75 New Street: Comments to the Cambridge Planning Board (11/25/14)

NewStfromDanehyThe proposed 93-unit development at 75 New Street will have its fourth hearing before the Cambridge Planning Board tonight (Tuesday, November 25) at 8 p.m.. The FPRA sent these comments to the Board and other city staff for their consideration:

To the Chair and Members of the Planning Board:

We write on behalf of the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance to offer our comments on the most recent proposal for 75 New Street (“Park 75”). We appreciate the good-faith efforts by the proponents (AdodeZ and Acorn Holdings) to address residents’ and the Board’s concerns. While there is no question that the design has improved since the project was first proposed last February, we feel the overarching concerns about scale, massing and mixed use, as well as questions about traffic and environmental impact, remain unaddressed and that further design changes are needed to satisfy the requirements and the intent of the ordinance. We offer the following recommendations for consideration:

1. Require more aggressive TDM incentives: While the additional volume from this project may not trigger a “planning board exceedence” on the pre-existing Level F service at the Sozio rotary, any increased congestion at this notorious bottleneck demands more aggressive Traffic Demand Measures than were proposed in the Traffic and Parking Department’s December 2013 memo.

We recommend that the Planning Board require the proponents to offer TDM measures at least equivalent to those that are a condition on the recently approved development at 88 Cambridgepark Drive. Given Park 75’s greater distance to the Alewife T and the more generous 1:1 parking ratio, its residents will need more robust incentives to use public transit than residents at 88 CPD, and should be provided with a free T pass for the first year of residency and free and unlimited use of the planned Alewife shuttle service. The Park 75 lobby should include an electronic display of real-time MBTA bus arrival and departure times (similar to the one in the Atmark building at 70 Fawcett St.). The proponents should be required to contribute to a new Hubway location on the north side of Danehy Park (this amenity would benefit the guests of residents as well as the community). The proponents should be strongly encouraged to offer the equivalent TDM incentives to residents of Park 87 as well, and the in-house Transportation Coordinator should oversee programs for both buildings.

We would like the proponents to confirm that there will be adequate space for a shuttle bus to pull into the front driveway alongside the guest parking spots, so that the bus doesn’t block traffic or obstruct the proposed cycle lane on New Street. We also would like the proponents’ assurance that Park 75 and 87 residents and their guests will not park in the Danehy Park parking lots, which are currently reserved exclusively for the park users.

We thank the new interim T&P director for providing an explanation for how such an “exceedence” is calculated; such a clear explanation is long overdue and would have been helpful in evaluating other recent projects in the area). We suggest that the incoming T&P director make it a top priority to review whether this standard underestimates the impact that additional congestion at failing-grade intersections has on neighboring residential streets and on pedestrian and bike safety in the vicinity (in this instance diverting eastbound traffic onto Bay State Road and the side streets between it and Concord Ave. and raising the risk of accidents at the un-signalized three-way intersection at the south end of New Street)

We continue to take issue with the methodology used in this and other Transportation Impact Studies to project the cumulative impact of developments, and the logic-defying assertion that because an intersection or roadway already operates at a failing grade additional volume would have a negligible impact. (See August 2013 TIS for this project.) Increased congestion diverts frustrated drivers onto side streets to the detriment of residents; studies showing that parkway traffic has not increased ignore the obvious burden on other roads including New Street itself, as it serves as a cut-through to avoid parkway traffic. As one example, significantly increased traffic has been noted on Vassal Lane, a residential street that runs parallel to Concord Avenue from FP Parkway to Huron Avenue, and provides a “cut-through” for traffic. The increased volume was noted before the sewer separation project began in the area. The Vassal Lane Upper School and Tobin Montessori School are located on the street, and increased traffic will impact many in the city, not just the residents of the street.

In addition, we would also ask that, going forward, traffic studies be required to include rotaries in their analysis of all nearby intersections; currently no such requirement exists, an oversight that in the case of this location renders any resulting traffic study almost meaningless in value.

2. Require a complete street redesign: We appreciate the proponents’ willingness to fund the city’s eventual recommendations for ADA-compliant sidewalk redesign, landscape with mature trees, bury power lines, and provide new lighting in front of both Park 75 and the existing Park 87 building. In addition the city must formalize its intent to redesign the entirety of New Street and commit to funding all these improvements in 2015. (Please refer to the detailed memo the FPRA sent DPW and other city staff on November 3rd for the list of necessary safety improvements and design considerations.) No park land should be paved or otherwise taken for expansion of New Street; if New Street is to be widened, it should be widened away from Danehy Park, and the proponents should donate free of charge any required land to the City of Cambridge.

We would also note that, regarding a future multi-use path at the rear of the property, the City elected not to purchase the railroad right of way when previously offered the opportunity. Given the resulting uncertainty of the railroad ever being converted to a multi-use path, we also believe the city should focus on making New Street the primary pedestrian and cycle route between Fresh Pond and Danehy Park.

3. Seek second opinions on noise mitigation and ventilation: The request for a special permit for reduced setbacks makes it imperative that the proponent solve with 100% certainty the concerns about noise and air quality from commercial neighbors. That normal commercial activity at Whole Foods exceeds the noise standards for residential neighborhoods (see acoustical study) places the entire burden on the developers, who are seeking permission to put future residents in close proximity to an existing commercial zone. The city shares the burden for ensuring that the air quality meets public health standards when permitting an apartment building to be sited in close proximity to an existing auto body shop and for strictly enforcing all environmental safety regulations. The Planning Board should seek independent second opinions from acoustical and environmental consultants to determine whether the proposed noise mitigation and ventilation measures are sufficient to protect residents.

4. Require installation of a green, solar-ready roof: A green, solar-ready roof should be required as a sustainability measure independent of the proponents’ need or ability to gain a variance for a roof deck on a portion of the roof. Such an installation would not require roof access by an elevator or stairway that would cause the building to exceed height restrictions for the district. In the most recent version of the plan, residents would have access to a common roof deck at a lower level. Further, the Planning Board should hold the proponents to meeting any immediate recommendations of the city’s Net Zero Task Force and Climate Vulnerability Assessment that are due to be publicly announced very shortly (January 2015), some perhaps already anticipated by CDD; and that the building’s common energy needs should be met from renewable sources and residents encouraged to choose the same for their individual energy needs.

5. Hire an independent retail consultant to assess the potential for Park 75 to support neighborhood-serving retail: The Concord Alewife study encourages ground floor retail as a community benefit. We believe relying on CDD’s opinion that the location is not favorable for retail foot traffic or that it would cannibalize the existing and future stores in the mall is a mistake. A small independent retail presence at Park 75 would help create a sense of place and could fulfill a neighborhood need not offered in the mall – for example, a small café or a bicycle repair shop that would attract members of the nearby gym, park visitors, and other nearby residents. At minimum, the proponents should be required to provide retail-ready space on the ground floor so as not to entirely lose this opportunity as the neighborhood continues to evolve.

6. Provide additional visual and physical connections between New Street and the shopping center: As presently designed, the building remains too monolithic a presence at the street level. The most recent facade changes still do not fulfill the urban design guidelines to break up building mass and create strong visual and physical connections between the shopping center and Danehy Park. If this project is approved in its current form, the proponents will have been allowed to erect a building wall along the entire park-facing street front. Contributing a single 5-foot public easement at the southern end of the two parcels is insufficient access and will greatly limit future opportunities to connect a redeveloped shopping center district with the park. We stand by our prior assertion that this should not be a single 275-foot long building and that the decision not to break up the building mass is favorable only to the proponent’s bottom line. We would note that the savings on out-of-state factory construction costs are already substantial, and that local union workers will earn less on this job site since the units will be delivered ready-made for installation.

7. Require more family-sized units. Park 75’s prime location across from the city’s largest park is very attractive for families with children. Yet less than half of the units offer more than one bedroom (39 of 93 total units; 5 of 11 inclusionary units). The unit mix ratio should be flipped to favor larger units. There is already a glut of small units coming online in the Concord-Alewife area, but New Street has the advantage of proximity to Danehy Park, the Children’s Village daycare at the end of the street, and the Tobin School within walking distance across the park and along a newly redesigned pedestrian-friendly Fern Street. Why not leverage these unique advantages to address one of the city’s most acute housing needs?

8. Provide additional environmental details. Kleinfelder’s historical site report detailing extensive waste dumping and pollution throughout the New Street area unfortunately fails to mention several important historical facts about the subject property itself, including: the City’s prior ownership of both the 75 New Street and 87 New Street parcels; the land’s use as an animal waste processing facility by the Cambridge Offal Department; and that the abutting, still contaminated site now known as Park 87 (aka 87 New Street) was not previously “owned by a brick manufacturer” as reported by Kleinfelder, but instead was operated as an oil distribution facility by the Cubby Oil Company from 1968 until 1980.

Given this history, it should come as no surprise that a previous analysis of soils next door at 87 New Street found lead concentrations as high as 13,000 mg/kg (65 times the RCS-1 reportable threshold), as well as elevated concentrations of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, PAHs (particularly benzo(a)pyrene), and sub-surface methane. That similar contaminants are also present on the site of 75 New Street makes perfect sense given the City’s common ownership and similar use of both parcels for over 50 years (1916-1968).

The report also mentions that “a risk characterization (of 87 New Street) concluded there was a condition of no significant risk under the terms of the Activity Use Limitation (AUL)” now on file. Of course, the AUL for the site prohibits any excavation of this still heavily polluted property, even while the lack of an AUL next door at 75 New Street allows Abodez to proceed with similarly problematic excavations. Kleinfelder alludes to this connection between the two parcels when it mentions that “one area where the most heavily impacted soils remain is beneath pavement along the southern and western portions of the Site,” the portion of 87 New Street directly bordering the currently proposed project.

Further, according to Kleinfelder, “excavation of impacted soil at 75 New Street may not be enough to mitigate landfill gas migration from the former City Dump and similar measures to those implemented at 87 New Street may be required at 75 New Street.” This refers to the installation of a sub-slab vapor barrier system beneath the foundation of Park 87 to vent potentially explosive and corrosive vapors from underneath the building. We would expect a similar system to be a required condition at Park 75 as well.

More importantly, we would ask that the extensive excavation of such toxic soils immediately next door to a residential building now containing 30+ children be managed in the most cautious and conservative manner possible. As reported in prior MassDEP filings for 87 New Street, this is because “…elevated concentrations of select Chemicals of Potential Concern in soil (benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, and lead) contribute to excess risks for residential receptors, [so] a condition of No Significant Risk does not exist for residents who may be exposed to soils,” whether through airborne dust or direct contact with soil. Similar risks are documented for construction workers, as well, particularly utility workers working in trenches. Unfortunately, since no documented RAM plan of proposed remedial actions has yet to be filed with MassDEP, we are unclear exactly how Abodez would propose to perform their work, nor how MassDEP would propose to monitor it. Until we have such details, it is difficult for us to feel very comfortable with this project and its risks.

Taking all of this into account, the Cambridge Public Health Department, in their report of September 9th, noted the following in regards to an upcoming Planning Board meeting on September 16th:

The development at 75 New Street is located in an area with a complex history of hazardous material releases and is immediately adjacent to a property with significant historic contamination (87 New Street). It also lies on or near the footprint of the former municipal dump. The Cambridge Public Health Department proposes to convene a discussion with concerned neighbors, the developers’ environmental consultants, and the state regulators assigned to these cases (“release tracking numbers”) to achieve a clearer understanding of the current regulatory status of several properties, including 75 and 87 New Street. Although this meeting could not be arranged before the date of this Planning Board meeting, it can certainly be scheduled within the next month.”

In response, we would note that, more than two months later, this suggested meeting has yet to occur. Until it does, we would ask that the Planning Board not consider Abodez’s application complete with regard to these environmental concerns.

We thank the Board and the proponents for considering our suggestions in the constructive spirit in which they are offered. Our earnest hope is that this new development will be one that future residents will be proud to call home, and one that the local community can walk, bike and drive past without regret in the coming decades.

Sincerely,

Jan Devereux (Lakeview Ave.)
Doug Brown (Standish St.)
Peggy Barnes Lenart (Fayerweather St.)
Bob Simha (Blanchard Rd.)
Langley Keyes (Chilton St.)
Jay Yesselman (Vassal Lane)
Ann Sweeney (Lakeview Ave.)
Terry Drucker (Chilton St.)

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2 thoughts on “75 New Street: Comments to the Cambridge Planning Board (11/25/14)

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