Public Restrooms Coming to North Point Park

Public Restrooms Coming to North Point Park

Today the groundbreaking ceremony for EF’s (Education First) new building on the Charles River was held in North Point Park. This was not what one usually expects of a groundbreaking. Far from a small knot of men in suits and a shiny shovel, it was a party for a thousand people. Attendees were given commemorative jackets, free beer and wine (at 11:00 am), pizza, sushi, a cold buffet, treats from a half a dozen food trucks, and a live set by Cambridge band Passion Pit.

There were videos and speeches by Governor Patrick, Mayor Davis, and many more praising EF and everyone involved in getting the project permitted. That process is an interesting bit of local history. The site which abuts the park is stats land taken as part of the Big Dig and designated for development when the final plans for the crossing to Cambridge were made. The project was complicated by several factors. Special legislation was required to convey the land to EF. It is within areas covered by the state tideland law (Chapter 91), and required a license and list of public benefits. It is within Cambridge’s North Point Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning area which had to be amended to accommodate the building.

I used the public restroom point in the title as a reference to the history of the of the approval process and the public benefits required. It should be noted here that EF was happy include all this from the beginning. When they came to the City of Cambridge with their zoning amendment, they presented a mitigation plan which included building public tennis courts nearby and maintain the DCR park which it abuts. Residents in the area were generally agreeable to the plan as it actually addressed conditions near the project agrees with the definition of the word mitigation. Not so the majority of the City Council - Tim Toomey being the major exception. Somehow it was not acceptable for mitigation to be applied to the area affected. It had to go toward other Councillors’ constituencies too. Thus, mitigation morphs into payments for these Councillors’ pet projects. Or as Robert Winters would describe it extortion. Again I have to say that EF acted responsibly throughout the process. As a result, Councillor Toomey abruptly resigned as co-chair of the Ordinance Committee which oversees zoning changes.

We can all count ourselves lucky that the state requires actual mitigation in Chapter 91. As a result of that, their license (See attachment below) to use this land several benefits were agreed to, including public restrooms. Other mitigation includes $300,000 for maintenance of the park, free public meeting space, and interpretive signage and exhibits, and public art. There will also be a restaurant and a landscaped terrace on the site.

Another thing we should appreciate is that unlike most recent development in eastern Cambridge, this will not be just another big boring block. Sweedish architect Gert Wingardh’s design has been described a Iconic. If we are to have a building there I’m very glad that it will be something memorable. Of course, esthetics being a matter of taste, someone is sure to not like it.

The image at the top of this page was taken from the set of plans submitted to the Cambridge Planning Board by EF. The full set of plans is attached below.