Thursday, February 14, 2013

MCNA Looks At Central Square Development

Mid Cambridge Neighborhood Association held a public forum to discuss the proposals to develop Central Square and a zoning change requiring City Council approval. Four panelists appeared at the Spaulding Hospital Cullinane Center on Tuesday February 13, 2013.

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

John Pitkin former President of MCNA,  and City Council candidate chaired the meeting.

Jonathan King (left) and John  Pitkin

Jonathan King, Professor of Biology at MIT, explained there is a possible tsunami of high rise development in the city. He noted there is one proposal to tear down one half of the Newtown Court project to build a high rise on Main Street. He said MIT needs graduate student housing. He mentioned the problem of increased traffic due to any high rise development. One study suggested that there would be an increase of 30,000 car trips daily passing through Kendall Square, coming from Cambridge Street, Broadway, and Central Square. Not from Boston. There is a total of 18 million square feet planned.

Jonathan King

Bill Cunningham, Alliance of Cambridge Tenants, publisher of The Bridge, and many other community efforts for 40 years said there is no benefit to low income people, from these proposed developments. He reported there is a reduction of state and federal rent subsidies. Residents cannot keep up with the rent increases. He estimated that about fifteen percent of Cambridge housing is affordable due to subsidies. He added the economic and ethnic diversity of the city cannot be maintained. There never has been less economic diversity in the city.

We're headed for a city of biotech professionals with the highest levels of rents; only one kind of people. They want to bring in high tech scientists who can walk to their jobs. He did not explain who "they" are. He said he thinks working class people are no longer wanted in Cambridge.

Lee Farris (Left) and Bill Cunningham

Lee Farris is in Area 4 and worked for affordable housing for more than 20 years. She reported that Cambridge is the fifth most dense city with a population over 100,000 in the United States. The kind of retail that will come with these high tech workers is not the kind that is accessible to working class citizens. She argued that economically diverse retail is needed in the City. She said she respects city officials and has some common ground with them.

Stuart Dash

Stuart Dash, Director of Community Planning for Cambridge's Community Development Department (CDD), reported that the city has a lot of information on its web site regarding traffic studies. He responded to a question about increasing car traffic and mass transit. Dash said surprisingly in Central Square auto traffic was decreasing. Someone said that young people who came to Cambridge for college want to live in "the place they have grown to love." One resident asked for the definition of middle income housing. Dash responded for a family of four it was 80 to 100 percent of the median income, which currently is $100,000. It is more or less with more or less people. Moderate income housing is 60 percent of the median income.

Dash added that it is not possible to predict what will happen in the future. Some residents left being extremely disappointed. They expected to learn how to predict the future (and what it would be) so they could make their plans and bets, and buy some stocks and bonds. [Just kidding.] Dash said no one knows how much construction would be happening in 20 years. As an example there was not much besides the Holmes Building in Central Square. He said "it comes in spurts."

It is curious that in Cambridge during the slow economy, civilians oppose construction projects. In other regions they are desperate for any kind of jobs. But in Cambridge there is wealth beyond comprehension just like in Cambulac when Kublai Khan ruled the Mongols. It seems as if long term Cambridge residents want to bring back the past. They seem to reject the present and the future. Dash explained that the Northpoint project was begun then stopped for two years due to unforeseen difficulties, and is now getting restarted.

One resident asked about the sustainability of the public schools noting that 60 percent of the students live in public housing. There is not much of an issue with subsidized lunch verses paid school lunches. Dash revealed there was a robust dialogue within the CDD on how to manage the coming growth. The Governor's plan is to fund MBTA expansion with new signals and seatless cars. He responded to a question asking if the Historical Commission was looking at some buildings in the path of some of the high rise proposals. They are.

John Pitkin observed that the community and the city want the same outcome. They differ on how to get there.

Jonathan King reported that MIT wants to put commercial projects on their north campus between Main Street and Memorial Drive. Others want graduate student housing there. He said Forest City (the developer won't build housing there.)

Esther Hanig (left) and Jesse Kansom-Bemanav

Jesse Kanson-Benanav, Chairman of A Better Cambridge, blogs at View From The 'Bridge, said the free market does not support affordable housing.

Bill Cunningham said he speaks for all of the low income people and that they want to keep things the way they are now. They do not want any major zoning changes. He said they need more jobs. He explained how inclusionary housing works. Community must give a bonus to the developer in order to get inclusionary affordable housing. People who live in affordable housing may not be able to afford to shop in the retail stores in place to serve market renters. Who will support a church in the neighborhood? This too must be considered. People can undo whatever misguided projects are approved by removing the officials.

Esther Hanig

Esther Hanig, a member of A Better Cambridge, and The Central Square Advisory Committee,  revealed "The world is imperfect. There are not enough resources." She wants people to send an email to their state reps supporting increased taxes for increased benefits. Do you think she is a Democrat? She argued that density is required for low income housing. She supports mixed economic housing. She reported that when she grew up people of all classes knew each other and went to school and lived amongst one another.

Lee Farris

Lee Farris said high rise developments will cast shadows for two blocks away, and will create wind tunnels. She said low income housing can be profitable and wants the city to work within the current zoning ordinances.

James Williamson, was a candidate for City Council.

James Williamson stated that traffic on Broadway was increasing.

Cathy Hoffman, Former Cambridge Peace Commissioner 

Cathy Hoffman said that since rent control was repealed, no one knows what to do to maintain a diverse population. She said it was possible to get 18 percent of new development for affordable housing, or the developer could give money for affordable housing.

Stuart Dash

Stuart Dash said transferring development rights is unusual. He added, Harvard and MIT are in Cambridge. People will keep coming here to go to school and to work here. He did not mention Lesley University. He did not explain why.

Cathy Hoffman

Esther Hanig suggested "Get as much as you can get."

Jesse Kanson-Benanav said Cambridge values sustainability. He said he wants to live in Cambridge because he cares deeply about affordable housing. He added "I'm getting married and even with two salaries I can't afford to live in Cambridge."

Cathy Hoffman

Jonathan King said his family lived in Central Square for 40 years. His kids lost friends because of housing prices. He added, "Developers want to maximize profits." He expressed concern about young people and elders being unable to cross the streets due to heavy traffic. "If you can't move around the city, it will collapse."

Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham said he came to Cambridge to work in factories. "The same economic leaders that brought the nation to its knees five years ago, are still running the government."

Lee Farris

Lee Farris said she cares deeply about affordable housing. She said she owns a two-family house and it is the only way she could remain in Cambridge.  She said she fixed it up with her husband. She said she tries to balance her economic interests with her concern about affordable housing. Market rate units drive prices higher.

No comments: