Zoning board postpones affordable project vote to January, hesitating over its nine-story height
At a contentious four-hour hearing, the Board of Zoning Appeal refused to approve the height of 2072 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, an affordable housing project, arguing that its nine stories on the avenue was too tall and attempting to get the developers to bring the building down to six.
Instead of approval, the board granted a continuance until Jan. 7, when the proponents – Capstone Communities and Hope Real Estate – will attempt to better justify their additional height. Or to reduce it.
Capstone’s Jason Korb told the board that for him, the project was not about making money, but about the value of those units to support additional affordable housing in Cambridge. Members of the board seemed to feel differently.
“I’m willing to sacrifice” the approximately 14 units that would be lost with the height reduction, said Jim Monteverde, a member of the board. Reducing the height would bring the project from 49 units to about 35. Three other members of the board appeared to agree: chair Constantine Alexander, vice chair Brendan Sullivan and Andrea Hickey. Laura Wernick seemed to support the taller building.
The comprehensive permit sought to allow Capstone Communities and Hope Real Estate to construct a 49-unit affordable development at 2072 Massachusetts Ave. where it intersects with Walden Street opposite the Henderson Carriage building.
Known as a “friendly 40B” project, it seeks to take advantage of the state’s “anti-snob zoning law” to get all of its discretionary permits from one board, the Board of Zoning Appeal, in a one-stop shopping exercise. (In other communities that have less than than 10 percent of affordable housing, 40B gives developers special appeal rights in the event of a denial. But because Cambridge is above the state threshold, 40B serves to increase administrative efficiency.)
Parking and height
The project was initially pitched as a uniform eight stories, but it was revised to drop the rear of the building – facing Walden Street – to six stories, while simultaneously raising the Massachusetts Avenue portion to nine stories.
There were hundreds of pages of letters sent to the board in support of the project (generally from around the city, as well as in the neighborhood) as well in opposition (mostly from within the neighborhood). Public comment was roughly 2-to-1 in favor of the project.
Most objections to the project were related to the building’s lack of parking – it has three accessible parking spaces – and the potential of the building’s residents to park on neighborhood streets. Additionally, some objected to the height of the building, both the nine-story portion and the six stories facing Walden Street.
The Planning Board had sent a favorable recommendation to the BZA for the nine-story project. Some Planning Board members strongly supported the height Dec. 1 given the proximity to the Porter Square red line T stop, even advocating greater height.
This post’s headline was changed Dec. 11, 2020. The original headline referred to the project as having a tower.