Mass. Avenue Rezoned by City

To a loud round of applause from the audience of Cambridge residents, the City Council last night unanimously approved a comprehensive rezoning plan that will control the development and atmosphere of Massachusetts Avenue north of the Cambridge Common.

The zoning plan, known as the Mass. Ave. overlay district, was initiated in order to preserve the general atmosphere of the avenue and to control the rapid commercial and high-rise development that has affected other parts of Cambridge.

The changes, which lower height limits on new buildings and increase allowable residential densities in some areas while cutting back on commercial densities, were developed over the course of three years with the involvement of wide variety of groups and individuals.

City Councilor Francis H. Duehay '55 said he thought the rezoning plan was necessary to keep new businesses and buildings from destroying the neighborhoods around Mass. Ave.

Duehay, who is credited by many with the success of the plan, cited the development along Mass. Ave. between Central Square and Harvard Square as an example of the destructive possibilities of uncontrolled growth.

"Between Harvard Square and Central Square, the high-rise buildings don't serve the needs of the residential community," he said.

He said that the rezoning plan will encourage new residential building as opposed to commercial offices.

City Councilor Alice K. Wolf said, "It was really a test...if that had failed, we would have had to go back to the drawing board."

"This is a great hope for the future in terms of trying to do development planning," she said.

The plan was presented to the council by the North Mass. Ave. Advisory Commission, a planning group made up of 10 representatives of Mass. Ave businesses, residents, and land-owners.

Robert C. Barber '72, a Cambridge resident who served on the commission, said the unanimous support by the commission for the final version of the plan had an effect on the council's vote.

"I think the fact that we were so disparate, yet we were unanimous had some influence," Barber said.

Barber said that he became involved because he lives on a street directly adjacent to Mass. Ave. and "was concerned about the potential for over-development."

"I hope the development is not large-scale and is consistent with the style and size along the avenue," said Barber, who is an attorney. "We've instituted regulations with respect to the style of the buildings."

Barber said that in some areas, the allowable density of residential housing was increased in the plan so that building housing would be more profitable for developers.

"The notion was not to penalize housing [in the plan]," he said.

One item of contention last night was a succesful amendment that changes the zoning on a lot owned by Peter Wasserman to allow fewer houses. Wasserman is developing an office and business complex near Porter Square.

The amendment was opposed by Kevin Crane, Wasserman's attorney, who said that it was unfair that Wasserman be singled out by the council.

But several councilors said the amendment was important to keep the neighborhood from being inundated and to moderate the traffic and parking congestion.

City Councilor David E. Sullivan said he thought the amendment was needed to encourage Wasserman to provide low-income housing in return for a future zoning change back to a higher density.

Sullivan said that he thought such actions were justified given Wasserman's past relations with the city.

"Mr. Wasserman hasn't played honestly with the neighborhood on this issue...he has taken people by surprise," he said.