Monday, May 20, 2024

The City Council should vote “no” on permitting the developer Leggat McCall to lease parking in the First Street Garage.

From the vantage point of my front steps, I can see the singular problem with 40 Thorndike: The building is just too big for the surrounding East Cambridge residential neighborhood – too big in height and volume, too big in terms of the shadows it casts and the street-level wind it creates, too big a future contributor to additional gridlock.

Even Leggat McCall recognizes the building is too big for its own development goals and wants to make this problem ours to solve. How? By having us lease it 420 parking spaces in the First Street Garage for the next 30 years. Then it would not have to construct and provide these spaces in its own building, which would be much more costly. We lose parking spaces; the company makes more money.

The City Council should not allow Leggat McCall to make its problem our problem. If we permit it to lease the parking spaces, the consequence will be a too-big building looming over our neighborhood for decades to come. Its current design, which subtracts a couple of floors only to add back mechanical penthouses while promising community space and a farmer’s market, is developer three-card monte. Leggat McCall should either figure out how to develop the parcel without our assistance or they can walk from the deal. Parking is its problem to solve, not ours. I am not opposed to Leggat McCall developing the parcel if it can come up with a solution that works without taking away parking spaces from us. Would such a solution result in a building more in scale with the neighborhood? Most likely.

And if the developer walks, initiatives underway will result in developing 40 Thorndike in a way that makes good common sense for the neighborhood. At a May 16 community meeting on the former courthouse, East Cambridge resident Chris Matthews explained clearly how Cambridge can afford to buy the parcel, address the asbestos-abatement issue quickly and make time to do development the right way. Start with the neighborhood to right-size the building.

John Whisnant, Otis Street