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Cambridge council approves new life sciences building in Central Square

Posted by Brock Parker  February 26, 2013 01:38 AM

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After a similar proposal stalled in the face of opposition last year, the Cambridge City Council Monday approved zoning changes that will enable the construction of a new life sciences building in Central Square.

The council approved zoning changes proposed by Cleveland-based Forest City and MIT that will allow the construction of a 246,000-square-foot building at 300 Massachusetts Ave. that will include ground floor retail along with office and laboratory space.

The life science building will be occupied primarily by Millennium, a pharmaceutical company owned by Japan-based Takeda Oncology Company.

“Millennium pharmaceuticals is hiring rapidly to support its expansion and needs this office and research space,” said Peter Calkins, the executive vice president and chief operating officer for Forest City.

The Council’s vote Monday comes as the city is already considering another set of zoning changes proposed by the MIT Investment Management Company for 26 acres of land on the university’s campus and in Kendall Square. That proposal could create as many as 300 housing units under the proposed zoning, as well as 980,000 square feet of office, lab and retail space and about 800,000 square feet of academic space.

The zoning change approved for the edge of Central Square Monday will enable Forest City, which was behind the University Park development in Cambridge, to build a new life science with a maximum height of 95 feet.

Last year, at the city’s request, Forest City had proposed a 165-foot residential tower along with the life sciences building. When neighbors opposed the size of the residential tower, it was removed from the zoning petition, and then in August of 2012 the council allowed the petition for the life sciences building to expire without a vote.

At the time, City Councilor David Maher said it had become apparent there needed to be more discussion about the proposal.

Forest City submitted a new petition in December seeking zoning changes for a new life sciences building. While current zoning allows a maximum height of about 80 square feet for the site, the city’s Planning Board recommended the project, saying the dimensions proposed by the Forest City are similar to height limits recommended for the area by a city study of the area.

Forest City has committed to maintain all 168 affordable housing units at University Park as affordable for the duration of Forest City’s lease with MIT. The developer will also create 25 additional affordable housing units or contribute $5 million to the city’s affordable housing trust and will pay more if the units are not created within seven years of the life sciences building being occupied.

At City Hall Monday, some neighbors continued to raise concerns about the height of the building, potential traffic impact of the development, as well as noise. But the council voted unanimously in favor of the new zoning, and voted 8-1 in favor, with councilor Minka vanBeuzekom voting in opposition, of accepting and incorporating into the zoning commitments Forest City made to create and maintain affordable housing.

Maher said the time the city spent discussing the zoning changes led to a much different proposal to the one Forest City first submitted.

“I think that we have the opportunity to make this a very good proposal for the city of Cambridge, and one that I think will have benefits for the community for decades to come,” said Maher.

--brock.globe@gmail.com

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