Where a 7.5-acre central park was once planned, Planning Board okays Volpe site with much less
A 14-acre Volpe site redevelopment won unanimous preliminary approval Tuesday from seven Planning Board members, essentially ending debate about an approach to open space at the site. Where a Community Development Department process had prescribed a 7.5-acre park in 2001 – and a “K2” study confirmed the idea in 2013 – became zoning calling for less than half that, now broken up into four spaces on the parcel.
If the board hadn’t given approval at the end of a meeting stretching past four hours, the special permit application would have been considered denied, ending a process begun when the federal government chose the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as redeveloper for its transportation center site in 2016; approval means MIT can submit a final development plan. With approval, “the main focus of the board’s deliberation should be on what modifications, information or additional study should be included” for a final decision down the road, said Jeff Roberts, director of zoning and development.
The site’s 455,750 square feet (excluding what will remain federal property) has four mainly residential buildings containing 1,400 apartments, four mostly commercial and lab buildings, two retail areas, a community center and an indoor/outdoor entertainment venue – and four main open space areas: a Third Street park; community center park; Sixth Street park; and Binney Street park. All told, the project has around 3.5 acres of “publicly beneficial” open space, of which 2 is guaranteed permanently for public use, according to site documents.
“These four new public parks are the glue. These are the places that bring people together, and host casual encounters and planned events that welcome the neighborhood and are an inclusive attraction for all,” said David Manfredi, of Elkus Manfredi Architects, during the night’s presentation.
Though the plan was arrived at through dozens of public meetings and had been “well received” by many people, presenters said, some residents and Planning Board members remained skeptical Tuesday.
The showpiece open space at Third Street and Broadway is described as being an “approximately 1-acre park including the pedestrian-focused Broad Canal Way,” which Manfredi later explained was really 0.78 acres including the footprint of kiosks on Broad Canal Way “as is allowed by the [zoning’s] definition of open space.”
“We can talk later about whether that is approximately an acre,” board member H Theodore Cohen said. Even by enlarging the community center park by moving some of the center into a neighboring building, “I had difficulty calling that a park. It’s a little bit of a plaza before the building. Similarly, Sixth Street Park, you know, it’s a walkway.”
Reflecting other members’ concerns about green space “squeezed” between buildings, he was the least impressed by the plan seen Tuesday. “I’ve always felt that the breaking up of the parkway and the open space was really not a successful way of achieving a nice open space,” he said. Vice chair Mary Flynn shared worries that the Third Street Park would be less used than people expected, considering the cars speeding past on the busy Kendall Square streets and stopped at an intersection serving as kind of a gateway for Boston traffic.
“The community said, ‘We want the corner,’” explained Anthony Galluccio, a Cambridge lawyer representing the project.
The Volpe open space makes more sense as part of an overall map of greenery in the area, he said, suggesting board members look within a “15-minute radius.” Intense programming of the spaces could also make up for small sizes – senior yoga in the mornings, after-school programs for kids later – according to his descriptions Tuesday. “We could program it to bring folks to it for particular uses. All the time, there are some understandings about how the space gets used,” Galluccio said.
“You know, you could have salsa – everything is salsa,” Galluccio said.
“Takes some thinking about”
The logistics of using the open space in that network of greenery could also seem daunting. Board member Tom Sieniewicz wondered how to direct people to open space that was perhaps as little as 300 feet away but could be found only by passing through a Marriott hotel lobby.
Sentiment on the board ran all the way to Hugh Russell’s view that the open space plan was “brilliant [but] takes some thinking about and getting used to and thinking about how people are really going to use it.” In his understanding, the zoning called for 2.6 acres of open space and the plan fulfilled that, with “other spaces that function as open spaces.”
While Russell was convinced the provided open space was adequate because not many people would seek to use it at once, others were sure the available greenery would fill up quickly – but, as Steven Cohen put it, with “the thousands of folks working in these buildings. Whether that space will be large enough or attractive enough for … people from other neighborhoods,” he said, “I’m a bit skeptical.”
Several residents during public comment said the parks needed to be bigger to accommodate just the crush of people living in the immediate area.
The need for “a 2-acre park at Third Street, it’s absolutely essential,” said Catherine Zusy, of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association and Magazine Beach Partners. “East Cambridge has the least amount of open space in the city … and now development is projected to bring another 20,000 people to Kendall by 2030, almost 10,000 residents and workers at the Volpe site alone. Where will all these people go?” Kendall will have a living and commuting population of about 70,000 people, including 1,000 children, within the decade, she said.
Cambridgeport, with about 12,000 people, has access not only to a 1.3-acre Dana Park but the 17-acre Magazine Beach, she said.
Hugely disappointing. And to suggest that these bits and pieces should be viewed in the context of other open spaces within a 15-minute radius is disingenuous. Can that argument now be made for each subsequent developer to count the same pre-existing open spaces elsewhere as part of their plan? Let’s apply that logic to the Alewife Quad: because Fresh Pond and Blair Pond and (if you can cross the RR tracks) the Alewife Reservation are nearby, I guess Quad developers can get away with providing less open space…This is genius! The city and its developers have just solved the thorny problem of how to pack more and more buildings and people onto 6 sq. miles without providing meaningful new open spaces. Could we also count open spaces in bordering cities and towns? There are parks in Boston just across the Longfellow Bridge that are 15 mins away from Kendall. The same logic is being used by some to insist we don’t need to preserve trees here because there are plenty of trees outside the city. And BTW no mention of the magnificent trees at Volpe that will be sacrificed.
WHAT?! The Zombie board ignored the will of people and cow towed in favor of more tax income for the city? I’m shocked, SHOCKED I tell ya!
Fair point, Jan. This plan cuts down 120 trees and saves eight on the site, then plants 200. A presenter said there was “no way that we could move trees or save many of these trees, which have been growing for 50 years [so essentially] their root zone is completely impacted together.”
this plan from a man who supported bringing the Olympics to Boston and putting a sandy volley ball court on Boston Common… thank you Mr. Manfredi.
BTW- how is your ultra-modern Sephora cosmetic store next to historic Faneuil Hall doing?
If you want to get the full import of this latest promise broken to eastern Cambridge, click through to the 2013 article on K2. Back then, when no one really thought anything would happen at Volpe any time soon, they pinned the open space for many more millions of square feet of development on the 7-1/2 acre park at Volpe, in one single piece rather than scattered about here and there, just as the ECaPS plan over a decade before had. That means that the parkland that they’re now pointing to as enough for far more millions of square feet of development than K2 had contemplated already existed, at least on paper, when they recognized the need for that big park. To no one’s surprise but any decent person’s disappointment, when it came time to deliver on that promise, we were told, essentially, that we were fools for ever believing that they actually meant anything as money-losing as a bunch of open space instead of more high-dollar development.
Peace Be Unto You,
This Volpe, MIT,Planning Board,etc., fiasco/debaco is one of the greatest case of Bird Braindiness that ever hit Cambridge and Middlesex County. First of all Volpe never respected federal Title V rights of the Homeless sector and mosaic to be housed on abandon and surplus lands. They denied the homeless due process of law rights, among other legal mandates.
The Planning board is one of the greatest enemies of the homeless in the city and county. They support exclusion of the homeless 100.% What have they down to support planning and securing long range housing and plans for the homeless? What have the others done?
MIT receive federal funding for educating the underprivilage,etc., it stands guilty of depriving the homeless of fair and affordable housing, and other related civil rights abuses in this Volpe affair.
You can’t be the receipient of federal funding and take part in depriving the poor of their due and rights. The case can be made against you for the way you have been excluding the homeless sector and mosaic, and one day if God is willing the case will be made against you, and others that insist on denying the homeless sector and mosaic, their legal justice and rights.
Yours In Peace
Mr. Hasson Rashid
Concerned Citizen and Resident
Another round of broken promises and false compromises. Again the developers have played the city board and officials to get what they want over what the people in the city want. And by building overcrowded new housing etc they are setting us up for the next airborne pandemic that comes along (and there will be another according to many experts within the next 5-10 years).
This is about greed. Plain and simple. And Greed is winning again. I’ve been watching it get worse, decade after decade in this city.