Wednesday, July 24, 2024

The developers of a nine-story, 102-foot, affordable housing building proposed for 2072 Massachusetts Ave. have defended its towering height by saying that it “masses” on the avenue, a thoroughfare that seems to give permission for its size. But it doesn’t “mass” only there: Its frontage is equally extensive along Walden Street – 74 feet on the side along each road. Walden Street, made up mostly of modest two- and three-story houses, does not “give permission” for this “massing,” not in human nor in aesthetic terms. Nor do the structures abutting the proposed building and across Walden from it: the Russell Apartments, housing senior and disabled residents on Massachusetts Avenue, and the one-story commercial buildings just across the way.

Massachusetts Avenue should not be the only defining environment for the proposed building. Claiming that its height is commensurate with its surroundings insults the intelligence of the community. And parading distorting renderings minimizing the difference in height between the proposed building and Russell Apartments denies the enormous impact its “mass” (at 102 feet) will have on those vulnerable residents whose building is 58 feet high.

The developers are asking for waivers well beyond the Affordable Housing Overlay passed in October 2020: for example, the AHO allows for a maximum of 45 feet of building height in “Res B” zoning (a portion of the property along Walden Street) and a maximum of 70 feet in height in the zoning for the other portion of the property. The layers of regulations involved might permit six stories at 70 feet, assuming the property is completely in one zone, but the AHO would not permit nine stories and 102 feet. 

Significant to the future of development, and the future of Cambridge’s neighborhoods, is the precedent such a “massive” building would set: do we really want that to be the future of this town?

Many neighbors and other Cambridge residents, supporting affordable housing, have signed a petition asking for reductions in height and density. The Board of Zoning Appeal also, months ago, asked the developers to come back with a lower version. Yet the nine stories remain in the proposal to be presented at the May 4 meeting of the Planning Board and at the May 20 meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeal. 

It is time for more voices to be heard: the clock is running out. This project, and the future of Cambridge development, needs to respect the neighborhood and be in line with the recently adopted affordable housing laws. The masses are speaking.

Merry White, Cypress Street