Friday, May 17, 2024

A construction crane is seen in the Alewife Triangle skyline on Jan. 18. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The moratorium on construction of offices and labs in the Alewife area during a rezoning process will move forward without the area known as the “Triangle,” city councillors decided Monday.

“My intent was never to hold up projects in the Triangle. When we talked about the [zoning] project, for me it was about the Quadrangle,” said councillor Paul Toner, offering an amendment to limit the moratorium to the area to the south of the train tracks dividing the two areas.

The process, which freezes new or enlarged office and lab space until revised zoning is adopted or Dec. 31, 2023, whichever is earlier, was to affect six existing Alewife zoning overlay districts; Toner’s amendment pares that to five.

Removal of the Triangle came at the urging of one of the area’s major developers, Longfellow Real Estate Partners. Its senior project manager, Matt Lerner, argued that Longfellow is already transforming its property into the mix of uses that proposed zoning calls for, including amenities such as coffee shops and new green space.

The Alewife Triangle includes part of North Cambridge, and the Quad borders Cambridge Highlands.

“If the planning moratorium were passed in its current form, we would not be able to provide [a 37,000-square-foot building addition that allows for] those public amenities. I respectfully do not see how this serves the best interests of the City of Cambridge, our neighbors on Cambridgepark Drive and the Triangle,” Lerner said. The Triangle overlaps Cambridgepark Drive on land that includes the Alewife T station and land west of it.

If the council adopted the amendment provided by Longfellow and submitted by Toner, “I give you my word we will continue to be great stewards on Cambridgepark Drive,” Lerner said.

The idea of a moratorium arose in November with alarm over the rapid purchase of some two dozen parcels of Alewife-area land by the Denver company Healthpeak. The company told investors it planned to spend $616 million and wind up with 36 acres. The Healthpeak acquisitions reminded residents and officials that planning processes have never been enacted fully to ensure that the area develops into a well-rounded neighborhood. “We have literally asked for 40 years for zoning in this area,” councillor Patty Nolan said in proposing the moratorium.

Planning should not leave out the Triangle despite it being mostly already built out, she said Monday. There are still parcels and open lots ripe for development, and one reason comprehensive zoning is needed is the train tracks separating the Triangle and Quad: The areas, overlapping with parts of North Cambridge and the Cambridge Highlands, have yet to be connected by a long-wanted bridge or pair of bridges.

“Every plan that has ever been done in the Alewife area includes all of the area, and for a good reason: It is one ecosystem. It is an area that has had heat effect and the heat island effect as bad as other places and flooding as bad or worse,” Nolan added. “It’s critically important that when we plan for this area, we include the entire area.”

The 18-month zoning study process is not a long delay, she said – followed by councillor Burhan Azeem saying he acknowledged everything Nolan said yet had “come to a different conclusion.” Projects with zoning permits issued before the moratorium proposal was filed wouldn’t be restricted by newly adopted zoning but would be affected by the moratorium, he said, so “the only practical effect this has is delaying a project that will happen anyway.”

Councillor Dennis Carlone warned that exempting the Triangle would be “spot zoning,” a kind of legislative favoritism that the city solicitor has warned against.

He and Nolan still wound up in the minority: Toner’s amendment made it through on a 5-4 vote, with councillors Toner, Azeem, Marc McGovern and E. Denise Simmons and vice mayor Alanna Mallon in favor; the votes against were Nolan, Carlone, councillor Quinton Zondervan and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui.

The measure to put the moratorium in place for the 130-acre Quad – minus the 60-acre Triangle – then passed unanimously.