The Cambridge City Council passed three resolutions aimed at preserving the character of Harvard Square, including a proposed meeting with the University and other local stakeholders, at their weekly Monday night meeting.
Harvard Square has been at the center of city council discussion in recent weeks because of the proposed renovation to the historic Harvard Square "Out of Town News" kiosk and real estate firm Equity One’s planned reconstruction of three buildings at 5 through 11 JFK Street.
The first resolution, sponsored by Councillor Jan Devereux and Mayor E. Denise Simmons, requests that Devereux, the chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee, host a “hearing” to discuss Harvard Square with organizations involved in local development such as Harvard, Equity One, and Colliers International. In an amendment to the resolution, the Council voted to add real estate mogul and Harvard donor Gerald L. Chan to the list of invitees. Chan owns a number of buildings in Harvard Square, including Hotel Veritas and the building formerly occupied by Uno Pizzeria and Grill.
According to the resolution, the prospective meeting will give the local stakeholders and residents an opportunity to “share their thoughts about the future of Harvard Square on the record, for business owners to share their concerns, and to provide the community with an opportunity to weigh in on this important discussion.”
Without naming a specific developer, Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen was critical of those who do not consult the city council before building or renovating.
“Developers need to know as a class broadly that we do have plans and hopes for this city and that if you try to jam something through that does not comport with those hopes, that it will not be an easy time and it will not be an inevitable win either,” Mazen said.
Two other resolutions each focused on the “Out of Town News” kiosk, one encouraging the Cambridge Historical Commission to perform a study granting the structure landmark status, while the other extended the period of time for a community taskforce to meet regarding the renovations.
Members of the council and Historical Commission Executive Director Charles M. Sullivan were previously skeptical of the impact that a landmark designation would have on preserving the kiosk. This spring, the City Council passed the city budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which included more than $4 million in allocated funds for kiosk and Harvard Square renovations. The kiosk has been on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 1978, and is within the jurisdiction of the Harvard Square Conservation District.
However, according to Devereux, assigning the kiosk landmark status is significant.
“Landmarking is symbolically and procedurally important,” Devereux said. “Once [the Historical Commission] actually does the study it will be obvious that it should be landmarked.”
Many local residents and Harvard Square business owners, including Suzanne P. Blier, professor of fine arts and of African and African American studies, spoke publicly to offer their support for the three resolutions. Blier, an active member of Our Harvard Square, an organization founded this year, has spoken often at city council meetings.
“I come here with a lot of thanks and praise for everything that people have done here,” Blier said. “I would simply urge you to think about this broadly.”
Along with concerns over the future of the kiosk and the Equity One proposal, Blier and Harvard Square residents have been troubled by a series of restaurant and retail closures in recent weeks. Just last week, longtime local favorite Café Algiers closed its doors after 45 years of operation.
“There’s obviously been a great deal of anxiety about what's happening in Harvard Square,” Devereux said. “Iconic stores and restaurants have been closing and there's a lot of rumors and a lot of concern.”
The Cambridge Historical Commission will meet Thursday Nov. 3 at Cambridge City Hall to continue discussion of the Harvard Square kiosk.
—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1.
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