City Council Roundtable on Envision Alewife Plan (11/20/17) (9 Responses)

The Cambridge City Council will hold a Roundtable meeting on Monday, November 20th from 5:30-7:30pm to hear an update on the Envision Alewife planning process. The lead consultant (Utile) will present a proposed plan for the Alewife district, which includes the Quad, the Triangle, the Shopping Centers and the area along Fresh Pond Parkway and Concord Ave near Danehy Park and the Tobin School. The Alewife area was designated as Phase I of the citywide Envision planning process and about 18 months year of meetings the consultant is poised to make some recommendations. In a Roundtable meeting there is no public comment period and no votes are taken. The Roundtable will be televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal.

In its first meeting since the end of July, the Envision Alewife Advisory Group convened for its 12th meeting on November 16th and heard a presentation by John Bolduc of CDD on climate change preparedness and resiliency planning, and then another presentation by Tim Love of Utile on proposed zoning and land use changes, which are intended to mitigate the district’s potential for flooding and to reduce heat island effects and to improve non-auto connections to transit and open space. (Unfortunately the zoning presentation is posted on the Envision website, so I cannot link to it. But the detailed Climate Change Preparedness Plan for Alewife was shared with the Council in advance of a meeting on November 30th.) The Alewife Working Group has met 12 times since May 2016; you can find the prior 11 presentations on Envision Alewife planning here.

A few notes on the November 16th Alewife zoning and land use discussion:

A 4-foot high plinth would form the pedestrian way running along the east-west streets in the Quad, which would serve to raise new building “ground floors” above the expected flood level. Parking would be below street level and presumably vulnerable to flooding. This plinth treatment is only shown on three streets in the Quad, though other portions of the area are also highly vulnerable to flooding.

Trees would be planted along the streets to create a canopy and reduce the heat island effect. More permeable surfaces would be required through setbacks but the amount of new public open space is minimal and is mostly along linear connector paths, rather than in traditional town squares or parks. The lack of civic spaces and uses remains troubling for a place-making standpoint.

No traffic impact data was presented. (Traffic was to be the topic of a fall advisory group meeting that was cancelled). Parking ratios were described as similar to those in Kendall Square where a mature street network exists and access to transit is superior. (Parking maximums of .65 for residential, .8/1,000 sf for R&D, 1 per 500 sf for industrial, and .9/1,000 sf for commercial.) Truck traffic serving the light industrial area would likely increase on Concord Ave. despite attempts to incentivize non-auto travel by residents and workers. Members of the advisory group reiterated their strong desire for both a pedestrian-bike bridge across the railroad tracks and a commuter rail station at Alewife. The consultant acknowledged that both would be necessary to support this level of density, but a plan for financing them is beyond the scope of the Envision work and the suggestion of using tax increment financing was discouraged by the staff present.

The existing Concord-Alewife zoning overlays would be replaced with new use zones and two special districts (Jerry’s Pond and Shopping Center). No total GFA (gross floor area) was presented but the density was said to be equivalent to what the current zoning would allow. Instead the projected development was quantified by the number of net new housing units (2,010 at 60% buildout by around 2030) and new jobs created (9,290 at 60% buildout). The ratio of commercial to residential GFA was not stated, but the majority of the development is non-residential, which has implications for both traffic and increased demand for workforce housing and transit.

Height bonuses up to 125′ in some areas would be available by special permit in exchange for additional public open space, more affordable housing, net zero energy use, or district energy but it was unspecified how much of each would be required to qualify for the additional height and how much additional FAR would be allowed as well.

I expect Monday’s presentation may be updated slightly to reflect some of the questions and comments raised at this week’s Alewife Advisory Group meeting. The materials will be posted on the Open Meeting Portal some time on Monday.

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    Jan Devereux
    City Councillor
    Cambridge, MA