Sunday, January 28, 2018

Charles River: Harvard Square Upzoning Opposition: Massive Parking Reduction, A Better Action.

RE:  Charles River:  Harvard Square Upzoning Opposition: Massive Parking Reduction, A Better Action.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts of Massachusetts’ Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is considering rebuilding the I90 (Mass. Pike) interstate on the Boston Side of the Charles River.

People who are fighting for destruction of the environment on the Charles River and inside the City of Cambridge are fighting for a whole bunch of destruction.

As part of our ongoing fight for responsible behavior on the Charles River including responsible treatment of the resident animals, we have sent a letter to the Cambridge City Manager and City Council.  The City Manager received his copy on January 25.  The City Council will receive their copy at their meeting on January 29, tomorrow night.

Highly visible in the letter is a detailed proposal for new rapid transit, a “light rail” (streetcar) spur called “Green Line A.”  It would run on the Boston side of the Charles River and connect  through the I90 work site to Harvard Square in Cambridge.

Today, January 28, 2018, we have followed up this letter with the following letter which addresses dirty tricks being done in zoning in Harvard Square, and also supports the Rapid Transit proposal, because it significantly benefits Harvard Square.

This letter follows up on the Harvard Square Downzoning victory which I presented in great detail in, I believe, my last post, and in my prior letter to the Cambridge City Manager and City Council.

As is downright normal in destructive zoning proposals in Cambridge, MA, the really irresponsible proposals are done in as confusing a matter as possible.

The game here is that it is a nightmare to get to Harvard Square by car.  Parking spaces are very much at a premium.

The business people are loath to lose parking spaces.  It turns out that a zoning proposal being considered by the Cambridge City Council would allow Harvard to vastly decrease parking in Harvard Square, pretty much as a gift.

What is happening is that building floor area is regulated by a concept called “Floor Area Ratio.”  This concept places a maximum size on buildings set by a number which constitutes floor area allowed in buildings as a multiple of the size of the lot the building is standing on.  The abbreviation is “FAR.”

This dirty trick would greatly increase the development allowed in the Inn at Harvard building, which was key in the East Harvard Square Downzoning which we reported.  The increase in development would be achieved by removing structured parking under the building, and placing it elsewhere in the very large holdings of Harvard University in Cambridge.

More importantly, the change would do the same thing to the massive Smith / Holyoke Center building of Harvard’s which dominates Harvard Square.  That building is one of the most important sources of parking for Harvard Square.

Needless to say, both changes would severely hurt Harvard Square merchants.  So the dirty trick is being done as secretly as possible.

By contrast, the new Rapid Transit “Green Line A” spur which we are proposing in the I90 rebuild would do exactly the opposite.  It would create a new way for CUSTOMERS to get to Harvard Square and beyond in Cambridge.  Plus, it would reduce an existing overload on the Red Line rapid transit line which currently served Harvard Square and, through six stops, serves a very large part of the City of Cambridge.

The details on the rapid transit proposal are being received by the Cambridge City Council as part of its meeting on January 29, and, hopefully, it will be on this blog next.

The letter with details on the rapid transit proposal has a massive amount of graphics which are on my regular computer which is in the shop.  While the graphics are backed up in a separate drive, they are not on the back up computer on which I am working.  So I am sending you the letter which is more concerned about Harvard Square but which supports the rapid transit initiative.

In the letter mailed today, we are proposing to the Cambridge City Council that the responsible action for the Cambridge City Council is to defeat the outrageous zoning proposal and support our proposed rapid transit, “Green Line A” spur.

The letter which we mailed today follows.  It is addressed to the Cambridge City Manager and Cambridge City Council.  There are short time limits both on the Zoning destruction and on the I90 Rebuild.

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RE: Harvard Square Upzoning Opposition: Massive Parking Reduction, A Better Action.


1. General.
2. Recent Relevant Communications.
3. The Current Erroneous Position of the Planning Board.
4. The proposed upzoning should be defeated in total, and Green Line A should be supported.

1. General.

The Planning Board has agreed with me in my opposition to increasing residential FAR in Harvard Square.  The Planning Board went beyond that with support of a change which would really devastate Harvard Square merchants, if not immediately, then in future in accordance with the wishes of Harvard University.  I refer to the allowance of uses below grade level without counting against FAR.

2. Recent Relevant Communications.

In my letter of January 18, I opposed the currently pending upzoning proposal for Harvard Square on grounds of unjustified increase in allowed development.

In my letter of January 25, I proposed a means to greatly increase rapid transit service to Harvard Square.  This would be done through expanding MassDOT’s current proposal for a rebuild of the Massachusetts Turnpike (I90) between the BU Bridge and Harvard’s planned relocation of the Harvard Medical School in Allston.  In this letter I included a very detailed proposal for a Green Line Spur from just west of the BU Bridge / Commonwealth Avenue intersection in Boston to the eventual Harvard Medical School and then to Harvard Square.  I proposed to connect the Green Line spur to Harvard Station through the still existing tunnel which connects Harvard Station to the former Red Line yards, the latter now known as the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In the same City Council agenda as the letter of opposition to the Harvard Square upzoning was a letter from the City Manager transmitting the Planning Board recommendation on the same manner.  The Planning Board agrees with me in opposition to increasing FAR limits.

The Planning Board, however, came out in favor of a provision in the upzoning which would encourage and reward Harvard University to greatly decrease parking in Harvard Square.  They want to allow Harvard to convert its existing parking under Smith / Holyoke Center and under the former Inn at Harvard to other uses which would now count against FAR without counting the new construction against FAR.

3. The Current Erroneous Position of the Planning Board.

Reduction in parking, of course, is allowed, at minimum, by Special Permit, and a Use by Special Permit is a USE ALLOWED UNDER LAW UNLESS THE OPPOSITION PROVES OTHERWISE.

Does the City of Cambridge really want to take such a risk with regard to the existing great paucity of parking in Harvard Square?

With regard to the Planning Board’s wish to reward and encourage Harvard to destroy parking under the Smith / Holyoke Center and the building formerly known as the Inn at Harvard, I should think a vast majority of concerned people, particularly the Harvard Square merchants, STRONGLY disagree with the Planning Board.

Included in my previous many disagreement with the Planning Board, is our disagreement on the East Harvard Square Downzoning.  I know the Inn at Harvard building, I have heard a lot of very favorable responses on this building which the City Council, my neighborhood group and I forced on Harvard and on the Planning Board.  In more recent years, in fact, I believe I heard the Planning Board express the wish that the parking under the Inn at Harvard be available for general use.

For the Planning Board now to vote to allow Harvard to convert both the parking under the Inn at Harvard and all the parking, generally available or otherwise, under the Smith / Holyoke Center, to uses which would current exceed FAR limits strikes me as downright bizarre.

But that is exactly what the Planning Board is supporting.

The zoning ordinance is extremely flexible about where Harvard can locate its accessary parking, and, to the extent that Harvard does not currently have parking within the appropriate distance to replace parking which could be destroyed under the Planning Board recommendation, there are locations within appropriate distances where replacement parking could be purchased or be built, and there are such locations which could be used for juggling parking designation.

4. The proposed upzoning should be defeated in total, and Green Line A should be supported.

Once again, as has been the case so many times over the years, I must oppose an upzoning recommendation supported by the planning board, and offer an improvement.

My improvement is that, instead of making access to Harvard Square worse as recommended by the Planning Board in its zoning recommendation, I want to make access better.

I strongly advise the City of Cambridge, both through City Manager and City Council to support my suggested Green Line A spur which would give Harvard Square direct Rapid Transit access to Allston and to Back Bay, combined with a reduction in the overload which currently exists on the Red Line.

If the Mass. Pike (I90) goes forward without leaving room for a Green Line A, or including such in its package, Cambridge will be losing this very great possible benefit forever.

Please note that the deadline for comments on the DEIR on the I90 rebuild is February 9.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and favorable action.


Robert J. La Trémouille