88 CPD Post Mortem

The dotted line shows the scale of the original proposal (9-10 stories vs. 6-7)

The dotted line shows the scale of the original proposal (9-10 stories vs. 6-7)

As reported today in the Cambridge Chronicle, the Planning Board approved the McKinnon Company’s 254-unit residential development at 88 CambridgePark Drive last night — pending the resolution of one sticking point before the final decision is recorded (no later than November 21).

Still at issue are 16 parking spaces in the 668-space garage that the city’s Traffic & Parking Department insists should be made available for daytime use by residents rather than belonging to the pool of shared spaces available to office workers at one of the neighboring commercial buildings. At the 11th hour and literally after 11 pm, it looked as if the whole deal might fall apart over a mere 16 parking spaces. Ironic, when you consider that this project truly is transit-centered development, and that this developer has staked a lot on traffic demand measures, from a new Hubway station and 6 Zip Car spaces to steeply discounted T passes for residents for 12 months and the creation of the Alewife Traffic Management Association. The future addition of a bike bridge over the railroad tracks and/or a commuter rail station will make this location even more transit-centered in the future. Developer Rich McKinnon is confident that within three years the resident parking ratio will drop to 0.60 from the permitted 0.75, which is already the lowest ratio in the Triangle district. “What’s the point of all this traffic demand management if not to discourage cars?” Mr. McKinnon asked.

The shared parking arrangement and the developer’s contractual obligations to the owners of neighboring office buildings is too complex to explain succinctly, but one Planning Board member referred to the small number of disputed spaces as a “rounding error.” If you are interested in the parking math, refer to Exhibit A of the most recent traffic impact memo.

More important than where to put cars is how to create more housing for families, especially low-income families. The lion’s share of the hundreds of market-rate units being created in the Alewife area are studios and one bedrooms. This week’s City Council roundtable discussion with the Affordable Housing Trust highlighted the acute need for more three-bedroom units; the wait for a one-bedroom unit is down to a few months for current Cambridge residents, and even two-bedroom units are becoming more readily available to priority applicants (Cambridge residents, families with children under 6, and those in need of emergency shelter). However, few people even bother to apply for three-bedroom units because the likelihood of securing one is so low. Under the terms of the inclusionary zoning program, the allocation of affordable units mirrors that of the market rate units project by project. Out of the 254 total units, only 10 (4%) were planned as three bedrooms, so out of 29 total affordable units, only 1 would be required to be a three-bedroom unit. We asked the developer to change the unit mix to offer more large units, and we are very pleased that he agreed to place 6 three-bedroom units in the inclusionary program.

View of new street front looking east toward Rindge Ave towers (Arrowstreet rendering)

View of new street front looking east toward Rindge Ave towers (Arrowstreet rendering)

During the Affordable Housing roundtable Councillor Tim Toomey griped that the one-third reduction in the total units from the originally proposed 378 to the eventual 254 was evidence that residents across town from his East Cambridge stronghold are blocking affordable housing. “Certain residents alliances are putting certain parts of town off limits for affordable housing,” he complained. The Councillor said he intends to put forward a measure to change the zoning ordinance to incent the creation of affordable housing in all areas of the city.

Good, because at present the inclusionary percentage of 15% (which by some fuzzy base-to-bonus math falls to 11% of the final unit count) is not going to amount to more than a drop in the bucket in these boom times. There are now two nexus studies underway to consider whether to increase both the inclusionary percentage and the incentive zoning fees. As many have said, most recently Councillor Marc McGovern during the roundtable, “We can’t build our way out of an affordable housing crisis.” He’s right. Developers aren’t going to solve the housing crisis in Cambridge, or San Francisco or any other desirable urban center.

To Councillor Toomey and others quick to write off resident activists as NIMBYists, I would say that our group’s advocacy over the past six months shows that it is quite possible for residents and developers to engage in a constructive public review process. In fact, we are working on a petition to require a similar community engagement process for all large projects. True, the final project offers fewer housing units than what was originally proposed back in May, but the Planning Board agreed that it’s a more appropriately scaled design for the long narrow site. The new design offers almost 10 times more ground floor retail space, well-landscaped public areas with seating and a tot lot to enliven the new street front and create a sense of place. Overall, the result is a significant improvement over what it might have been had we stayed on the sidelines, or had the developer refused to engage with residents.

Now, the question is: Can we learn from decades of planning mistakes in the Triangle and get it right in the Quad? Our group is eager to kick-start an urban planning charrette that could help the city determine a new vision for the Quad’s future redevelopment. Sure, we need more housing of all kinds, but we also need lots of other things along with the new housing if we want this emerging neighborhood to be worthy of its Cambridge zip code. Let’s get cracking before more mistakes are made and more time is lost.

The dotted line shows the scale of the original proposal (9-10 stories vs. 6-7) (Arrowstreet rendering)

The dotted line shows the scale of the original proposal (9-10 stories vs. 6-7) (Arrowstreet rendering)


6 thoughts on “88 CPD Post Mortem

  1. Fantastic post-mortem of the project and the process. If only the City Council could work together as well as the FPRA and Mr. McKinnon have. And if Councilor Toomey is truly concerned about the lack of affordable housing in our city, he might want to pay greater attention to the Courthouse project in his own neighborhood. Though the proposed Courthouse replacement is over 400,000 square feet, it will include only 8 low-income units (from a total of 24), as the bulk of the building will be new office space. 88 Cambridge Park Drive, on the other hand, will deliver 29 affordable units, including the six 3-bedroom units mentioned previously, and 254 units overall. Together with Rindge Towers, Briston Arms, Jefferson Park, Walden Square, Lincoln Way, and others, West Cambridge is hardly “off limits for affordable housing.” Mr. Toomey’s neighborhood of East Cambridge, on the other hand, seems to have no interest in building new housing at all, affordable or otherwise.


    • Thank you Jan , and Doug for the remarks and the Comment. On the next Project, none in mind now , , could we find something other than ” post-mortem ” as the tag line ? Next to the name McKinnon… . You guys only half killed me, I just looked in the mirror and someone did look back.

      I hope the FPRA readers have some idea of the staggering amount of time and work Jan and your Officers gave me and my architects, engineers , scientists and financial partners. I don’t want to leave out names but so many people worked with us in a lot of different ways. They came to know my Project in detail . They worked with me and my folks in big settings , small ones and individual exchanges when that helped too. I trust my folks and yours and tried to create a sense that people could communicate as they needed. Often better without me.

      The Project changed . A lot . See the images. And it is better for it.

      We have managed to come to look at the Triangle as definitely NOT a lost cause. There is so much energy there , You have put it in your focus and in the City’s . It will surprise a lot of folks who come by in the coming years. It really will .

      Yes, pay attention to the Quadrangle. I can’t believe I’m saying this but : don’t forget the Triangle . We do better with more eyes and more ideas as we move ahead. Yours included.

      It is complicated sometimes being part of a neighborhood group . More so a new and suddenly powerful one. You all are getting to feel your way / and I take it you and others around the City are taking each other’s measure. There is a lot of zest in the air and feelings can get bruised . Easily. You have every right to point to the housing , affordable and other, in North and West Cambridge, But in fairness , my neighbors ( I live in the North Point part of East Cambridge ) have given me a lot of support as I developed nearly 2000 units of housing down here. They’d make me sit alone at the East Side if I failed to mention that.

      I have a lot to be thankful for as to how I have been treated at Alewife by this group. I will try over the next week do that better individually. I will stay connected / still plenty to do. In the meantime , I hope you continue to find your own way to give your ideas to the rest of Cambridge as you shape your own neighborhood as well. If we wanted to get on perfectly and easily with our neighbors , we’d live in Dover. I like it here and I like us. ( Most of the time )

      Thanks again,

      Rich McKinnon


      • Thanks, Rich- very thoughtful and much appreciated reply. To clarify, you are entirely correct that North Point is supplying plentiful housing to the Cambridge market, for which you all should be applauded. I think what I meant to say is that Representative Toomey seems to think West Cambridge is anti-housing, simply because Huron Village isn’t packed full of large projects. But that assumes that Alewife and Huron Village are one and the same, which we all know they are not. Similarly, North Point and the area immediately around the Courthouse are both East Cambridge, but they are, again, not one and the same. Large projects are appropriate at North Point and Alewife; they are less appropriate in Huron Village or in the Courthouse neighborhood. It’s deceptive of Rep. Toomey to imply that West Cambridge doesn’t support housing, when, in fact, that is very much not the case. Regardless, keep up the good work. Cambridge needs more developers who are not afraid to listen to the community, rather than just waste time pointing fingers as some Councilors are prone to do.


      • I understand the point you make. Expect it is no to be a surprise to learn that Tim Toomey and I have a lot of history. We each were born here and have many connection with little to do with development or politics. We know each others families and have always tried to be kind to one another. My kids like Tim . As do I.

        I hope you can see that and know as well that your dispute with Tim is that. I have been treated with a lot of respect by you. Had the pleasure of meeting your son and sharing the same birthday as your beautiful daughter .

        I value the new friendship I am making with you . I of course value the long one I have with Tim . I think that is as it should be .. A new picture of 7/ 30 would be nice . Rich


    • Just to inform you all, Rindge Towers, Briston Arms, Jefferson Park, Walden Square, Lincoln Way are NOT in West Cambridge. Jefferson Park and Rindge Towers are both located in North Cambridge while the other three developments are located in Neighborhood Nine, although those of us that grew up in North Cambridge (Jefferson Park for me) always referred to those places as being in West Cambridge. The only low-income housing development i’m aware of In W.C. is Corcoran Park, which is technically also in Strawberry Hill so go figure! Not sure of the status of Huron Towers these days it use to be a mix of market-rate and low-income renters. Curiously there was a second veterans housing project at one time in N.N. (The other being Lincoln Way) called Botanic Gardens, which was built by Harvard for it’s students returning home form W.W. II but was also open to all Cambridge residents with a preference for vets during the 50’s and 60’s.


  2. Rich, thanks for weighing in and for continuing to share your perspective. You have a much longer history with all parties, and more leverage than Doug and I do as residents and relative newcomers to the politics of development. Your experience at North Point gives you a longer view and keeps you optimistic. Many would have given up years ago but look at the area today — and with the new EF building, and the future Green Line extension and skate park, it’s bound to keep improving. I hope a commuter rail stop, a bike bridge, and some more mixed use/retail development will have the same impact on the Triangle before too many more years go by, and eventually over in the Quad. Maybe we are just too impatient.

    I do get frustrated, though, when the so-called housing advocates seem to value only the total number of units created in any given project, rather than taking a broader view of how those units fit into the overall context. Perhaps you can help your friend Tim understand that we are not against creating more housing on the west side of town, but that we need his help at both the city and state level to ensure that we have the transit infrastructure and all other elements in place to support such density. So far, he hasn’t shown much interest in the planning for our area. Maybe that will change, too.


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