Friday, May 17, 2024

Larch Road Field is set t become Cambridge’s first cricket field. (Photo: Levy)

Cambridge’s first cricket field is expected to open in May, and the same residents advising on the perfect place for a “crease” are lining up to reserve the space for Saturday and Sunday games, city staffers said Monday.

Despite happiness at the field’s arrival, members of the City Council are already looking past the cricket matches to other uses. An 8-1 vote in December 2021 appropriating $18.5 million for the city’s new 4-acre Larch Road Field came with the understanding it might be affordable housing or a prekindergarten in addition to open space.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, whose family is from Pakistan, where cricket is considered a national pastime, seemed the most pleased with the sports use alone. “I’m glad we’ll have cricket there soon, and I intend to play,” Siddiqui said, inviting the councillors to join in as well.

Cricket is “one of the most popular sports in the world. For a city as diverse as Cambridge, it’s a very important message for our immigrant community that we do embrace culture and sports from around the world,” Siddiqui said. “This is a good use. And it’s not the exclusive use.”

The green space still has a sign announcing its old name of Buckingham Field. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The field at 185 Larch Road, across from Fresh Pond, hasn’t been available to the city since its purchase from the Buckingham, Browne & Nichols private day school. The former Buckingham Field came with a three-year hands-off clause as the school transitions its sports to a 20-acre athletics complex in Watertown – on land the sale to Cambridge helped buy.

With the three years at an end, cricket is the first use until a process decides the next one. Councillors were eager to know more about that and ensure they are involved from the start, and that other stakeholders in the neighborhood and citywide have a say.

The eagerness was evident – vice mayor Alanna Mallon said she expected to work over the next couple of weeks on a policy order to get a process started, since the council is off for the Patriots’ Day holiday and meets again April 24.

“It’s great that in a temporary sort of way we’re going to be providing a playing field for cricket,” Mallon said. “When we approved this expenditure, many of us around this table agreed that there’s a lot of open space in West Cambridge, and not a lot of affordable housing.”

There’s no reason a open space and a sports field can’t coexist with affordable housing, especially if the housing is built high but with a smaller footprint, councillor Quinton Zondervan said. He was countered almost immediately by councillor Dennis Carlone, who liked the idea of affordable housing on the back portion of the lot away from Fresh Pond with prekindergarten on the first floor – but said “this is not the site for a high-rise.” It’s a debate carried over from committee meetings on Affordable Housing Overlay zoning.

City staff had no timeline in mind for moving on from cricket, deputy city manager Owen O’Riordan said.

“We haven’t thought about anything beyond the interim use at this point,” O’Riordan said. “That’s certainly not the end of the story.”

Councillors were warned to keep in mind a hidden use of the land: stormwater storage that was buried in Buckingham Field after “a very serious flooding event” on Poplar Road in 1997, infrastructure now betrayed only by a grassy ridge at the edge of the green. “It is critical as we think about the alternatives here that we think about the amount of storage of stormwater that exists in that space,” O’Riordan said. “If that doesn’t exist, then you are making that community more vulnerable again.”