Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Click here to read Goody Clancy’s report on Central Square.

Click here to read recommendations for Central Square posted in December 2013.

Pocket parks, a farmers market, free Wi-Fi and more public art, as well as sidewalk improvements, real-time T and bus arrival information and a Business Improvement District for Central Square could all be before the City Council as a package soon, if city managers and planners respond to the council’s latest effort to bring in the “non-zoning recommendations” from the long-ago C2 process.

“This just needs to happen. I hope now that they’re hearing very clearly, now that this is the second time we’ve asked for this, that we want some movement,” said vice mayor Marc McGovern, referring to council orders calling for a timeline in May and June of last year.

The package of recommendations is well over two years old.

Even before the combined 18-month, $350,000 studies of Kendall and Central squares referred to as K2C2 that took place in 2011-12, with a consultant’s reports released by the Community Development Department in December 2013, there was a red ribbon commission in place examining Central Square and its future. There is still an advisory group for the square that meets – to little effect, McGovern said Monday.

“I rarely see anything done with what they come up with, and that’s not their fault, it’s the city,” McGovern said.

A letter to the council from the Central Square Business Association, presented Monday by past president George Metzger, agreed that “the C2 Advisory Committee needs CDD leadership and staff support to define a clear path and process for moving from the issues outlined in the report to a timeline for concrete action.”

Desperation vs. distraction

David Dixon, of the consultant Goody Clancy, led the 18-month K2C2 process in 2011-12. (Photo: Marc Levy)

David Dixon, of the consultant Goody Clancy, led the 18-month K2C2 process in 2011-12. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Community Development and the City Manager’s Office have been described repeatedly within the past couple of years as overloaded with work, and councillors’ policy orders in recent months have frequently passed only with debate over whether the order is worthy of adding to the burden of the city manager. Longtime manager Richard C. Rossi retires this summer; city planners lost a leader in February 2015, when assistant city manager for community development Brian Murphy died suddenly while traveling. Iram Farooq was promoted to the position eight months later. Now, some five months later, her role as deputy director has been filled by Sandra Clarke, former head of the Massachusetts Division of Banks.

The zoning aspects of K2C2 – such as the height of buildings, required parking spaces and the like – never reached the council as two distinct packages because the department decided to introduce proposals piecemeal, parcel by parcel, as developers came forward with projects, Murphy explained in late 2014. It is not clear why the non-zoning portions of the process didn’t reach the council after being described June 19, 2013, in a memo by Murphy. Farooq was contacted for insight into a potential timeline late Tuesday afternoon.

Central Square “desperately needs” the non-zoning improvements, including maintenance and beautification efforts, the business association letter said. “The large investment of time, money and people resources that went into creating the C2 plan warrants a clear outline of the next steps [and] were very clear and actionable.”

Possible priorities

“It’s a good time to take another look at the list and prioritize what we can get done sooner rather than later,” said the association’s executive director, Robin Lapidus. It had been long enough since the recommendations were made that she wanted to review the list to see what she would want done first – but she hoped to see streetscape improvements made to give a more “orderly” feel to the jumble of newspaper boxes, sticker-plastered utility poles and bike racks along Central Square sidewalks.

The recommendations “have been made several times,” she said.

She also hoped to see a strategy to keep stores from staying vacant for long periods and more places for entertainment along Massachusetts Avenue, and would like to examine a policy for bringing in food trucks that didn’t affect business at the square’s existing eateries.

The Mass+Main development coming to the eastern end of Central Square by Jill Brown-Rhone Park was advertised as coming with ground-floor retail, including some set aside for local small businesses, and a public or farmers market – all items mentioned when setting the C2 recommendations. The zoning for the Mass+Main complex was approved in May 2015, but Lapidus said it was too soon to know how those concepts would work out.

“We haven’t seen any final plans, so I don’t know if there’s a comprehensive plan in place,” Lapidus said.

Stuart Dash, Cambridge’s director of community planning, estimated that the Mass+Main developers’ plans are still more than three months away from a Planning Board hearing.

John Hawkinson contributed to this report.