Thursday, October 25, 2012

Harvard University Contracting Its Empire in Cambridge, selling massive elderly housing at 2 Mt. Auburn Street.

1. Announcement of Plans.
2. My history.
3. Analysis of effect on the Empire.
4. What should be done?

1. Announcement of Plans.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012, City Councilor / soon to be State Representative Decker conducted a hearing in Cambridge City Hall concerning the just announced plans of Harvard University to sell a grossly out of scale elderly housing building at 2 Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge, at the outer limits of Harvard Square.

Harvard has a map at from which a lot of the details can be translated. Google Maps, satellite view,, is also excellent. I tried to download Harvard’s map and edit it without success.

There was considerable discussion at the hearing of supposed legal protections on the sale of the 2 Mt. Auburn building.

Apparently a state agency has designated Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc. as its preferred purchaser for 2 Mt. Auburn Street under the legislation.

HRI previously bought an older but much more neighborhood sensitive apartment complex not far from 2 Mount Auburn, on Ware Street, at the corner of Ware and Broadway. HRI has managed that property for 10 or 20 years with subsidized tenants in place.

2 Mt. Auburn dominates the square created by Mt. Auburn Street, Putnam Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and Trowbridge Street. Ware Street is one block long. It is one block west of Trowbridge Street, running from Harvard Street to Broadway, the two major streets north of Massachusetts Avenue in this part of Cambridge.

As the crow flies 2 Mt. Auburn is less distant from the Charles River than it is from the Ware Street properties.

The area between 2 Mt. Auburn and the Charles has seen major expansion of the Harvard empire in the last decade.

The next street off Mt. Auburn street to the west, toward Harvard Square, is Banks Street. In the last ten years, Harvard has constructed quite a few “neighborhood scale” buildings south of Mt. Auburn Street and west of Banks between Mt. Auburn and Grant Street. Between the next street to the west, Athens Street and DeWolfe Street, and facing DeWolfe Street, Harvard built a very large, nearly block long residential / dorm structure in the 90s. Further down Banks between Grant and Cowperthwaite Street facing Cowperthwaite is another massive structure built in the last ten years in the manner of a large dormitory.

This area is the Kerry Corner neighborhood.

2. My history.

I have had major impact on the area.

I wrote three zoning change proposals which downzoned about 85% of Massachusetts Avenue from the Inn at Harvard at the east end of the obvious Harvard Square to Cambridge City Hall, plus major portions of Mt. Auburn Street, Green Street and side streets between Mt. Auburn and Mass. Ave.

We emphasized housing, ground floor open space and large but not unreasonable density of construction.

Harvard wanted the Inn at Harvard to be 72% larger than it is. We forced the Inn at Harvard on Harvard in the Natalie Ward petition.

The Natalie Ward petition rezoned the block of Mt. Auburn Street from Putnam Avenue to Banks Street for neighborhood type of construction rather than the same type of construction that was legal in the core Harvard Square. This block includes 2 Mt. Auburn and 10 Mt. Auburn.

We made similar changes to Harvard fraternities (called “Houses”) on Mt. Auburn Street near the rear of Holyoke Center whose opposite side dominates Harvard Square. This is neighborhood zoning one block from the heart of Harvard Square.

We rezoned the side streets between Banks Street and the Inn at Harvard and the area around the Inn at Harvard to fit the neighborhood to the north and south rather than Harvard Square to the west.

I saved the historical building at 10 Mt. Auburn Street, the opposite end of the 2 Mt. Auburn block using fine print in the Rent Control ordinance.

Saving that building could have been crucial in the development of the last ten years because Harvard wanted to tear 10 Mt. Auburn down and put in a grossly disproportionate modern building on the corner of Banks and Mt. Auburn. I maintained the neighborhood scale and could very easily have determined the scale of the construction Harvard put in as part of the 2000's zoning effort dominated by machinations of The Machine.

To look at the alternative, just look at the monstrous building Harvard built on DeWolfe Street in the 90s, half a block from the latest residential construction.

I assisted in the saving of Corporal Burns Playground a block further east from the Cowperthwaite construction. Harvard wanted to build on it. Corporal Burns faces on the Charles River / Memorial Drive. Harvard’s new Memorial Drive housing is a block east of Corporal Burns. That housing was made legal by The Machine’s zoning effort.

A responsible alternative would have been the same zoning as we forced on the Inn at Harvard which has exactly the same density as the new Memorial Drive complex. The Inn at Harvard fits the neighborhood and the Harvard campus. That construction would have been responsible in the new Memorial Drive complex.

3. Analysis of effect on the Empire.

Harvard is clearly looking very strongly at expansion in Allston on the other side of the Charles River.

Harvard is destroying the Charlesview subsidized housing at North Harvard and Western and moving those residents to new construction replacing half of the neighborhood shopping center south of Western Avenue and four blocks west of Charlesview. Harvard bought this shopping center and then rendered it nearly empty by refusing to rent as stores became vacant.

The 2 Mt. Auburn building dates back to the early 70's. Neighbors were highly concerned when a developer which claimed to have nothing to do with Harvard proposed the structure.

2 Mt. Auburn was given major variances, was managed by the developer for a few years, and then, dah dah, Harvard owned it.

The great fear has been that Harvard would treat 2 Mt. Auburn as Harvard did so many of its rent control buildings, simply refuse to rent to non affiliates as vacancies occurred. This is the tactic Harvard used to destroy the residential shopping center on Western Avenue.

The games by the Machine which resulted in the construction of the last ten years featured bad faith typical of The Machine. As usual a dirty trick zoning change was involved. The proposal The Machine bullied out of good people was so irresponsible that Harvard found it unreasonable generous to Harvard.

Fine print buried in Machine related zoning of the last ten years or so played games with parking.

10 Mt. Auburn when built was allowed to have significantly less parking than would be expected. This was because of its elderly housing nature. Machine related zoning changes allowed parking for 2 Mt. Auburn to be further away than would previously have been allowed. The Cowperthwaite Street building has parking quite a bit larger than is needed for that building. The changes made using the Cowperthwaite parking for 2 Mt. Auburn.

The obvious maneuver was to use the Cowperthwaite parking for 10 Mt. Auburn, to allow transition from elderly housing to Harvard affiliate.

Harvard is giving that up.

4. What should be done?

Cambridge should buy 2 Mt. Auburn and dedicate it to use for elderly housing, the use for which it supposedly was constructed and which Cambridge appointees made legal.