupa.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been in a circumstance where the board has been drilling down into design in a way that’s being considered today,” Cantalupa said.

While the authority’s longtime executive director, Joseph Tulimieri, said in April — well after the council vote — that the board members could go so far as to kill the project (“Can the authority say, ‘No, we don’t want it’? Sure.”), that didn’t seem to be how Boston Properties project manager Kevin Sheehan understood it. When authority board member Chris Bator asked whether the board faced limitations in critiquing the developer’s designs, Sheehan said it did:

“The point of the schematic design submission and approval is to define the basic idea of the project and what the issues are — issues made as you get further development of the design. Issues may arise that weren’t obvious on the first submission because the design wasn’t developed to that level. But it’s not the time to go back and say ‘We want to cut the building in half.’”

The developer’s shrugging off of design suggestions from Zevin and potentially other board members arose, in fact, during debate of the “conditional approval” of schematic designs for construction — something that was on the agenda for the evening but delayed as members expressed discomfort with the design and speed of the vote. Born took a step back to ask Jeffrey Mullan, counsel to the board from the law firm Foley Hoag, what “conditional” meant, since “we’re attaching some ‘comments.’”

“Those are the conditions,” Mullan told her. “It means it’s been approved subject to these comments that you’ve submitted. It doesn’t mean that they are going to accommodate every comment, but what it does is it reserves your right to comment further on those items as per the point Kevin has made. If they accommodate every comment in the way members have asked, then the set’s approved. If it’s not, those comments have to be addressed in the next submittal.”