Sunday, June 23, 2024

The parking lot at 41 Bellis Circle, Neighborhood 9 in Cambridge. (Photo: City of Cambridge Assessors)

Cambridge is proposing to buy just under an acre of parking lot in Neighborhood 9 near Fresh Pond in a friendly land taking that would cost $8.3 million, according to a memo from the City Manager’s Office.

With nearby state armory land under consideration, it’s the second parking lot the city is looking to buy and the third parcel around Fresh Pond after a field currently being used for cricket games. A use for this proposed new purchase is not decided, according to the document that is expected to be handled at a Wednesday special meeting of the City Council. The land at 41 Bellis Circle is the only agenda item for that meeting.

“The city will evaluate what it will use the parcel for as part of a comprehensive review of city-owned property and city needs. This parcel could fill a significant need that the city has for land to use for municipal operations and infrastructure, but it also may ultimately be land that could be used for affordable housing,” according to the memo.

Until recently, the land belonged to the Cambridge Montessori School at 129 Sherman St., Neighborhood 9, which was required in 1995 to have more parking than it ever needed. The school appeared July 27 before the Board of Zoning Appeal to ask that the condition for the offsite parking be removed.

During 2018 construction of a concrete median near train tracks that made the area safer – and avoided the need for passing trains to blow their horns – the city converted parking spaces on Sherman Street into a dedicated drop-off and pickup zone in front of the school. “So we no longer need the parking lot,” attorney Charles N. Le Ray told the board.

The school found no objections from neighbors to getting rid of the extra parking, and there was no opposition heard July 27 when the board agreed 5-0 to remove the obsolete parking requirements.

The land the city would pick up, which is owned by the private 41 Bellis Circle LLC, is 40,383 square feet, or 0.9 acres – making the deal look better than the $14.4 million the city proposed spending for 0.8 acres between Inman and Union squares in May as depot for Public Works equipment. City councillors balked at the price and use, suggesting that affordable housing was a better use for that site. An 8-1 vote in December 2021 appropriated $18.5 million so the city could buy a 4-acre Larch Road Field with the understanding it might be affordable housing or a prekindergarten in addition to open space.

The Bellis Circle parking lot site is surrounded by landmarks: The North Cambridge Catholic Cemetery to its north, Fresh Pond Mall to its west, Danehy Park to its south and Walden Square Apartments and the Pemberton tennis and pickleball courts to its east.

The city has also given the council a $5.4 million appraisal on another possible purchase: 30,752 square feet of parking lot at the National Guard Armory of Cambridge next to the Tobin School and Vassal Lane Upper School, which are under construction. Any final price would be based on state appraisal, though.

There was a closed-door session Aug. 7 during a council meeting to discuss “the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property,” but the property remained unidentified.