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Proposed Three-Story Addition to 57 JFK Met With Concern

The Galeria building houses Staples, Yogurtland, and Shake Shack. Developers explained their poteltial plans to expand the buidling, adding three stories of residential living units on top of the existing levels, on Thursday March 7.
The Galeria building houses Staples, Yogurtland, and Shake Shack. Developers explained their poteltial plans to expand the buidling, adding three stories of residential living units on top of the existing levels, on Thursday March 7. By Nathalie R. Miraval
By Ivan B. K. Levingston and Celeste M. Mendoza, Crimson Staff Writers

Cambridge developer Raj Dhanda appeared before the Cambridge Historical Commission Thursday night to submit revised plans for three stories of residential units to be built on top of his current Galeria building at 57 JFK St. Citing citizens’ concerns that ranged from architecture to lighting, the commission requested that Dhanda re-submit his proposal April 4.

The proposed addition to the Galeria building at the corner of JFK and Winthrop streets, which currently houses retail stores and restaurants including Staples, Maharaja, and Shake Shack, would accommodate around 40 micro-units of residential housing. Each unit would span about 450 square feet, according to Dhanda.

Dhanda and his architect, Peter Quinn, presented their original designs to the commission four weeks ago. At the meeting, the board reviewed Dhanda’s proposed blueprints and expressed worries about the shadow that the building would cast onto the nearby Winthrop Park, the building’s design aesthetics, and its potential obstruction of the Cambridge skyline.

“We listened to the comments and made serious attempts to address some and if not all of them,” Dhanda said. “This will become a significant building in the core of Harvard Square, and I don’t take that lightly.”

Among revisions to the building plans were an inset third floor that would allow for planter and balcony space, more greenery, and alternative selections of building materials and colors. The proposed complex would be constructed primarily of glass and limestone. Quinn explained at the meeting that the developers conducted a shadow study that found that the proposed construction would not significantly alter the size of the shadow cast on Winthrop Park throughout the year.

Still, meeting attendees were apprehensive about the proposal. Some citizens voiced remaining concerns about the size and height of the building. A few people also suggested that developers make efforts to incorporate the two existing floors with the proposed new level so that the division would be less obvious.

Community activist Marilee Meyer said her opposition to the project comes from an architectural perspective.

“[The proposed construction] is incongruous to the site because of its height, its proportion, its design, its synthetic materials, and its very quick pseudo-retro approach to its architecture,” Meyer said. “It is not carefully thought out, it is not complimentary to the context. It is totally disrespectful.”

Meyer sees this as part of a trend among Dhanda’s buildings, arguing that the “materials and the concepts and the architecture” of his developments do not fit Harvard Square.

Members of the Winthrop Park Trust, which helps run the park as part of a private-public partnership, also voiced concerns about the development.

Denise A. Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association and a member of the trust, said that the group met early yesterday morning to review the proposal. She said that the trust decided that information available online was insufficient to reach a decision and that, currently, the trust “opposes any development that abuts the park.”

“In the last version [of the plans] we saw, the shadows from the building really changed the experience in the park,” Jillson said. “There are so few green spaces and we really want to preserve [the park] for the enjoyment of the public.”

Kari Kuelzer, the general manager and co-owner of Grendel’s Den, is also a member of the Winthrop Park Trust, and her mother was a founding member. She is hosting a form-letter on the Grendel’s Den website that protesters may sign and submit to the Cambridge Historical Commission. In addition to fears regarding the building’s shadow and impact on the park, she said she was worried about the development’s lack of additional parking space.

“Harvard Square already has somewhat of a parking crisis,” she said. “As a business owner, I’ve heard other business owners complain about it.”

Meanwhile, Rohit Talwar, the general manager at Maharaja, an Indian restaurant on the top floor of 57 JFK St., said he is unconcerned about the development plans.

“We just know there’s residential units going up. We don’t know more than that,” Tawlar said. “I don’t think that it’s going to affect us that much.”

—Staff writer Ivan B. K. Levingston can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @IvanLevingston.

—Staff writer Celeste M. Mendoza can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CelesteMMendoza.

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