Thursday, June 20, 2024

International investors acquired the historic “Gas-Light Building” at 711-727 Massachusetts Ave. at Temple Street in Central Square (where the Bank of America branch is being renovated) about three years ago. They want to add an additional three stories and fill in the rear area (now parking and loading) for what they’re calling a “boutique hotel.”

The proposed addition would put numerous apartments and their residents in the 100 percent affordable building at 5 Temple St. directly behind the building in shadow, among other things. The entrance to the hotel would be next to an often used side entrance for residents of 5 Temple St.

Charlie Sullivan, executive director of the Historical Commission, had what he has described as a “handshake” agreement with the previous owners, which was rolled over to the new owners, to be allowed to “review” any changes to the building. He reports he had a design suggestion that, after having been initially rejected, has now been accepted to his satisfaction. As such, the reality of a three-story addition to a major historical building in Central Square is not being brought before the Historical Commission or the public for any sort of public review of the historic character of the building or of its contribution to Central Square. Had it been landmarked some time ago, as it could (and arguably should) have been, public review by the commission would be mandatory. The building sits in what’s called the Central Square National Register District but, absent landmark designation in Cambridge, that does not provide any special protection (unless federal funds were involved and, in this case, they are not.)

The architect for the project is Tony Hsiao, who happens to be chair of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, which is actually contiguous with the Central Square National Register District. If not an actual conflict, this certainly  suggests at least the appearance of a conflict. (There may also be similar concerns for some members of the Planning Board.)

Do we really need a three-story addition atop a historic building for a “boutique hotel” in Central Square? Have you noticed the increasing number of homeless people who are seeking refuge and shelter in Central Square? How does this project address the urgent need for affordable housing even for those who are already housed in Cambridge? If you support the “revised” affordable housing overlay zoning proposal, do you care about the quality of life for the people who actually live or will live in that affordable housing?

Please consider sending an email to the Planning Board asking them to find solutions that address the need for affordable housing, respect those who live there, protect the historic character of Central Square and that embody full, meaningful, participation by the public in the decisions which affect our lives.

James Williamson, Jefferson Park