Posted by Mark Jaquith on Oct 17, 2009.

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A New Vision for Lechmere Square

At the last meeting of the East Cambridge Planning Team a plan for the redevelopment of Lechmere Square was presented. Unlike most of the development presentations that we see at the ECPT, this was our plan. A few of us, known as the Lechmere Square Working Group, have been putting this together since early summer. We have a lot of ideas and and expertise in our group, and it has paid off.

First some background. As part of the planned extension of the Green Line through Somerville to the Medford line by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation (EOT), Lechmere Station will be moved to the north side of the Monsignor. O’Brien Highway. This will result in abandonment of the 72,000 square feet of land now occupied by the station. When there was a plan to develop NorthPoint, this parcel was going to be given to the developer in return for their building a new deluxe station. That scheme was dropped when the NorthPoint partnership dissolved. The plan now is to put the new station on land that the T already owns. The old station then becomes a development parcel to be sold to raise revenue. Zoning allows a substantial amount of development on the land. Most of the value is in those development rights.

Our plan has two parts. First is a critique of the preliminary EOT station and road design with recommended improvements. Here are some of the items addressed: It is the only station without an enclosed lobby; There’s only one entrance and it’s poorly located. There’s insufficient bicycle parking. Bus, traffic, pedestrian flow and street design need improvement. Millions will walk across the highway yearly. Safety is paramount. This is more easily explained with our slide show, but you can page through the pictures. Click this link to download the PDF.

The exciting part of the plan is in what can be done with the old station land. That land, bounded by Cambridge Street on the south, Msgr. O’Brien Highway on the north, and private land on the west, will be divided into two pieces by the extension of First Street into NorthPoint. The eastern end will be a triangle surrounded by streets in the area now occupied by the raised track crossing, which will disappear. The EOT plan leaves this isolated area as a patch of grass with all of the building in the area now used as the station and track area.

The Working Group crafted our plan to design the best civic space possible while preserving the valuable development rights that the MBTA is counting on to raise revenue through sale of development parcels. Our plan accomplishes this goal.

Other concerns directing our approach were the absence of public open space associated with the Cambridge Street business corridor, preservation of historic aspects of the site, and the lack of a year round public market in our city. This creative plan will make Lechmere Square one of the metro area’s most attractive destinations. The location is ideal, situated at the beginning of one of our major retail corridors, and between a successful mall, growing business district and lively residential neighborhood on one side and a major transit node and NorthPoint (which will eventually be built) on the other.

Here’s the plan. The commercial development would be located at the eastern and western ends of the site. The western end of the larger parcel would contain a three to four story commercial building with a footprint of about 20,000 square feet. Some amount of retail or restaurant space could make sense on the ground floor facing the square.

The rest of the larger parcel would be Lechmere Square and Market. The existing MBTA structures would be renovated and repurposed. The bus shed would house a year-round public market accommodating thirty plus stalls with garage doors for delivery and ventilation. The open trolley shelter would be host to an seasonal farmers market and other festive activities. The space between would be an open plaza and gathering place.

The smaller triangle parcel will house the bulk of the development. The lot is about 10,000 square feet. It will surprise many, but what we would like to see here is a ten to twelve story hotel. Granted, it seems like a very high structure for this area, but it does work. Coming from Boston, it would define the entrance to Cambridge, and would frame the square on the other side.

Our group has done fine work developing a detailed vision of what could become of this part of our city. That was the easy part. How do we make it happen? We’ve shown our plan to city and state officials and have received encouraging responses. We think this plan is good for the city, and should become the Cambridge plan. EOT has every reason to get on board too. This can only make them look good. Abutters' consent, legal work, an entity to organize the market are all needed. We’re just getting started.

Particular thanks are due to Alan Greene, Chris Matthews, Paul Cote, and Matthew Gordy for all the time and talent they have put into this project.

Lechmere plan 10-6-09 6 CM edit.pdf6.91 MB