Monday, June 24, 2024

The former U.S. Postal Service annex in the Cambridge Highlands on May 29. (Photo: Adri Pray)

Moving a postal facility has added up to 40 minutes daily to some letter carriers’ travel time, according to a U.S. Postal Service labor leader, resulting from changes underway in Cambridge’s rapidly changing Alewife Quadrangle area.

The U.S. Postal Service moved from its 15 Mooney St. location housing its Porter Square Carrier Annex on April 22 after receiving notice that its lease in Cambridge’s Alewife Quadrangle wouldn’t be renewed. The facility, registered under a Healthpeak Properties subsidiary, is assumed to become part of the company’s 36-acre life sciences campus.

Placing the new annex approximately 4.5 miles east at 33 Cobble Hill Road in Somerville’s Inner Belt has had an impact on letter carrier operations. According to Tom Rooney, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 34, carriers now spend extra time traveling from the Somerville annex to their routes in Cambridge. He believes additional routes will need to be created to stay within workers’ eight-hour time limit, but won’t know for sure until an inspection of the routes is complete.

“It’s basically the travel time. I don’t think it affected the distribution part of it too much because the mail is sorted and distributed in other plants anyhow, but the carrier traveling from Somerville probably went from maybe a five- to 10-minute drive to probably anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes difference,” he said.

A new U.S. Postal Service annex in Somerville’s Inner Belt on May 29. (Photo: Adri Pray)

Some who used the Mooney Street facility for held mail or packages may have an adjustment to make too. But Somerville’s mail operations were not affected by the move, Stephen Doherty, strategic communications specialist for the USPS’s Northeastern region, said in an emailed statement.

Because the USPS stayed at its Mooney Street location months after the lease expired, the Porter Square Annex was forced to pay a penalty fine each month. According to Rooney, the postal service must have paid “a substantial amount” in fees to the owner of the Mooney Street property, LS Alewife III.

“We were notified in 2016 that the landlord would not be renewing the lease, as they planned to demolish the building and build a new hospital and lab research space,” Doherty wrote. “I don’t know what has happened or will happen with the Mooney Street space since [April 22].”

Rooney estimates the postal service had been paying the penalty fine for at least six months before moving to Somerville in April, though he could not give specific dates.

“It must have been at least six months once I [became] aware of it. The Postal Service notifies the president of the changes that are coming, and that had to be probably four to six months ago,” Rooney said in an April interview. “But they did extend [and] paid the penalty every month.”

Healthpeak adds to portfolio

Denver-based Healthpeak becomes a presence on Concord Avenue in the Cambridge Highlands. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Healthpeak, a Denver-based real estate investment trust, has spent the past two years acquiring multiple properties spanning in the Cambridge Highlands and its Quadrangle area, according to a city property database and Massachusetts Registry of Deeds. The former postal annex is just one site of an estimated $616 million portfolio the company has continued building since November 2021 to sustain a future life-sciences campus project within the Highlands.

Several unreturned messages have been left with Healthpeak officials seeking comment.

Here’s what Healthpeak property ownership in the area looks like, compiled from publicly available sources:

The company has yet to begin construction, as a City Council policy order proposed by councillor Patty Nolan in November 2021 and ordained in May 2022 put a developmental moratorium on additional laboratory and medical office use in the area until at least Dec. 31, or “such time as new Alewife District zoning is ordained.”

An Alewife Zoning Working Group was formed to draft recommendations for a “mixed-use district to balance economic growth with housing development.” It was made up of Cambridge residents and commercial stakeholders, including Healthpeak senior vice president Kelvin Moses.

The recommendations were presented June 20 to the Planning Board by director of community planning Melissa Peters and senior zoning manager Daniel Messplay, both emphasizing the importance of building affordable housing and public spaces alongside commercial development. The recommendations were passed unanimously by the board and will be evaluated next by councillors.

Contributing to a “dynamic public realm”

City plans from 1979 and 2019 have called for the Quadrangle to have a “mix of residential, business and industrial structures,” according to the order, an outcome that would be undermined by Healthpeak creating an extensive campus of labs and offices.

Moses confirmed to the Planning Board that Healthpeak had acquired at least 40 acres of commercial real estate but committed to providing the community with infrastructure to contribute to a “dynamic public realm.”

“It’s been made very clear to us that transforming the Quad into a mixed-use neighborhood is the only acceptable outcome, and we understand the critical role we must play here in order to achieve the desired outcomes for the neighborhood,” he said. “So we’re committed to seeing this process through and we’ll continue to listen and work with the working group and community to make the vision for the neighborhood come to fruition.”