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Harvard Fears Effects Of New Zoning Petition

University, Local Businesses Fight Proposal

By Elizabeth S. Zuckerman

The University has been voicing concerns over a recent zoning petition by the Cambridge Residents for Growth Management (CRGM) that proposes to change building height and density codes across Cambridge. The proposal could impose substantial restrictions on University property holdings.

The Harvard Square Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce are also opposing the petition, saying that the plan is too complex and its impact has not been thoroughly studied. The Harvard Square Defense Fund supports the proposal.

"[The petition] is not directed at University development but it has a sweeping impact," said Associate Vice-President for Planning and Real Estate Kathy A. Spiegelman.

One of Harvard's greatest concerns is the complexity of the petition which makes it very difficult to analyze all of the possible impacts of the proposed changes, Spiegelman said.

In a letter to the Cambridge City Council, which held a June 24 hearing on the issue, Spiegelman and Director of Community Relations Mary Power said they believe "the petition is an overwhelming and complex document."

"It is difficult, even after careful review of the petition, to understand completely its actual consequences intended and unintended," Spiegelman and Power said in the letter.

Although she said she cannot determine the full impact of the proposal, Spiegelman said that it would render a number of University structures including Adams House, Kirkland House and Memorial Church "nonconforming." This designation would mean that any substantial renovations to the buildings would require a special permit from the city, something Spiegelman termed a "substantial administrative zoning process."

Furthermore, if one of the non-conforming buildings were destroyed by fire or another disaster, it could not be rebuilt according to the original design because it would not conform to zoning regulations.

Hugh A. Russell '64, a proponent of the petition and a member of the city Planning Board, said that this analysis of the proposal's effects is inaccurate.

While he concedes that it is "a fine legal point," Russell said that as the document is written, all buildings constructed before the petition's implementation would be effectively grandfathered in and, therefore, not subject to a special permit process for renovations.

Les Barber, director of land use and zoning for the city, questioned the legality of the plan. Though the petitioners have attempted to apply the new regulations only to construction after the adoption of the proposal, "it's not clear whether you can actually do that under state statute," he said.

Additionally, Barber said that the grandfathering only applies to certain portions of the petition. All buildings would, for example, still be subject to the item reducing the ratio of floor area to land area on a lot, Barber said. The change in floor area ratio alone would place some University buildings in violation.

But Russell said that while he understands the University's concerns, he feels the petition has addressed those reservations and that some of the objections raised are invalid.

"It's true that [under the new guidelines] you could not rebuild Kirkland House exactly the same as it is today," he said. But "the notion that Kirkland house is going to burn to the ground and be rebuilt exactly the same is fanciful."

Pledging a commitment to working with those who have raised concerns, petitioner Doane Perry said the group is working to address concerns raised at the June 24 meeting.

"There were some things that were pointed out that we hadn't looked at," he said.

Under city law, the City Council must act on the petition before midnight on September 22.

According to Russell, the petition grew out of concerns about overdevelopment and fears that down zoning was taking place too slowly.

At the June 24 meeting, petitioners said their proposal was designed to replace "inflated, outdated zoning." They warned of the consequences of overdevelopment--from flooding in the Alewife area to oversized buildings which damage the character of neighborhoods.

Although almost half of Cambridge has been rezoned in the last 20 years, at the present rate it would take another 20 to 30 years to cover all the areas, Russell said.

"We thought we should just level the playing field now. Then if the city wants to go on slowly fine tuning, that's fine," he said.

One of the petition's signatories, Cambridge resident Susan Yanow, said there was no single concern fueling the petition.

"It isn't Harvard per se," she said. "It's all the developmental pressure of which Harvard is a part."

But petitioner H. A. Crosby Forbes '50 said it was concerns about Harvard development that prompted his involvement.

"If Harvard continues to do in the next decade what it did in the decade of the '60s, there won't be much left in residential area of Cambridge near the Square," he said.

Forbes also criticized a lack of information about the University's plans for development.

"I'd like to know what the University plans to do in terms of its future. [Alumni are] asked to give money every year," he said.

And another petitioner said she was not convinced by Harvard's claims that it is sympathetic to petitioner's concerns.

"I think that's a whitewash," she said. "Harvard's interest is Harvard. Harvard is not interested in the quality of life in Cambridge. We saw that with what happened in [Allston]-Brighton."

Russell said that while he has no immediate concerns about University development, there have been problems in the past.

"Though it's rare that Harvard builds a building that's too tall, it happens sometimes. It would be nice that William James never had been there," he said.

"Harvard has a very able and capable head of planning [Spiegelman] right now, but she's not going to be there forever and we don't know what will happen," he said

Hugh A. Russell '64, a proponent of the petition and a member of the city Planning Board, said that this analysis of the proposal's effects is inaccurate.

While he concedes that it is "a fine legal point," Russell said that as the document is written, all buildings constructed before the petition's implementation would be effectively grandfathered in and, therefore, not subject to a special permit process for renovations.

Les Barber, director of land use and zoning for the city, questioned the legality of the plan. Though the petitioners have attempted to apply the new regulations only to construction after the adoption of the proposal, "it's not clear whether you can actually do that under state statute," he said.

Additionally, Barber said that the grandfathering only applies to certain portions of the petition. All buildings would, for example, still be subject to the item reducing the ratio of floor area to land area on a lot, Barber said. The change in floor area ratio alone would place some University buildings in violation.

But Russell said that while he understands the University's concerns, he feels the petition has addressed those reservations and that some of the objections raised are invalid.

"It's true that [under the new guidelines] you could not rebuild Kirkland House exactly the same as it is today," he said. But "the notion that Kirkland house is going to burn to the ground and be rebuilt exactly the same is fanciful."

Pledging a commitment to working with those who have raised concerns, petitioner Doane Perry said the group is working to address concerns raised at the June 24 meeting.

"There were some things that were pointed out that we hadn't looked at," he said.

Under city law, the City Council must act on the petition before midnight on September 22.

According to Russell, the petition grew out of concerns about overdevelopment and fears that down zoning was taking place too slowly.

At the June 24 meeting, petitioners said their proposal was designed to replace "inflated, outdated zoning." They warned of the consequences of overdevelopment--from flooding in the Alewife area to oversized buildings which damage the character of neighborhoods.

Although almost half of Cambridge has been rezoned in the last 20 years, at the present rate it would take another 20 to 30 years to cover all the areas, Russell said.

"We thought we should just level the playing field now. Then if the city wants to go on slowly fine tuning, that's fine," he said.

One of the petition's signatories, Cambridge resident Susan Yanow, said there was no single concern fueling the petition.

"It isn't Harvard per se," she said. "It's all the developmental pressure of which Harvard is a part."

But petitioner H. A. Crosby Forbes '50 said it was concerns about Harvard development that prompted his involvement.

"If Harvard continues to do in the next decade what it did in the decade of the '60s, there won't be much left in residential area of Cambridge near the Square," he said.

Forbes also criticized a lack of information about the University's plans for development.

"I'd like to know what the University plans to do in terms of its future. [Alumni are] asked to give money every year," he said.

And another petitioner said she was not convinced by Harvard's claims that it is sympathetic to petitioner's concerns.

"I think that's a whitewash," she said. "Harvard's interest is Harvard. Harvard is not interested in the quality of life in Cambridge. We saw that with what happened in [Allston]-Brighton."

Russell said that while he has no immediate concerns about University development, there have been problems in the past.

"Though it's rare that Harvard builds a building that's too tall, it happens sometimes. It would be nice that William James never had been there," he said.

"Harvard has a very able and capable head of planning [Spiegelman] right now, but she's not going to be there forever and we don't know what will happen," he said

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