In what Mayor Henrietta Davis called an historic vote, Cambridge City Councilors approved new zoning laws Monday that will drastically increase the size of buildings that can be erected on 26 acres of land in Kendall Square and MIT’s east campus.
The zoning will more than double the maximum height for buildings in parts of Kendall Square, and the size increase comes amid high demand for office and laboratory space in the area, where there has been a rapidly growing concentration of technology companies.
The new development on the MIT property has been the subject of debate for several years in the city, and was approved by a vote of 7-1, with one councilor also voting she was present late Monday night.
City Councilor David Maher said the zoning will contribute to an exciting time for development in the city.
“I think Kendall Square of the next 10 years is going to be a vast improvement over what we know as Kendall Square today,” Maher said.
The zoning was proposed by MIT Investment Management Company in December after revising an earlier proposal. The changes will allow the creation of more than 2 million square feet of office, lab, retail, housing and academic space on land now used as parking lots.
The height limit for buildings in much of Kendall Square had been about 120 feet, though some taller buildings are in the area, including the 26-story Boston Marriott Cambridge at 2 Cambridge Center, according to city planning and assessor records.
The new zoning will allow a residential high rise as tall as 300 feet at One Broadway, while increasing the maximum building heights at other locations to 150, 200, and 250 feet. The taller heights would be allowed closer to Main Street and the Kendall Square MBTA stop, and lower heights would be near the Charles River, according to the city.
Speaking on behalf of Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, Gregory Bialecki, the state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, asked the council Monday to allow the city to continue to grow. Bialecki said the Massachusetts innovation economy is on a roll, but the growth can not stop now.
“There is simply no room to stand still,” Bialecki said.
The zoning will allow the creation of almost a million square feet of office, laboratory and retail space, about 800,000 square feet for academic use and about 240,000 square feet of residential space, according to the MIT Investment Management Company. The zoning requires that part of all new commercial space built in the district be dedicated as “innovation space” with short term leases, small spaces and shared spaces that can be used by small businesses and start-up companies.
Some MIT professors and other Cambridge residents have criticized MIT’s zoning proposal, however, saying it fails to create enough housing, including rental units for graduate students.
MIT professor Fred Salvucci said rising rents are driving residents out of Cambridge and MIT needs to commit to building more affordable housing and housing for graduate students.
“This is about gentrification,” Salvucci said.
The university has said about 39 percent of its 6,259 graduate students are housed by MIT and more than 1,300 graduate beds have been added since 1997.
The new zoning will allow the creation of up to 300 housing units, including some “micro units” with floor plans smaller than some studio apartments. It more than doubles the amount of housing MIT included in a previous zoning petition filed by the university in 2011.
Steven Marsh, the managing director of real estate for the MIT Investment Management Company, has said that the zoning will also lead to almost $20 million in cash payments to the city for affordable housing and other uses. The development created under the laws will eventually generate an additional $10 million in tax revenue for the city each year, according to MIT.
Marsh said MIT’s intention is to move immediately on starting the process to obtain permits for building the residential building at One Broadway.
City Councilor Minka vanBeuzekom cast the only no vote on the new zoning, while City Councilor Denise E. Simmons voted present.