Friday, June 21, 2024

The proposal by Alexandria Real Estate to rezone the former Met Pipe building and create a Grand Junction Overlay District has generated a lot of conversation about the future of the site. Throughout the multiyear rezoning process, Alexandria has demonstrated repeatedly a willingness to work with neighbors, city staff and the City Council to improve the proposal and make the project a true win-win.

This degree of collaboration, though uncommon, should not be a surprise for those familiar with Alexandria. The company has a strong track record of acting as a good partner for Cambridge, faithfully upholding its public commitments and making changes to proposed projects until they’re in line with the needs of the city and residents.

Since the original filing, Alexandria reduced its proposed building height, including a first-in-the-city self-imposed limit on mechanical equipment height, and has made a nearly $13 million commitment to buy the adjacent parcel where Eversource had planned to build a substation so that it can be turned over to the city for future considerations.

Throughout the process, the petition has been overshadowed by the Eversource question. With a resolution brewing, the time is now to reset our attention to the chief public benefit of the petition: The Grand Junction Pathway. Perhaps the one thing that everyone has agreed on throughout this proposal is that the Grand Junction multiuse path will be a great attribute for Cambridge.

The interest has been so great, in fact, that Alexandria was asked to accelerate the timing of the land conveyance so that this public benefit could be enjoyed sooner, which it has agreed to.

The Grand Junction Pathway has been a goal of Cambridge for more than 20 years and has been stated as a priority in every relevant planning study that has been published for nearly two decades. So why does the Grand Junction remain perpetually on the “to do” list?

The stretch of the Pathway that Alexandria is proposing to complete is the most complex of the entire Grand Junction stretch. On the east side of the track, various ownership issues – including many residential property owners – make it virtually impossible to gather the needed right-of-way. On the west side, Alexandria has taken steps that the city could not, acquiring expensive parcels from two owners that will allow the path to connect Binney Street to Cambridge Street.

Alexandria’s plan would advance this public benefit by years and save the city tens of millions in land acquisition, legal, design and construction costs. According to the Community Development Department, the cost of design and construction, which Alexandria has already committed to funding, exceeds $11 million.

The completion of the Grand Junction Pathway is a major community benefit of this project that has received far too little credit over the past two years, and one that is now within reach. Residents of East Cambridge and bike advocates throughout the city have waited a long time for this path – now we urge the City Council to make it a reality.

Patrick Magee, Steve LaMaster, Phil McKenna, John Almeida, Windsor Street and Caroline and David de Sola