Saturday, April 20, 2024

To the City Council:

A large group of neighbors and abutters to the Walden Square housing project has concerns about the proposed expansion known as Walden Square 2. The expansion would be a seven-story building erected over an existing roadway on the property.

I and many others believe that the current proposal violates the spirit of the Affordable Housing Overlay in the following ways:

Geography: The overlay was intended to provide housing throughout the city in areas that do not provide affordable housing. WS2 is on property that has already been fully developed for affordable housing, and is adjacent to another affordable development, Lincoln Way.

Cost of land: The overlay was intended to ease the burden on the developer of acquiring land in Cambridge, which is expensive. The developer of WS2 already owns the land for the proposed expansion, and has no need for assistance.

Building height: The overlay was intended to allow up to four-story buildings in residential areas. Although Walden Square includes one nine-story building, it is an anomaly in the neighborhood and should not set a precedent for additional tall buildings in the area. The zoning that allowed the nine-story building did not envision additional tall buildings on the site.  Tall buildings are intended to be on commercial corridors, not in neighborhoods.

Parking: The overlay has a glaring problem with respect to parking: It does not require any. The WS2 project provides 21 parking spaces for 103 units, many of which are three or four-bedroom units. This is 0.20 spaces per unit. Walden Square and Lincoln Way each provide about 0.80 spaces per unit now, which, based on personal observation, seems to be the right proportion. There is no evidence that the parking needs of the new tenants of WS2 will be any different from the current residents. Indeed, many of the current residents are employed by ride-share and delivery services, and need their vehicles for work. Others work at night when public transportation is inadequate or nonexistent. Public comments have suggested that the developer add parking underground or on the second level. The developer has not been responsive to these suggestions. The overlay ordinance should be modified so adequate parking is a requirement.

The overlay ordinance says the Traffic, Parking, & Transportation department must certify to the superintendent of buildings that the project does not cause significant hazard or congestion. The city owes the community a public accounting of a traffic study that is able to show that the on-street parking situation, which is already crowded, will not be worse when 60 additional people seek on-street parking permits from the city.

All of us understand the pressing need for affordable housing not only in Cambridge but in the surrounding area, and we support the intent of the overlay. But we believe it is being misused in this case, and does not respect the needs of the community or of the new tenants.

Karen Cushing, Raymond Street