Alewife’s population, transit boom continues with pitch for 224-unit building next to reservation
Another 224 apartments are coming to Alewife in a giant structure pitched Tuesday to the city’s Planning Board — a development that becomes eye-popping when it’s noted that it’s to be built literally across the street from a 398-unit building and behind a 227-unit building.
All told, that’s adding some 1,400 people to the area within just a few years, with the first due less than a year from now.
The population of Cambridge grew by 0.83 percent just from 2010, when the most recent U.S. Census was done, to 106,038 last year, according to the city’s Community Development Department. The estimated population from the three Alewife developments would add another 1.32 percent from that level, bringing the city’s population to somewhere around 107,438.
The building described Tuesday by the global real estate firm Hines and its partners is to be built at 165 Cambridgepark Drive, replacing industrial-looking warehouse and office space.
Numbers and nature
The lot is proposed at 119,274 square feet, with some 280,000 square feet of gross floor area over six stories going as high as 70 feet and including 44 studio apartments, 117 one-bedrooms, 74 two-bedrooms and nine three-bedrooms, with 28 of the total being designated as affordable for low-income residents.
The developers were happy to describe amenities for residents such as a glassy, two-story lobby, reception area and cyber cafe and open space making up 24 percent of the total, including two courtyards (one at ground-level, the other elevated) and landscaped pool deck.
Residents also get a great view and what is essentially the city’s biggest backyard — separated only by the Fitchburg Cutoff Bike Path, which offers access to three more bikeways — in the Alewife Brook Reservation and the Little River winding through it.
“We think we have the best project in the best location of them all,” said David Perry, a senior vice president in Hines’ East Regional Office.
“It’s in this fairly dense area of Cambridge. When you walk out there you realize you really have an opportunity that not many places have in terms of developing housing,” said Ed Hodges of Hines’ architect, Boston-based Dimella Shaffer. “This is even a more incredible opportunity than originally thought. The reservation always seemed relatively impermeable because the vegetation was so thick, and now that it’s actually opened up you can get in and sort of participate with it. You have this long view of the reservation down the river … it’s like you’re looking down a river in New Hampshire. It makes this site a really amazing thing for housing.”
Some in environmentally conscious Cambridge would wish that weren’t the case, for the benefit of wildlife and to help guard against the floods for which the area is known. Hodges described the development area, home of the Dodge chemical company, as almost totally impervious to flooding; resident Michael Brandon disagreed during a public comment period, warning of a resulting environmental disaster of floating waste and fully submerged cars “probably within most of our lifetimes.”
More traffic and transit
Planning Board members were less concerned with flooding at this stage, asking more about transportation. The developers had much to say on the topic.
They boasted of the short walk to the Alewife red line T stop and access to the T and bike path being one reason the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department is okay with Hines’ request for only 232 parking spaces in its two garages, when typically the rule is one space per unit. The developer promises one bicycle parking space per unit and to give $100,000 to the design of a pedestrian bridge.
Getting relief on the parking space rule is one of five reasons Hines must come before the Planning Board, when the company is building smaller than zoning laws would allow, but the department supports the reduction.
“There’s a sense that the entire Alewife area is being overdeveloped. The environmental impact, the infrastructure limitations, they cannot support what the city through zoning and permitting is allowing to occur there,” Brandon said, citing an overburdened red line and “buses that are now getting trapped in traffic.”
A June study by the Urban Land Institute agreed that parts of the red line already run over capacity and that nonstop development in Boston and Cambridge “is likely to produce growing congestion.” About a third of the cars on the red line need replacement, meaning it is “able to run with the 168 vehicles needed, but barely” and that breakdowns “may well become a common occurrence if the hoped-for procurement is delayed due to lack of funds and the number of available vehicles falls below the minimum.”
Traffic analysis by the city showed the residents at 165 Cambridgepark Drive adding 638 bus and T trips a day, although only 49 during morning rush hour and 60 in the evening rush hour, said Susan Clippinger, director of the transportation department. There would be 800 car trips added — 61 and 75 at the respective rush hours — 132 pedestrian trips and 60 bicycle trips.
Of course, these figures have to be added to those for the even bigger development going up across the street, and Clippinger’s report to the board admits Alewife intersections “are heavily congested today in the peak hour … residents of the proposed project will experience significant queuing in the peak hours.”
“By and large excellent”
Board members generally liked the project as described, but there were some sharp criticisms to be answered the next time Hines presents. Chairman Hugh Russell wanted to see more information on the environmental protections and called the building’s suggested 440-foot facade “really boring.” He also called the two garage entrances from Cambridgepark Drive and the parking spaces on them “like the worst possible pedestrian experience. They simply cannot be there.”
That led him to the board members’ most common complaint: strangely unclear renderings of what the project would look like.
“The driveways don’t show in your renderings, just as the garage doors don’t show … the renderings don’t match what you’re proposing to do. I’d like to see what you’re proposing to do,” Russell said. “I think you’re not sharing with us the whole story.”
“The renderings are problematic,” Steven Winter agreed. “I think I understood the project in spite of the renderings.”
Still, Russell called the project “by and large excellent” and William Tibbs said Hines was making “a handsome street on what has until recently been quite different. You’re transforming a dead-end street that will become a destination.”