Cambridge Votes Down Proposed Winthrop Square Development

For the third time this year, Cambridge developer Raj Dhanda and his proposal to build three stories of residential microunits on top of the existing Galeria building in Winthrop Square failed to earn the support of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

The commission voted unanimously to deny Dhanda’s approval Thursday night, but will allow Dhanda to submit a completely new plan, according to Cambridge resident and activist James Williamson.

The commission also asked Historical Commission staff and board members, including Commission Executive Charles Sullivan, to draw up a set of regulations by which Dhanda’s future proposals for the site must abide by, Williamson said.

Winthrop Square Developments
Members of the community are concerned that a development on the Galeria building would negatively impact the Winthrop Square aesthetics.

At Thursday night’s meeting, hosted in the Cambridge Senior Center, Dhanda and his architect, Peter Quinn, presented their amended plans to the board and about 30 members of the public. The audience included many Cambridge residents who have been working together over the past few weeks to prevent the development that they believe would infringe on historic Winthrop Park.

During this presentation, Dhanda and Quinn addressed concerns expressed at the previous Historical Commission meeting in March, at which some attendees raised concerns about the development’s aesthetics and impact on the surrounding area. Citing community worries about the bulk of the building, Dhanda noted the new decreased size of the proposed building, especially the recessed upper corner at the intersection of JFK and Winthrop streets. He presented a shadow study to illustrate how the changes reduced the impact of shadows on the park.

Dhanda remarked that the building materials had been adjusted to better suit the neighborhood surroundings, and Quinn added that the team had made efforts to better integrate the proposed addition with the existing levels of the building.

“[The new building plans are] friendlier and elegant, and all materials and workmanship will be of the highest order,” Dhanda said.

However, during the section of the meeting reserved for community members to voice their concerns, many Cambridge residents objected to the plan. Some chose to allow resident and activist Carole Perault to speak on their behalf.

“The Galeria as it was conceived was not meant to carry five stories,” said Perault, who presented a powerpoint of her objections. “It is incongruous to the district’s functional and visual environment.”

Perault also voiced concerns about what she characterized as an increase in artificial light, a loss of sky and open space, and the possibility that approval of the development would be a “tipping point” in which the “integrity of the district” becomes secondary to economic development.

Other topics of discussions included the accuracy of the shadow studies, the use of window shades, and even bike storage.

—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.