The Cambridge City Council approved a rezoning measure after a contentious public meeting last night, clearing the way for six blocks of biotech labs to be constructed in East Cambridge.
The Council’s decision, coming by an 8-1 vote after months of negotiations with biotech real estate developer Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc (ARE), will allow taller and denser building to exist in an area of East Cambridge previously shielded from that sort of development by its residential designation.
The zoning change applies specifically to ARE and will not authorize dense construction by any other firm.
Dozens of residents filled the seats in City Hall and others stood in the aisles, waiting their turn to discuss the controversial measure.
Some residents attended the meeting as representatives of local unions and said that they hoped the rezoning measure would provide construction jobs that are otherwise lacking in a slow economy.
“This is not only good for labor. It’s good for the City of Cambridge and it will provide much needed tax revenue,” said Joseph Power, the business representative for the Carpenters Local Union.
Other residents were skeptical that the measure would bring an employment uptick.
“If you’re looking at this to pay your mortgage, you’re going to be homeless and hungry,” said resident Heather M. Hoffman, addressing the union representatives present at the meeting.
According to ARE Regional Vice President Tom Andrews, building labspace in East Cambridge will bring the city between $9 million and $12 million in property taxes annually.
Nearly a dozen residents of East Cambridge spoke in opposition to the proposal, some holding signs that read “Too Big, Too Close, Too Toxic.” They alleged that the rezoning would allow overly tall buildings and the construction of labs handling airborne pathogens.
ARE—a Pasadena, Calif.-based company—had developed and leased 166 biotechnology labspaces in the United States and Canada as of Dec. 2008.
The biotech developer began petitioning for the East Cambridge zoning change in May 2008, but is not obligated to buy any Cambridge land by yesterday’s decision.
Cambridge already contains 155 biotechnology firms, marking the highest concentration of that industry in the world.
The approved proposal contained a number of concessions to neighborhood and city interests.
Within the six-block area opened for dense construction, ARE has agreed to maintain a minimum of 220,000 square feet of housing, including low and mixed-income housing and retail space. They have also agreed to retain 2.2 acres of open space for community use.
Also part of the negotiations that preceded yesterday’s approval, the city will acquire for municipal use a building that ARE had originally bought for $14 million.
—Staff writer Sarah J. Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org