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Neighbors wary of tower proposed near Central Square

Posted by Brock Parker  May 16, 2012 07:48 AM

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Neighbors of a residential tower proposed at the edge of Central Square in Cambridge are criticizing the size of the building and its potential effect on nearby parks.

The 165-foot tall tower is part of a proposal by Forest City Commercial Group and MIT that would require a zoning change be passed by the Cambridge City Council before it could be built.

The Cleveland-based Forest City, which was behind the University Park development in Cambridge, is also seeking to build a life sciences building along Massachusetts Avenue near Central Square that would be 115 feet tall and 145 feet tall including mechanical equipment on the roof.

Speaking at a hearing about the proposal before the City Council’s Ordinance Committee Tuesday, Cambridge resident Jonathan King lamented the effect the residential tower would have on the area around Central Square and the Lafayette Square neighborhood. King said shadows would be cast on the nearby Jill Brown Rhone Park and the building would not offer a pleasant view from the park.

“The proposed residential tower will be a scar on the sight line,” King said. “This is going to be an ugly tall building out of place.”

But the addition of housing to the Forest City proposal came at the suggestion of the Cambridge officials. Forest City and MIT had petitioned the city with plans for a new life sciences building in the area last year, but Assistant City Manager Brian Murphy told city councilors Tuesday that the city asked the developer to see if there was also an opportunity to building housing.

Forest City and MIT returned to the city with the proposal for what Murphy called a “slender” residential tower at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Sidney Street.

Peter Calkins, the executive vice president and chief development officer for Forest City, said the company is seeking and amendment to the Cambridge zoning ordinance that would extend the University Park revitalization development district and an increase in the building height limits for the new portion of the district.

The residential high-rise would include retail space for a restaurant at the corner, while the tower with 130 residential units would be set back almost 100 feet from Massachusetts Avenue behind the city firehouse at 378 Massachusetts Ave., said David Manfredi, of Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects, which is working with Forest City on the project.

The life sciences building would be in the block of 300 Massachusetts Ave. and would also include street-level space for retail businesses, according to Forest City. While the developer presented the approximate heights of the proposed buildings Tuesday, they did not present detailed designs.

Bill August, president of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, also said shadows from the residential tower would diminish the nearby park space. He said a more thorough study of the shadows the building would cast on the area is needed.

City Councilor Leland Cheung said the height of the residential building remains a concern, but it may be a needed trade off because of the city's need for more housing.
“The reality is that there’s no where else on this map that we’re going to be able to build more triple-deckers or townhouses or row houses.

The hearing Tuesday was the first time the extension of the revitalization district came before the City Council’s Ordinance Committee. The change will need the approval of the full City Council.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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