Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A rendering of the proposed Harvard Square &pizza shop to be discussed Thursday at a Board of Zoning Appeals hearing.

From James M. Williamson, April 25, 2017: Readers of Cambridge Day will surely be interested to learn that the Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing of great importance to the future of Harvard Square and naturally, all of Cambridge, at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, directly across the street from City Hall.

The topic is corporate pizza.

A pizza chain based in Washington, D.C., dubbed &pizza, is applying for what’s called a “fast food special permit” to be allowed to open another branch of its expanding chain – this time right in the middle of Harvard Square, combining into one long corporate facade the spaces where Tory Row was with where Crimson Corner (Nini’s) was recently forced to relocate. A group of investors with a background in fast food operations such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s Pizza recently pumped another $25 million into this “brand” to begin saturating cities along the northeast corridor with its style of pizza, and what it refers to as its “tribal” culture.

It’s hard to believe we need another pizza emporium in Harvard Square. We already have five very nice and mostly very local establishments devoted mainly to pizza within just two blocks of this central, defining corner in Harvard Square. Do we really need another – this time of the more corporate variety?

Should we allow Harvard Square to be “branded” by a pizza chain for “fast-casual” investors who seek excessive profits from our reputation and history, and at our expense?

Fortunately, one of the criteria for granting this permit involves a finding by the board that there is a “need” for this particular kind of establishment. Hard to believe anyone could argue that.   Letting “the market” decide here, as a few have argued, might sound nice, but the market has already determined outcomes in that the kind of local, independently owned and operated (and sometimes even affordable) businesses most of us yearn for cannot possibly afford to pay the excessive rents now being demanded by the super-wealthy real estate interests now seeking to colonize Harvard Square.

The public hearing Thursday should be a great opportunity for residents of Cambridge, many of whom have been complaining for years about developments in Harvard Square and a more recently perceived retail wasteland, to get off their duffs and make their voices heard on the future of Harvard Square and of our community. We’re at yet another turning point in the history of Harvard Square. We need to make sure that, this time, we head in the right direction.