Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 9, 2013

MIT/Kendall Night at City Hall – Apr 8, 2013 City Council meeting (updated)

Filed under: City Council,Kendall Square,MIT — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 9:40 am

MIT/Kendall Night at City Hall – Apr 8, 2013 City Council meeting

Though there are a few other items on the agenda, this meeting is clearly centered on the potential ordination of the MIT/Kendall zoning petition that was introduced in December 2012, but which has actually been around, debated, and refined since its original introduction over two years ago. There have been many meetings of the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board on the substance of this petition plus volumes of input from the public.

The central agenda item is this:

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Mar 7, 2013 to continue discussions on the petition by MIT to create a new Section 13.80 Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District; specifically to discuss Uses, Incentive Zoning, Community Fund, Housing and Sustainability. A presentation will be made by the Executive Director of Historical Commission on historic building. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Apr 1, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Jan 15, 2013. Petition expires Apr 15, 2013.

A related Order from Councillor Decker highlights one feature that is now part of the revised language of the petition:

Order #1. That the text of the MIT Zoning Petition be amended to increase the inclusionary housing from 15% to 18%.   Councillor Decker

The last Ordinance Committee report on this matter is this:

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on Apr 2, 2013 to continue discussion on the petition by MIT to create a new Section 13.80 Planned Unit Development 5 (PUD-5) District; said report contains text of zoning language with changes since the Planning Board referral and a draft letter of commitment.

Though there may be other efforts to amend the proposed zoning amendment on the floor, the latest version as submitted is here:

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Councillor David Maher transmitting additional information received from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, Real Estate MITIMCo., regarding the MIT revised draft zoning amendment, a revised commitment letter and a table providing an overview of the public benefits contained in the revised commitment letter and the revised draft zoning ordinance amendments. [HTML Version of Revised Petition & Letter of Commitment]

There is much that could be said at this point about the MIT/Kendall Petition. In spite of questionable claims of MIT faculty opposition to the proposal, most of the letters from the MIT faculty and administration have shown clear support. Many of the suggestions of the East Cambridge Planning Team have been incorporated into the proposal. There are legitimate arguments that can be made in favor of MIT providing additional housing for graduate students and post-docs, but there is no reason why that housing should be located in Kendall Square. There is also an ongoing analysis within MIT to determine the best ways to address these housing needs, and there is every reason to believe that MIT will act in good faith to ultimately do what’s in the best interest of its students. This may well mean that new housing will be constructed at the opposite end of the MIT campus.

The arguments of naysayers as this matter heads into its final stage have focused on two red herrings – graduate student housing and claims that the plan does not mandate sufficient "sustainability" requirements. When you consider the fact that none of the new buildings in this PUD-5 zone have actually yet been designed, it makes you wonder what blueprints these naysayers have been consulting. The misinformation has all the earmarks of political organizing during a municipal election year.

On balance, the MIT/Kendall Petition, as amended, is a good plan and it should be ordained. MIT has responded well to most of the requests of City staff and the elected officials. If two-thirds of the City Council see fit to pass the zoning amendment, they should be congratulated for keeping their eye on the many positive benefits of the plan and for navigating wisely through a sea of misinformation spread by reactionaries and political wannabes. There’s more to being a good elected official than just being able to say NO to everything. – Robert Winters


Apr 8 update on the MIT/Kendall Petition

The MIT/Kendall zoning petition was ordained as amended on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor vanBeuzekom voting NO (as expected) and Vice Mayor Simmons voting PRESENT. The revised Letter of Commitment from MIT was approved unanimously.

Prior to final ordination a series of amendments were proposed by several councillors. Councillor Kelley objected strenuously to the late arrival of the proposed amendments and, in doing so, he came across as the smartest guy in the room. There were so many opportunities to propose amendments during the months, weeks, and days leading to this vote, that there was no excuse for trying to rush these amendments through. Nothing good came of it.

The late parade of amendments began with Councillor Cheung proposing some modifications of the percentages in section 13.83.2(d). This squeaked by on a 5-4 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Reeves, Simmons, and vanBeuzekom voting in favor. Next came Councillor Cheung’s amendment to increase the maximum height of the proposed residential tower from 300 ft. to 350 ft. That failed on a 4-5 vote with Councillors Cheung, Reeves, Simmons, and vanBeuzekom voting in favor.

Then Councillor vanBeuzekom proposed a reduction in the maximum permissible nighttime noise levels from 65db to 55db. Councillor Kelley opined that this was a matter that should be viewed in a citywide context. The amendment failed 4-5 with Councillors Cheung, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting in favor. The next amendment by Councillor vanBeuzekom to require "net zero" energy standards enjoyed a temporary victory on a 5-3-1 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting YES; Councillors Kelley, Maher, and Toomey voting NO; and Councillor Reeves voting PRESENT. Later in the meeting, when informed that this burden could threaten MIT’s other commitments, Mayor Davis reluctantly asked to change her vote from YES to PRESENT which defeated the amendment 4-3-2. This was a vote change that Mayor Davis clearly did not relish, but she did it for the greater goal of passing the entire package.

The last amendment was from Councillor Decker and will likely be the one that brings some repercussions. She proposed that the $10 million that was to be dedicated to a Community Fund be transferred to a general mitigation fund not tied in any way to the K2C2 principles. It is my understanding that this has the effect of cutting out the role of people from the adjacent neighborhood organizations in the mitigation fund. The amendment passed on a 5-4 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Reeves, Simmons, and vanBeuzekom voting in favor.

It was also revealed that Councillor Decker’s Order #1 to increase the Inclusionary Zoning percentage from 15% to 18% was meant to be a citywide proposal. She withdrew her Order and will resubmit it as a citywide proposal at a later date. – RW

3 Comments

  1. As I wrote in my comments to the City Council, MIT can meet all of my concerns about changing an academic district into a commercial one, the lack of open space, and the lack of housing with the new zoning. And the zoning could actually require that this all be done, but it does not. So it will be up to MIT to do the right thing if it passes.

    Although the design has not been finalized, no one in their right mind proposes a significant zoning amendment without knowing what they want in the end. All of the perspectives and plans which have been presented concentrate on the three large commercial towers (and nothing in the way of academic buildings or academic housing), that is probably what people are reacting to.

    I have to disagree with you on your assertion that housing does not have to be located in Kendall Square. I have attended all the K2 meetings and Goody/Clancy said repeatedly that housing is essential for a lively urban environment. The proposed housing went from 60 units to 120 to 240, but it still falls far short of the 750+ units the project needs. MIT could still provide this under the zoning (there is no limit to the square footage of residential under the proposal).

    Will MIT behave like just another real estate developer and be back before the City asking to raise the 980,000 SF limit on their commercial space? Or will MIT behave like the one-of-a-kind institute of higher education that it is? I guess we’ll know soon.

    Comment by Tom Stohlman — April 8, 2013 @ 8:08 am

  2. Tom – Where exactly did I say “that housing does not have to be located in Kendall Square”? What I said is that there’s no reason that any proposed graduate student housing must be located in the Kendall Square area. Furthermore, I am not aware of any poll of MIT graduate students or post-docs where they have expressed a preference that housing be located there. Councillor Reeves actually had a very good concept at the recent Ordinance Committee meeting when he speculated about what could be built in the relatively desolate areas around Albany and Vassar Streets on the other side of Mass. Ave. If I were a graduate student, I think I would prefer my new housing to be built there – in closer proximity to what will be an ever-improving Central Square. There’s the potential for a nice “academic village” in that area.

    Another point that you seem to have overlooked is that the current proposal will likely yield housing units well in excess of the numbers you suggest – especially in light of amendments recommended by the Planning Board. If Councillor Cheung’s amendment tonight is passed, those numbers will go up even more (as will the heights!). Add to that what is coming in NorthPoint and elsewhere and I believe there’s a chance we’ll be making a real dent in the problem of insufficient housing supply. If the Volpe site ever becomes available (and I think it will), it could be a housing bonanza for Kendall Square.

    Comment by Robert Winters — April 8, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

  3. Robert,

    Very well put.

    Since this petition first debuted over 2 years ago we have seen the number of housing units increase from around 60 to north of 240 and maybe even more depending on overall mix and heights. This is going to help with residential pressures in Kendall Square and East Cambridge, but the real dent will come from North Point. The shift in number of units is in direct response to the process through which the petition has gone, from the original petition’s hearings, to K2C2 to the current round of hearings. The process has made the petition much better. It deserves to pass and be ordained tonight.

    Passing this petition will enable us to move forward with the even bigger issues facing the city, what will be the result of the remainder of the K2 proposals and the beginning of the C2 discussions. Handled properly, these petitions will help to set the stage for the next 25 years of development in Cambridge. The process will be important and the outcome critical so let’s pass the MIT petition and get to work.

    The ongoing discussions will help us face and debate some very serious questions, including but not limited to:

    - How much affordable housing is enough and who should pay for it?
    - How do we encourage and support local retail which has long been a valuable rung on the ladder of middle class success?
    - How do we support innovation and start-up companies while still providing space for those companies that have grown and are continuing to grow and want to stay in Mass.?
    - How do we resolve the transition away from an auto centric society to one that relies more on shared cars (zip car), bikes and mass transit?
    - How do we structure our education system to prepare Cambridge children for success in the economy of the fuue?

    All this is designed to help Cambridge prepare itself for transitions to new economies and new technologies as we continue to evolve. We must prepare as history is rife with cities that did not plan for transitions and were left be the wayside (Detroit comes to mind, for instance).

    Comment by Charlie Marquardt — April 8, 2013 @ 4:12 pm

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