ABC Letter to Planning Board on 10 Essex Street

Mr. Hugh Russell, Chairman
Cambridge Planning Board
344 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139 

Dear Chairman Russell,

I am writing on behalf of A Better Cambridge to express our support for the 3MJ Associates special permit application for 10 Essex Street. While we see this as a modest proposal that does not fully achieve our vision for sustainable growth in Central Square, we do see it as a positive step in that direction. In recent years, residents and other stakeholders have had the opportunity to help shape the future direction of growth in Central Square through the Central Square Advisory Committee and other public processes. We believe the 3MJ proposal is a step towards a more diverse and livable neighborhood by converting an under-utilized parking lot in the heart of Central Square into more sustainable use that takes advantage of adjacent transit and other non-car transportation options. However, more should be expected from future development in Central Square. 

  • We need a range of new housing types in Central Square. Through this proposal, 3MJ seeks to inject much needed new housing with the development of 46 units including a range of sizes from studios to 3 bedrooms. Five of the units will be affordable under the Cambridge Inclusionary Zoning. ABC believes that 46 units is an important start, but more housing is still needed. We support zoning changes that allow taller and higher-density buildings on sites like this in such close proximity to Central Square, which in turn would provide significantly more affordable housing units for our community. Given the confines of current zoning, however, we find the 3MJ proposal reasonable in this regard. 
  • Cambridge endeavors to be a leader in the fight against climate change. For ABC, sustainable growth means turning away from a car-centered paradigm for development and ensuring growth that relies on cleaner, alternative forms of transportation without an increase in vehicle traffic. Given the site’s walking distance to the Central Square retail/entertainment district, and its immediate proximity to the T station, multiple Hubway stations and car-sharing options, we believe the 3MJ proposal is a minimum step in this direction with the specific parking relief being sought. However, similarly situated mixed-use developments may warrant even greater parking relief in the future. Freeing up the developer from the cost of building and maintaining underground parking may allow more resources to be used for a greater number of market rate and affordable housing units on site. We request that the Planning Board require to developer to re-assess parking conditions on a regular basis -- as we expect the parking will not be fully utilized by tenants, which would provide opportunity for greater bicycle parking or car-sharing options on site. 
  • The proposed development includes a medium sized building and a compact structure that provides a transition from the taller buildings we expect to be constructed along Mass Ave, with decreasing height towards Bishop Allen. This reflects community desire for decreased heights along Bishop Allen. 
  • ABC agrees with the Central Square Advisory Committee and other community stakeholders that prioritize the revitalization of the Bishop Allen Drive corridor. Current conditions along Bishop Allen, with a string of under-utilized parking lots, are less than idea and present an opportunity to create more housing and economic activity in Central Square. The building proposed by 3MJ is designed to connect to future development on the adjacent city-owned parking lot, which can spark revitalization and repair the fragmented streetscape on Bishop Allen with potential of becoming an active street with housing and retail.
  • We believe the design is appropriate for the context. The design is fresh, modern, and exciting and the facade articulation and choice of material responds well to the local context, without trying to cheaply or ineffectively mimicking the historic character of adjacent structures. 

For these reasons we believe the relief being sought by the 3MJ special permit application is reasonable given Cambridge’s current zoning and building regulations. ABC would however discourage the Planning Board from seeing this modest proposal as the defacto precedent by which all future development in Central Square will be judged. Much more needs to be done to achieve the housing, sustainability, and economic goals of a more diverse and dynamic Cambridge. 



Jesse Kanson-Benanav, Chairman 
A Better Cambridge