Thursday, May 23, 2024

Thanks to Cambridge Day for reporting that Healthpeak is acquiring every available square foot of land on the Alewife Quad (“With nearly $400M spent on land since August, firm inspires call for lab moratorium at Alewife,” Nov. 4) from Fawcett Street to the end of Mooney Street. It reminds me of when the Alexandria real estate investment trust bought up 15 acres in East Cambridge. Recognizing a history of prevailing over big developers that wanted to max out land for big buildings with no humanity, they came to the residents with a starting offer: more than 2 acres of parks and the Foundry building. Over the next year and a half, the East Cambridge Planning Team committee, which I chaired, was able to ensure all that and add a whole lot more. The “more” included 290 housing units with the maximum-required affordable units at the time – which Alexandria absolutely refused at the outset – as well as street-side retail and multimodal transit improvements. I’ve become convinced that the total cost of amenities was an open secret between Alexandria’s team and city manager Robert W. Healy’s team, led by councillors David Maher and Brian Murphy. We were well on their way to the era of “transactional zoning” in which we now find our fair city.

With this much Healthpeak money going into an area that has been on the zoning-amendment docket for so long, who decides the final round? Healthpeak obviously has a good idea how expected profits in this investment merits spending on “community benefits.” How much say should Cantabrigians have in how this is invested, and to what extent can it be adjusted?

I say we should decide. Our voters just elected the next City Council. Its members will have the opportunity to make a real difference. Regardless of all our differences, we all want our city to be a good place to live, work and play. Through zoning, this council can and probably will set the outcome.

Healthpeak will probably want 100 percent commercial office and lab space. But we need placemaking things such as parks, corner stores and cafes, safe streets, laundromats and a library. The acreage is zoned for business, but housing and open space are allowed.

I ask the council to begin with a modest request: 50 percent of total built square footage should be housing units, and a full half of those should be affordable – a minimum of one residential unit per expected job, built to alleviate citywide and regional housing price inequities. Make it a place we all can and want to live. We might even get some funds to help the state Department of Conservation and Recreation fix up the Blair Pond Reservation.

Mark Jaquith, Hurley Street