Friday, July 12, 2024

I live across the street from the proposed development at 2072 Massachusetts Ave. I’m also an architect and have been discussing the project for months with the developers, neighbors and colleagues.

I’m dismayed to read the polarized opinions: On the one hand, advocates for affordable housing ignore the differences between Massachusetts Avenue and Walden Street; on the other, concerned neighbors attack anything above the status quo. In the scuffle, the path toward the best project for the greatest number has been ignored.

It’s time for compromise – approve the height (nine stories) along Massachusetts Avenue and reduce the height by one story (to five) at the step-down along Walden. This modest adjustment maintains high unit density (47) while more gradually meeting the low-lying neighborhood. Although marginally more expensive on a per unit basis, it’s possible with the support of the Board of Zoning Appeal.

High unit density enables the project team to meet the criteria identified by their lender, the Cambridge Affordable Housing Trust: “a high-quality, sustainable building that will benefit the housing residents and the surrounding neighborhood.” A six-story building that conforms to the Affordable Housing Overlay and meets the same criteria would be uneconomic. And while the 8/6 alternate proposal offered this week by developers is financially viable, it attempts to solve a problem where one doesn’t exist (on Massachusetts Avenue) while putting greater pressure on abutters with additional massing above six stories. The unit density of 8/6 and 9/5 are equivalent.

Critics fear that a nine-story building will set a harmful precedent, but that’s only true if we ignore the fact that this site is uniquely suited for a tall building. Across the street, the Henderson Carriage Building is more than 200 feet long. A distinguished and substantial urban building, Henderson lines the avenue unlike any other building in North Cambridge. Nine stories facing Massachusetts Avenue is consistent with the trajectory initiated by Henderson 150 years ago.

bullet-gray-smallThis project is being heard Thursday by the Board of Zoning Appeal. Meeting details are here.

As it meets the low-lying surroundings off Massachusetts Avenue, though, the project is less convincing. The proposed six-story bulk along the much narrower Walden will overwhelm the existing two- and three-story residential buildings, both at ground-level and from a distance.

Nine stories on Massachusetts Avenue and five stories on Walden is the best, most practical compromise. Unit density, building quality and performance are all important, and so is mediating the difference between Massachusetts Avenue and Walden Street. Yes, it requires marginally raising the budget, but this change will have a meaningful impact on the project and retain its best attributes. The path for the Board of Zoning Appeal toward the best project for the greatest number could not be clearer.

Cyrus Dochow, Walden Street