Minutes of 4/14 FPRA Meeting

IMG_8868Here are minutes of the FPRA’s April 14th public meeting held at the Tobin School.

Jan Devereux, FPRA President, gave some area development updates:

  • Tokyo Restaurant (on Fresh Pond Parkway near Tobin School) – the City was contacted by FPRA about the lack of maintenance of the site (snow not being removed from sidewalks this winter, graffiti on the wall, and the “temporary” metal fence falling over onto the sidewalk). The generally derelict condition of the building is also of concern. It is uncertain if the new owner intends to develop the site. Post-meeting update: Staff at the adjoining auto repair business unofficially reported that their boss Eli, who acquired the Tokyo property last fall, said recently that he is thinking of extending the auto repair bay over the Tokyo property. We believe this would require a special permit because it is in the Parkway Overlay District. There is now a policy order on the 4/27 Council agenda, asking the manger to report on the possibility of acquiring the site for affordable housing. Stay tuned.

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New Street Redesign: Plans Prioritize Safety for Walkers & Cyclists

Proposed design for crossings at New St and Concord Ave

Proposed design for crossings at New St and Concord Ave

Last month the Department of Public Works held a second public meeting to review designs for the planned reconstruction of New Street, a critical infrastructure improvement that the FPRA has championed for the past year. The designs presented at the meeting are now posted on the DPW site.

Option 2 was preferred by those who attended the meeting and will be the one implemented. We are pleased with the progress, and thank Kathy Watkins and DPW staff for being responsive to residents’ concerns.

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New Street Redesign: Recommendations on Street Trees

New Street needs a complete overhaul.

New Street needs a complete overhaul.

A second public meeting on the anticipated redesign of New Street will be held on Thursday, January 15 at 6 p.m. at the Tobin School. The DPW will present its latest concept designs, building on the discussion that began at the first meeting on October 22. We have not yet seen the new designs — and we expect they will include sidewalks and bike paths along the length of the street — but we shared with city staff the following recommendations for the placement of future street trees. The photos with the continuation of this post illustrate the urgent need for improvements to New Street. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

New Street Redesign: Prioritizing Safety & Connections

Sidewalks on New Street make the location too pedestrian unfriendly for the project to be considered "transit-centered."

As currently laid out, New Street is poorly suited for residential development. A complete redesign is in the planning stages.

Our group’s concerns about the proposal to construct a 93-unit “transit-oriented” residential development on New Street, which lacks the continuous sidewalks needed for a safe pedestrian route to and from public transport, has prompted a public involvement process to inform a complete redesign of the street in 2015. Following well-attended public meetings held by the city’s Department of Public Works (on Oct. 22) and the FPRA (on Oct. 29), we have developed the following list of concerns and priorities to guide city staff as they develop concept designs for the next meeting (in December or January). The plans and survey that DPW presented on Oct. 22 are posted online. Continue reading

FPRA Public Meeting, Wed. Oct. 29, 7 pm

Will this site be redeveloped as 100% affordable housing? How many units?

Will this site be redeveloped as 100% affordable housing? How many units?

The Fresh Pond Residents Alliance will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, October 29 at 7 pm at the Tobin School (197 Vassal Lane).

Staff from the city’s Community Development Department will talk about car-sharing in Cambridge, improvements to bike and pedestrian facilities, and sustainable transportation initiatives. The discussion also will cover recent initiatives by the City Council on affordable housing; the future of the former Tokyo restaurant and Masse’s corner properties; updates on the New Street and Fern Street street-scape redesigns; the status of the Silver Maple Forest action; and what can be done to ensure the safety of pedestrians in the Fresh Pond mall parking lot. SunBug Solar will be on hand with materials about solar installation.

Many of these topics are actively discussed on the FPRA’s listserv. To join, please email freshpondresidents@gmail.com. The FPRA also has a Facebook page and a Twitter profile (@FreshPondRA)

A Tale of Two Hearings

Sample of materials proposed for 75 New St.

Sample of materials proposed for 75 New St.

Public comment turned the tide at two public hearings last week, again demonstrating the importance of our showing up and speaking up on matters large and small that affect the quality of life in our area. Encouraging greater civic engagement is central to our group’s mission to raise the level and quality of public discourse on neighborhood planning and development issues.

75 New Street: Case Continued Again

On Tuesday, September 16th, the Planning Board resumed its consideration of the 93-unit project at 75 New Street, and once again did not make make a decision, continuing the case to a fifth hearing (to be scheduled within the next 60 days). Continue reading

75 New Street: Round 4 Comments

Transit friendly?

Transit friendly?

The Planning Board will hold its fourth hearing on the proposed 93-unit development at 75 New Street on Tuesday, September 16 at 7 pm. The FPRA submitted these comments on the project. If you support our position let the Planning Board know by attending the hearing or emailing the Board via CDD staff member Liza Paden (lpaden@cambridgema.gov). Continue reading

In Case You Missed It: Planning Debate Heats Up

Large crowd at last week's Ordinance Committee hearing on the Carlone Amendment

Large crowd at last week’s Ordinance Committee hearing on the Carlone Amendment

ICYMI there’s been a lot of going on this summer, as city officials of all stripes scramble to respond to the growing public perception that the planning and permitting process in Cambridge is broken. This post will catch you up on the key issues.

Carlone Amendment: A Timely Response to Our Immediate Concerns*

Councillor Carlone’s zoning petition to temporarily give the Council the final say over granting one category of special permit (Sec. 19.20 large project review, which relates to traffic impact and urban design guidelines) came before the Ordinance Committee last week, and citizen supporters outnumbered opponents (big developers and real estate interests) by about 3 to 1. On Tuesday, August 5 at 7 pm, the Carlone petition will come before the Planning Board itself. This should prompt an interesting discussion, to say the least.

The Carlone amendment is the best proposal on the table to address our immediate concerns. It is not a Trojan horse for a development moratorium. It’s a stopgap measure that is urgently needed while, collectively, we develop a master plan and repair a planning and special permitting process that is widely recognized to be “broken.” It adds another layer of review for large developments that have far-reaching impacts.

Important Note: If the Council passes the Carlone amendment, then any proposal requiring a large project review special permit that is currently before the Planning Board would need to be heard by the Council. For example, if 75 New Street was permitted at its next hearing in September, and the Council subsequently passed the amendment before the petition expires at the end of October, then the New Street proposal would have to go before the Council for another layer of review. The petition is a safety net that increases accountability to voters.

*Immediate Concerns: A Refresher Follows. Please Read on:

I. Planning Board: In Dire Need of Repair

The planning void of operating without a citywide plan (see Immediate Concern III. below) aggravates the problems of operating with a Planning Board that itself does no planning and views its role as principally administrative. The Board instead relies on project review memos prepared by CDD staff, which offer gentle critiques of development proposals that for the most part skim over the larger urban design and context issues. Five of the members’ terms expired several months ago (including that of the Chair, who has served since 1988), and the Board appears frustrated with, even resentful of, the increasing volume of public comment demanding that they take a bigger picture view in reviewing large projects with far-reaching impacts.

The City Manager, who appoints the volunteer Board, put out a request for applications to the Board (due August 1), but we don’t know which or how many members will be replaced (there is one vacancy in addition to the five expired terms). The Manager has also promised training for members to improve their communication, but fundamentally the problem cannot be solved through changes to personnel and communication style – the Manger must also empower the Board to exercise the discretion it has under Massachusetts case law. They can, and must, do more than tick off a checklist of criteria.

Responding to the public outcry over the state of the Planning Board, the Council just approved a policy order to create an advisory committee of community members to review the Planning Board’s procedures and to recommend improvements to the process. An advisory committee could complement the master planning process but, as we all know, forming a study committee is a great way to kick a problem down the road. It would take months for any committee to do this work, and there’s no guarantee its recommendations will be implemented. What happens to the development projects under Board review in the meantime?

II. Area Development Projects: More Hearings Ahead, Put that Rubber Stamp Away!

There are currently two large projects in our area that are crying out for the big picture view that, time and again, our Planning Board has declined to take, despite the clear authority it has to do so under Mass. case law. Their “obligation” to grant special permits is a fiction of their own creating, one they have used to justify never denying any large project review special permit that has come before them.

88 Cambridge Park Drive (formerly known as 180R) will have its second hearing at the Planning Board on Tuesday, August 19 at 7pm. In response to the concerns the FPRA and the Board expressed about the building’s scale, the developer intends to radically reduce the number of units (from 378 to 258) and parking spaces (revised net gain of 95 versus 220 originally). We have not yet seen the new design, so we cannot comment on whether a smaller building (6 stories rather than 9-10) better meets the urban design guidelines for the area, and there are still outstanding questions about the traffic and environmental impact. We expect the new plans to be available for public review and comment the week of August 11.

75 New Street will have its fourth Planning Board hearing on Tuesday, September 16 at 7pm. At the most recent hearing (on July 22), the Board appeared poised to approve the project, pending answers to a few unresolved questions about details. They did not get a chance to address the FPRA’s questions about the dangerous levels of toxins found in the soil at the site. We expect the environmental issue to be discussed at the September hearing. A redesign of New Street’s sidewalks and roadway has been promised to improve access to the T, but the details and timing remain to be worked out in a public process this fall.

III. Citywide Master Plan: Keep the Pressure On, We Need a Real Plan

The series of “Cambridge Conversations” facilitated by urban planning consultant Kathryn Madden in concert with CDD staff yielded a 15-page report at the end of July. The “preliminary summary of process and input” collects snippets of feedback and ideas from residents responding to three broad questions:

  • What’s special about Cambridge?
  • What could be working better?
  • What should the city’s priorities be?

The consultant acknowledges that the 18 community meetings and drop-in sessions held over six weeks were unable to reach some segments of our diverse community, so outreach will continue into the fall. The report makes no attempt at analysis and does not document the frequency of comments expressed on each topic. So it’s hard to see how this compendium of soundbites will help frame the scope for a Request for Proposal from an outside team of planning consultants to undertake a two- to three-year citywide planning process – if the Council votes to recommend this course of action. The report’s conditional language re-opens the question of whether the process will move forward.

We must keep the pressure on the Council to reaffirm its commitment to going forward with a citywide planning process. They left some wiggle room in the language of last spring’s compromise policy order – we cannot let them off the hook.

Flooding on Fawcett St after last week's deluge

Flooding in front of the new building on Fawcett St after last week’s deluge

What Lies Beneath: The Brownfields of New Street & Vicinity

Pile of dirt at 75 New St. Gate was unlocked.

Pile of uncovered dirt at 75 New St. Gate was unlocked.

In the rush to transform the former industrial area along New Street into a residential neighborhood, there has been a troubling lack of discussion about what kind of industry historically took place there, and an unfortunate lack of public awareness about the types and amounts of hazardous waste those prior uses have left behind.

Just days before the Cambridge Planning Board’s July 22 public hearing on a proposal to construct a 93-unit apartment building on the industrial parcel at 75 New Street, we learned that the site contains dangerously high levels of heavy metals (lead and barium), toxins (arsenic), petroleum byproducts (TPH), and known carcinogens (at least three hydrocarbons, including benzo[a]anthracene, benzo[a]pyrene, and benzo[b]fluoranthene). We learned this not from the developer (AbodeZ Acorn New Street LLC) or the City, but from a “Notice of Release Form” filed with the Mass Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) on June 4th. The July 22nd public hearing was the third on this project (the first was in early March), and the subject of the site being a brownfields has never been mentioned. Not once. Continue reading