Many locals mourned the loss of F.X. Masse Hardware Co. when the family-owned store, a neighborhood institution since 1888, closed in October 2013. Now, just a year later, the goodwill the Masse family accrued over 125 years in the trade is being tested with plans to develop their two corner lots at the busy intersection of Walden and Sherman Street into a total of 32 apartments. Area residents, many of them loyal Masse’s customers, are upset about third-generation owner David Masse’s plan to convert the former store into a 6-unit building, and to construct a new 26-unit building on the parking lot across the street.
The smaller project (known as 249 Walden St) had two hearings before the Board of Zoning Appeal, most recently on September 18, to request a variance for a change in use and reduced driveway setbacks There are already 4 apartments above the former store; the new plan is convert the ground floor retail space into 2 more units and to squeeze 6 parking spaces onto the site. The BZA approved the plan, but an abutter plans to appeal the decision.
More troubling, just last week residents caught wind that Mr. Masse has applied for a building permit to shoehorn 26 units onto the parking lot at 253 Walden Street. Many felt blindsided and betrayed, as no public notice was given and no effort was made to solicit neighborhood input. The fact that the city’s zoning ordinance does not require developers to conduct community outreach prior to applying for permits sows mistrust and thrusts the parties into adversarial positions from the outset. This is unfortunate, especially in instances like this one, where the density of the proposed housing is far greater than in the surrounding area, and where the developer has a long history as a good neighbor. One hopes that Mr. Masse will listen to residents’ concerns and consider a more appropriately scaled project, even a mixed use building that offers some neighborhood-serving retail along with a smaller number of housing units.
Plans have not yet been made available to the public, but the FPRA’s Doug Brown provided the following summary after a meeting last week to preview the plans:
Several residents, along with City Councilor Leland Cheung, met with Inspectional Services on Thursday to review the plans for 253 Walden Street, the former parking lot of Masse’s Hardware. David Masse is proposing to construct a 4-story, 27,146 square foot residential building containing 26 units, 6 of which are affordable. The building has been designed by Peter Quinn, and includes 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors, with the 1st floor devoted exclusively to parking. Bicycle parking is provided in the basement, and limited open space at the rear of the property. The building is 100% residential: it contains no ground floor retail, office, or other business uses. The design provides 1 parking space per unit; the design appears to provide no parking for the neighboring condo building at 269-71 Walden Street (which previously signed a 50-year lease for 3 spaces in the lot) or for Paddy’s Lunch, whose customers often used the parking lot at night.
Regarding the matter of increased traffic caused by the addition of 26 units, note that the size of the project means that the developer is not required to produce a traffic impact study. However, the size of the building should trigger Project Review (the threshold is 20,000 square feet in a Business-A zone). As a result, we would expect that the proposal must be presented to the Planning Board for approval in order to receive the required Project Review Special Permit. Thus, the public should have an opportunity to weigh in on the design of the building before it receives a building permit. (The owner has retained veteran Cambridge real estate attorney Jim Rafferty, who has represented AdodeZ in hearings on 75 New Street.)
The Masse parking lot was the site of a gas station from 1930 to 1981, and there are currently 2 reports on file with MassDEP (RTN 3-31801 and RTN 3-31757). These reports indicate the presence of petroleum products and NAPLs (non-aqueous phase liquids) in the soil. Remediation was performed last fall and a large quantity of contaminated soil was removed from the site.
We have a number of concerns about the project, including its overall size and height, the lack of any active uses on the ground floor,
and the placement of bicycle facilities in the basement, where they would be difficult to access. (see comments section for clarification). In addition, the proposed building seems out of proportion to the surrounding properties, all of which are zoned as Residence C-1. In fact, it appears that the only reason the property is currently zoned as Business-A is because of its prior use to service the hardware store next door. Now that the hardware store has closed, and the building being converted to 100% residential by the same owner, no businesses remain in this BA zone. The neighboring businesses (Paddy’s Lunch, the Walden Spa, and the Cambridge Montessori School) all are zoned as Res C-1.
Downzoning to Res C-1 would result in a much smaller building, with less height, less square footage, and more open space. Councilor Cheung has placed a policy order on the agenda for Monday’s City Council meeting, asking that the block be rezoned to Residence C-1.
What concerned residents can do:
Voice support for Order #14 by emailing email@example.com or by speaking at the October 20 City Council meeting; call 617-349-4280 on Monday morning to sign up for public comment (3 minute limit per person). The meeting is in the School Committee room at CRLS (not City Hall).
Attend a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, October 21 at 7:00 pm at Cadbury Commons (66 Sherman Street)to discuss the project and how to respond. Councillor Leland Cheung will be present. All are welcome to attend. Contact Heddi Siebel of Stearns Street with questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).