Planning Board to New Street developer: We need many answers before we can act
The Planning Board asked developers of 75 New St. on Tuesday to return for a fourth meeting in September to answer its questions. The project has been a focus of recent public concern about development in Cambridge, especially in the Alewife area. It was the board’s third hearing on the project.
The developers, lead by Phil Terzsis of Abodez, are applying for five special permits for a 93-unit residential development opposite Danehy Park near Fresh Pond. The board is generally obliged to grant those permits if the developer can meet the criteria outlined in the zoning ordinance; but the board can attach conditions, and usually does.
It has taken the board three hearings to accomplish what is usually accomplished in one. The developer presented at a hearing March 4, and there was substantial public comment, with the board running out of time before deliberating. At an acrimonious hearing May 20, the board heard updates from the developer and again reluctantly took public comment, but once again ran out of time and did not deliberate. Tuesday’s hearing began with the board offering comments on the prior presentations from their notes.
There was still confusion about process, though. About 20 members of the public attended, and several seemed disappointed at not being able to speak. “The process was not well explained,” said Jan Devereaux, president of the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance. The hearing was listed as a “public hearing” on the agenda, with no guidance on the lack of public comment.
Board questions, comments
The board was one member short, with architect Tom Sieniewicz away on travel.
Generally all members of the board present spoke positively about the project, but it was only Hugh Russell, the board’s chairman (and its other architect) speaking last who offered “a number of detailed questions” that the developer must either answer or have a strategy to answer before he felt the board could act.
How a connection to the Fresh Pond Shopping Center would be accomplished if additional property could be obtained from the nearby auto-body shop.
How that connection could work if the shopping center were rebuilt in accordance with its previously presented plan.
That there be a noise study to determine whether the nearby Whole Foods generates enough noise to require acoustic windows on this project.
That the developers and city staff “put their heads together” and come up with a plan, in the timeframe of this project, to improve a pedestrian path on New Street.
That more information be given on how visitor parking would work.
For a stronger look at urban design with a city staff member expected to be hired early August.
For visual proof there is room on New Street for proposed trees, and for details on plantings between the railroad tracks and the property.
For confirmation that a traffic study includes all “in the pipeline” development in Alewife, including 88 CambridgePark Drive.
Steve Cohen led off for the board, noting he favored residential development in this location over industrial and that while the proposed modular style of housing might not be appropriate in an established neighborhood, he had no objection to it here, where “there is no existing pattern of residential development.”
Cohen acknowledged abysmal traffic in the Alewife area, saying “There’s no question that the neighbors are right on that.” This project wouldn’t add much, he said – but noted that projects taken collectively can have impact, and asked the board and staff to consider how to look at projects together. Ahmed Nur later echoed that concern.
Pam Winters encouraged the developer to consider rooftop decks and green roofs, and questioned whether the traffic study was up to date. At the end of the meeting, attorney James Rafferty indicated the developer would like to have a roof deck, but needed to determine whether that would cause the elevator to exceed the height limit for occupied space.
H. Theodore Cohen emphasized that residential development opposite Danehey Park “makes a lot of sense,” and said he felt it was indeed “transit-oriented development.” Even going around the shopping center the long way to the Alewife MBTA stop, it’s shorter walk to a subway stop than many faced in Cambridge. The board had previously heard public concern about the dangers of walking through the busy parking lot.
Steve Winter encouraged staff from the Community Development Department to bring together neighbors and developers for meetings.
East Street and NorthPoint
Also Tuesday was a proposed height reduction at 1-5 East St. in the new NorthPoint neighborhood. The board was asked to evaluate a height reduction to 70 feet from 143 for one section of the building, making it a uniform 70 feet in height.
After substantial procedural discussion, the board voted that the proposed change was a major amendment requiring two public hearings, rather than a minor amendment the board could vote on that night. That item is expected to come back before the board in September.
A previously scheduled hearing for a major amendment to the NorthPoint special permit for shared parking, more retail and a grocery store was rescheduled to Aug. 19.