Tuesday, May 28, 2024

MIT’s proposal to zone the 14-acre Volpe parcel in Kendall Square – to lock in a density limit, required open space, maximum height, quantity of residential space, etc. – passed a procedural milestone Monday when the City Council was expected to forward the zoning petition for further hearings.


That didn’t quite happen. Maybe it scuffed against the milestone.

After the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a 22-page zoning petition June 21, the usual process would be for the council to refer the petition to the Planning Board and to its own Ordinance Committee for a parallel set of hearings. That process is set up by the Massachusetts Zoning Act, which requires the “council shall within 14 days of receipt of such zoning ordinance or by-law submit it to the planning board for review.”

But the council rules also allow a single councillor to unconditionally table any new agenda item without debate. And last night, Nadeem Mazen did so, invoking the so-called “charter right.” The council is now on summer break and doesn’t again meet until Aug. 7, “the summer meeting.”

Mazen explained that while the Zoning Act requires the council to submit the petition to the Planning Board, he expected his action to delay submission of the petition to the Ordinance Committee, serving to make sure that the Planning Board and ordinance hearings were on separate tracks, giving residents more time to react to the zoning petition and pushing out the timetable for action.

Notice was posted today for an ordinance hearing Aug. 2, despite the lack of formal referral.

What’s in the petition?

The institute’s zoning petition is the result of years of work, building upon and fairly similar to the Planning Board zoning petition for Volpe filed in September 2015. The council allowed that petition to expire last year without action, saying they wanted the ability to negotiate with the parcel’s developer. The federal government chose MIT as that developer in late 2016, and the institute agreed to pay $750 million for the deal.

MIT’s petition anticipates 1,400 housing units, including 280 affordable units. It requires 40 percent of the floor area be residential. It allows a maximum height of 350 feet, except for an “an iconic or a distinctive architectural” that could go to 500 feet with Planning Board approval.

The institute and its architect, David Manfredi, have produced four scenarios for how the site might be designed. In all cases, the Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center will occupy a new federal building in the northwest corner of the site, and the northeast corner will have a large-floorplate lab building along Binney Street and a residential tower at the corner of Binney and Third streets. The variations are:

Scheme 1 has a single contiguous green space from Broadway to Binney Street. Retail is arrayed along the extension of Broad Canal across Third Street and into the site.

Schemes 2 and 2A divides the open space, moving half of it to a plaza at the corner of Third Street and Broadway. They add some retail kiosks in the plaza space to try to maintain the retail connectivity between the Volpe parcel and the east side of Third Street. The 2A variant moves a building from the center of the parcel to the edge, shifting the ratio between the two open spaces.

Scheme 3 returns to a single open space, oriented diagonally from the corner of Broadway and Third through the center of the parcel, and twisting to align with Fifth Street.

Public forum Thursday

MIT will be holding a public forum at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Cambridge Marriott in Kendall Square. The purpose is to “discuss retail, open space, and community space in the context of the Volpe site redevelopment,” the institute said.

“Dinner will be provided.”