Saturday, July 13, 2024

A flier from the a group called the Cambridge Residents Alliance shows how it perceives a commercial building proposed for Central Square by the developer Forest City.

Neither the revealing of Millennium Pharmaceuticals as the tenant for a building proposed for near Central Square nor a new design lowering the proposed building’s height has cooled opposition from a group known as the Cambridge Residents Alliance.

The return of an apartment tower to discussion by the City Council’s ordinance committee, set for 4 p.m. Wednesday, is more red meat for residents in the group; David Maher convinced five other councillors to vote with him June 11 in cutting it from the proposal by developer Forest City, but his meeting notice suggests it’s back on the table for discussion before the full council votes Monday.

It’s the full council’s only summer meeting, and Forest City’s zoning petition expires Aug. 13.

Early last month, Forest City representatives said they wanted a commercial building at 300 Massachusetts Ave. reaching 110 feet in height and a 14-story residential tower at Sidney and Green streets reaching 165 feet.  Current zoning allows 80 feet.

The buildings were to have dining and retail options at street level. Forest City pleased with a vow given The Cambridge Chronicle to have “non-chain” retail in the commercial building but inflamed by showing that the apartment tower restaurant would cut some 77 percent of a park stretching the small Sidney Street block from Massachusetts Avenue to Green Street — the reason housing was cut from consideration, with Maher saying, “It will kind of put the brakes on and allow us to have a more in-depth conversation with Forest City, city planning staff and the neighborhood.”

Since then the developer has cut the commercial building’s proposed height to 95 feet for a 246,716-square-foot total (still 108,000 more than allowed by current zoning). It has also revealed Millennium Pharmaceuticals — founded and based in Cambridge — as the sole tenant for the office and lab space, the Chronicle reported. The company would be able to consolidate its 1,200 employees from four buildings throughout Cambridge.

Why the rush?

Cambridge Residents Alliance materials aren’t sympathetic, describing the proposal and the zoning change that would enable it this way: “Forest City promised a tenant a building that doesn’t exist, on land they promised to buy, on which they cannot, by law, build the building that they promised.”

“They need to get the law changed right now … before the Central Square plan is created,” one poster says, referring to the expected culmination of a years-long neighborhood planning process and work by the consultant Goody Clancy. “They know existing residents (voters) will be upset when the Kendall [Square] study reveals 75,000 new daily trips for new development, many going through Central. And that there will be thousands of new residents with income and corporate housing subsidies to push both residential and commercial rents sharply upward. A real plan may not allow all this.”

Descriptions of the plans for Central and Kendall squares by the consultant’s David Dixon do include housing for people of all incomes, but nothing that suggests either of Forest City’s proposed buildings would be discouraged.

It’s for that reason that alliance materials also express skepticism about what the consultant will ultimately advise the city to do:

Unfortunately the Goody Clancy plans seriously deviate from the content of the [Central Square] Red Ribbon Report. The combined increased density of over 7 million square feet projected for Kendall Square and Central Square will overwhelm and choke the city’s already stretched auto, truck and public transit capacity, both buses and T. The tens of thousands of additional commuter trips will increase noise and pollution, increasing the hazards for pedestrians young and old, cyclists and motorists in this already congested section of the city.  The many thousands of added vehicles will put new burdens on existing business, schools, hospitals and commuters. We share with the Red Ribbon Report a goal of keeping Central Square family friendly, but the Goody, Clancy plan will undermine our Central Square community, and lower the quality of life for all Cambridge residents.

The same letter, signed by residents Laurie Freedman, Arleen Henry, Jonathan King and Nancy Ryan, said Goody Clancy was being “profoundly misleading” in talking about increases in population and traffic in the individual squares, rather than citing the combined effect of growth in Central and Kendall.

But that was in April, with the final consultant’s report — and its consideration by the council —still many months away.

In addition to hearing a Forest City proposal, Monday’s meeting will likely include a vote on a petition to block “up-zoning” in building height and population density throughout the city, whose supporters wanted to see the Goody Clancy plan get a vote before individual projects that may not conform to its suggestions.

The ordinance committee meets at 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. The meeting is to be televised.