City Council Approves MIT Petition for Rezoning

The Cambridge City Council voted 7-1-1 Monday night in favor of approving the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s rezoning petition, paving the way for the university’s plans for development of lab, office, housing, and research space in Kendall Square.

Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory P. Bialecki ’82, who attended the meeting on behalf of Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, was among the unusually large crowd of people who came to lobby the Council on the rezoning petition.

Bialecki told the Council that the Patrick administration is in favor of the development plans in Kendall Square as cities such as New York challenge Cambridge’s “unquestioned dominance” in the field of innovation on the East Coast.

Bialecki said the Patrick administration is working to retain the state’s status as a leader in the science, technology, engineering, and math industries.

“We’re asking you to do the same,” Bialecki said during the meeting.

Several entrepreneurs echoed Bialecki’s concerns that Cambridge is losing ground as a center of innovation.

Brian Gilman, co-founder of the Cambridge-based technology company Wingu, said that his investors had asked him to relocate to New York City or San Francisco. Gilman argued in favor of MIT’s development plans for Kendall Square, saying that as long as MIT continues to attract the best and brightest students, Cambridge companies will be able to recruit the best and brightest workers.

Several Cantabrigians acknowledged the role the proposal might play in growing the city’s innovation industry but lobbied the Council to allow the petition to expire, citing concerns over housing and environmental impact.

“The graduate student housing issue has a tremendous impact on people who rent apartments,” said Cambridge resident Mike Connolly, referring to the high number of MIT students who look for housing outside of the university in the midst of an overheated housing market in Cambridge.

As of June 2012, 62 percent of MIT graduate students lived in off-campus apartments, according to an MIT faculty newsletter.

Concerns over the housing market were one factor in the Council’s decision not to support the rezoning petition in 2011. Since then, MIT has changed the housing provisions within the petition. While the proposal brought before the Council in 2011 provided for only 60 units of affordable housing, the version approved Monday night promises up to 365 units.

Councillor David P. Maher spoke in favor of the petition, asking the Council to weigh its costs and benefits.

“MIT has done an outstanding job at listening to the Council, listening to the planning board, and listening to the community,” Maher said. “There wasn’t a lot in Kendall Square that people wanted to go and visit. People have worked to reshape what Kendall Square is and what it can be.”

—Staff writer Sonali Y. Salgado can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SonaliSalgado16.