Revitalization effort at Cambridgeside Galleria goes before Planning Board

Revitalization effort at Cambridgeside Galleria goes before Planning Board

Developers for the revitalization effort at Cambridgeside Galleria go before City of Cambridge Planning Board to discuss zoning petition.

The City of Cambridge Planning Board held a hearing on Tuesday, May 14th to consider the zoning petition for the revitalization effort at Cambridgeside Galleria. The petition aims to create a new zoning district and to amend the zoning map of the City of Cambridge to allow for the project to move forward.

The meeting began with a presentation by the developers. The presentation included a discussion of the benefits of the revitalization effort, which ranged from the activation and reinvention of First Street, incorporation of public art exhibits, increased affordable housing, and a redevelopment of the now-defunct boathouse in the area. The presentation also included a planned letter of commitment which aimed to respond to comments and concerns by residents and citizens most impacted by the revitalization effort.

Richard McKinnon, one of the developers from the McKinnon Company, introduced the presentation by noting that this was the “first meeting where the residents of Thomas Graves Landing didn’t offer a letter of support.” He continued by stating that it was important for the developers to seek transparency and the support of the residents. “They have been great neighbors. We will continue to work with them to try and get this right,” McKinnon concluded.

Nikolas Bowie, a member of the Planning Board, pressed the developers on the language of the zoning petition and the lack of a physical letter of commitment, stating that he found it all too vague. “What do you expect us to recommend? [...]We don’t have enough information.”

Catherine Preston Connelly, the Chair of the Planning Board, concurred with Bowie. Connelly said that she “supported some aspects” of the project but needed more tangible information in terms of the letter of commitment and the language of the zoning petition.

McKinnon responded by saying his team planned on “putting real teeth” in the letter of commitment. He stated that his team was considering putting a promise in the letter of commitment which would incorporate up to “50% Affordable Housing” in the new development.

Many in attendance were unimpressed by the presentation and the letter of commitment offered by the developers. At the public comment section of the hearing, many residents in the area spoke out against the project. One citizen, Patrick Chen, spoke of how the project would be detrimental to his family’s recreation in the area. Chen noted that he was “concerned with the construction and the potential disruption to the neighborhood” which the project would invite. Other residents raised similar objections, citing the increase in noise and air pollution, the increase in traffic, and the increased height of the mall as reasons to oppose the passage of the zoning petition.

However, not all in attendance of the meeting opposed the revitalization effort. Jack Joseph, another resident in the area most impacted, expressed support for the project, pointing to the “commercial benefits and the activation of First Street” as aspects which made this a worthy project. Other residents expressed an interest in preserving the historical aspect of the mall.

The hearing concluded after nearly four hours of deliberation with a decision to continue the hearing on May 28th. Connelly urged the developers to incorporate more information and detail for the next meeting.