AT LAST MONDAYS City Council meeting, Councilor Daniel J. Hayes introduced an amendment to the City's zoning ordinances designed to allow a developer to build an apartment house-office building complex next to the proposed site of the Kennedy Library. This compromise amendment--worked out in a meeting between the city manager, the developer, and city planners--offers the best basis for ending a zoning battle raging since last May.
Harvard officials, representatives of the Kennedy Library, the City government, and various planning agencies have all agreed that the site, now owned by the Baird Atomic Co., should be developed for commercial use to add to Cambridge's tax base. But some observers, particularly Kennedy Library Architect I. M. Pei, understandably want to assure that buildings bordering on the Library are aesthetically appropriate as well as a boon to City taxpayers.
The developer asked originally for a zoning amendment which would let him build a complex almost twice as massive as Holyoke Center. When proposed last spring, the amendment was hit with well-aimed fire from all angles. Such a development would have over-shadowed the Kennedy library, added an unduly large burden to streets in the area, and disgraced the skyline of the City.
The compromise zoning amendment would avoid these dangers. Under its provisions, the buildings on the site would be only slightly more massive than Holyoke Center, and would not, in the opinion of traffic experts, overburden the surrounding streets. They would be, if properly designed, suitable neighbors to the Kennedy Library.
Since the proposal before the Council is not spot zoning, critics of the compromise have warned that it would affect other sites in the City besides the Baird Atomic land. They have also pointed out that it would not assure that the development would be designed so as to harmonize with the Kennedy Library.
Both objections are important, but neither should pose an insurmountable obstacle to the amendment and Cambridge Plaza. The City could and should require that any developers seeking to take advantage of this amendment apply for a special permit. This will assure that developments proposed for other sites will be considered on their particular merits.
To assure that the design of the Cambridge Plaza will be aesthetically pleasing, the council should require assurances from the developer that his architect will work with Pei on the design of the plaza. If possible, the assurances should be supported by a performance bond or an agreement enforceable in the courts.
There is no need to wait for a lengthy review of the City's zoning ordinances before approving the amendment. The compromise amendment is based upon a Cambridge Redevelopment Authority study of the area, which would also probably be the basis of any zoning review.
After taking the appropriate safeguards, the council should pass the zoning amendment. Cambridge Plaza as now envisioned will be a welcome addition to the Square.