Thursday, May 23, 2024

The CambridgeSide mall has already cleared its third floor of retail to make room for offices, and now wants to remake the property entirely with mixed uses – including residential. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Skeptical about how much additional size is needed for the CambridgeSide mall to survive, city councillors are calling for the developer’s financials to undergo a rigorous analysis – and will keep calling for it in two weeks, when an order making it official returns for a vote.


Several councillors sounded ready to vote Monday, but they were derailed by a question about whether the wording of the order was accurate in promising confidentiality for the developer’s finances. Councillor E. Denise Simmons cut short discussion (and a possible amendment process) by using her “charter right” to bump the issue by one regular meeting; with Indigenous Peoples Day coming next Monday, it won’t be heard until Oct. 21.

But the New England Development upzoning is unlikely to avoid the step entirely in the quest to remake the mall with 575,000 added square feet of gross floor area, some in buildings up to 155 feet high for a mix of retail, dining, office space and homes.

“The developer is proposing more than double the [floor area ratio] and more than three times the existing height for a project that he says is economically needed to preserve CambridgeSide. I frankly don’t believe it. I have seen nothing to make me think [it’s true], and frankly, neither have you,” councillor Dennis Carlone said to his fellow councillors. “Given the scale of the increase in density and height, this really has to be studied.”

“How can we decide something if we don’t have sufficient information from a neutral source?” Carlone asked.

Because the city’s Community Development Department lacks the expertise to assess financial statements provided by New England Development, the order from Carlone, vice mayor Jan Devereux and councillors Quinton Zondervan and Craig Kelley asks the department to help bring in an analyst with the skills needed to “conduct a confidential financial analysis [that will] inform the council in confidence on the value of the proposed upzoning.”

“This is absolutely essential or we have nothing to base the facts on, absolutely no facts before us,” Carlone said.

The writers assumed the order would be treated like municipal analysis of tax records, in which a conclusion is discussed without revealing details to the public, but Mayor Marc McGovern said he was concerned that public records law would lay the developer’s financials bare. “I don’t want to pass an order that says we’re going to keep something confidential if we can’t,” he said.

Simmons said she’s be willing to use her charter right on the order to let the makers of the motion “finesse the language,” though she said also that “maybe I just need to sit with it a little longer.”

Devereux said it would be simple to add language asking the city solicitor to ensure privacy and keep the vote on track.

But when Simmons learned that the developer’s request for zoning didn’t expire until Dec. 25, she switched gears abruptly – announcing her charter right use and cutting off discussion.