New Plans Unveiled for Porter Square Hotel

New Plans Unveiled for Porter Square Hotel

After nearly a year of back-and-forth discussion with neighbors, the architect for a developer who wants to build a hotel in Porter Square has unveiled new plans for a 50-room, five-story building encompassing a restaurant and cafe with two levels of underground parking.

At a meeting of the Porter Square Neighbors Association, Cambridge architect Michael McKee said that in order to be economically viable, the developer will need to obtain several variances for aspects of the project that deviate from the city's zoning ordinance.

Meehn Su Gim, the owner of the Korean-Japanese restaurant Kaya at 1924 Massachusetts Ave., wants to tear down the building and replace it with a nearly 50,000-square-foot hotel that would include a landscaped public park on the rear of the site on top of the parking garage.

McKee acknowledged that Gim will need the support of Porter Square residents in order to obtain variances which chiefly involve exceptions to the zoning code's size limitations for a commercial building and for the proposed parking scheme.

While the zoning code allows for a 50,000-square-foot residential building on the site, for a hotel or other type of commercial structure the limit--expressed in terms of floor area ratio (FAR)--would be closer to 31,000 square feet. At that size, "we simply could not develop a viable hotel," McKee argues, especially when "you factor in the substantial costs of below-grade parking and other services required for a hotel."

The proposed hotel site is divided into two zoning categories: the front, facing Massachusetts Avenue, where the new structure would be built is zoned for either residential or commercial buildings. But the rear, where the park would be located along Porter Road, is limited to residential buildings.

Gim would need to get special permission from the city to build the underground parking on the residential portion of the site. He would also need a variance to deviate from height and setback regulations.

In previous meetings, residents have expressed a number of concerns about Gim's plans, especially those who live closest to the Kaya site. A primary concern has been about the hotel's impact on the congested parking in the neighborhood, especially along Porter Road, which intersects Massachusetts Avenue.

To address that problem, McKee says the two levels of parking would not only meet, but exceed the city's requirements, with 50 spaces for the hotel's proposed 50 rooms, or 15 more than the zoning code stipulates.

Some residents have questioned whether Porter Square even needs a hotel, while others seem inclined to think that the hotel--with a restaurant and outdoor cafe--would provide a lively addition to the streetscape.

Gim has not yet filed his building plans with the city and has signaled his willingness to continue meeting with the neighborhood association, the Kaya site's abutters and other residents before he does.