Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

August 5, 2012

Town and City (Forest City, that is) – Aug 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Special Meeting Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:25 pm

Town and City (Forest City, that is) – Aug 6, 2012 Cambridge City Council Special Meeting Agenda Highlights

Last week’s annual Midsummer meeting unanimously resolved most of the pending zoning petitions before the City Council, but deliberation and a possible vote on the Forest City/MIT petition was delayed one week as late negotiations continued toward a possible resolution. Public comment at the July 30 meeting was remarkable in its alarmism, disregard for protocol, and distortion of facts. The bottom line is that Forest City could build a functional building right now within the constraints of existing zoning, but that building would contain no retail frontage on Mass. Ave. and provide no "community benefits" whatsoever other than expanding the number of jobs for biotech workers. The question to be answered by the City Council is whether they want to allow a relatively small increase in height (from 80 ft to 95 ft not including rooftop mechanicals that would be added either way) and additional floor area in exchange for a much improved retail corridor and guarantees of long-term affordability of existing housing at University Park and the promise of additional affordable units.

The greatest difficulty of this petition (and a related "Permanent Parking Petition" as well as another petition yet to come calling for no additional density increases anywhere in the city) is that it has been caught in the crosshairs of a political campaign. This was perhaps best captured by one July 30 commenter who matter-of-factly said to the city councillors that the real purpose of their petition was to buy time so that they could replace the City Council. Perhaps it is not such a wise move to instruct city councillors to support a petition that is supposedly designed to defeat them in the next municipal election.

In addition to some priceless communications from naysayers, the agenda for the Aug 6 Special Meeting really consists of just four items – three committee reports on the Forest City/MIT petition on Unfinished Business and a communication from Mayor Davis containing additional information on the University Park housing and a FAQ from the Community Development Department.
Full text of these documents (HTML)    Original (scanned PDF)

The Monday, Aug 6 meeting at City Hall starts at 7:30pm. – Robert Winters

Aug 6, 9:30pm update – The petition was allowed to expire without coming to a vote.

Mayor Henrietta Davis released the following statement (July 31, 2012):

I’m writing to update you on the status of the Forest City Zoning Petition.

Right now, without needing City Council permission, Forest City can build up to 80 feet and just under 139,000 square feet of space. They would not be required to provide ground floor retail or other benefits for the community. They are asking for an additional 15 feet in height and an additional 107,000 square feet to be used for lab space and ground floor retail.

Originally Forest City also proposed a high rise residential structure. I’m pleased to report that Forest City has removed this portion of the proposal, a residential tower at the corner of Sidney Street and Green Street that would have abutted the Mass Ave park and cast some shadows on Jill Brown-Rhone Park.

The most important news is that the Mayor’s Office is now working with representatives of Forest City and the Chair of the Ordinance Committee to address housing needs in other ways:

1. We are hoping Forest City will extend affordability on approximately over 150 units of housing in University Park by 50 years. The units are now set to lose their affordable status starting in the next decade.

2. It is also proposed the Forest City provide 20 new units of affordable housing, possibly in connection with a new housing development.

I appreciate that this had been a difficult and complex process for the community. In order to continue and possibly complete negotiations with Forest City, I have scheduled a special City Council meeting at City Hall for next Monday August 6 at 7:30 PM. The public is welcome to attend.

1. A communication was received from Mayor Henrietta Davis transmitting the following documents:
   • Communication from Assistant City Manager Brian Murphy transmitting the original Forest City housing commitment letter from 1988;
   • The Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District (CRDD) Affordable Housing FAQ; and
   • The Cambridge Revitalization Development District Affordability Requirements.
Full text of these documents (HTML)    Original (scanned PDF)


  1. Im so disappointed that the Council caved to the neighborhood fear-mongering and misinformation campaign. When Forest City comes around and puts up their lab space only building, I’m going to laugh when everyone complains about the lack of retail.

    Comment by Joe Aiello — August 6, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  2. I’m also disappointed that councillors chose not to challenge the misinformation. I don’t know what Forest City/MIT will do next but, contrary to the claims of the Cambridge Tea Party crowd, the Forest City/MIT team has been a very good community partner. You might never know that if you listened to all the misinformation.

    Even after getting unfairly beaten up for things having NOTHING to do with their petition, my guess is that Forest City will still act honorably – something that cannot be said about the naysayers or several city councillors.

    I hope Forest City/MIT comes back with a similar proposal that again includes retail, but I wouldn’t blame them if they just built an as-of-right building with no street vitality at all. That’s what happened some number of years ago when the company now called Quest Diagnostics wiped out much of the retail in the heart of Lafayette Square. It’s funny how the Tea Party crowd conveniently forgot about that biotech presence in a prominent Central Square location that’s been there for many years.

    Comment by Robert Winters — August 7, 2012 @ 1:01 am

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