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Zoning Board Delays Decision on Campus Center Plans

Cambridge residents raise concerns about the impact of proposed renovations

A preliminary rendering of the renovated Smith Campus Center shows a remodeled front facade, where restaurant Au Bon Pain is currently located.
A preliminary rendering of the renovated Smith Campus Center shows a remodeled front facade, where restaurant Au Bon Pain is currently located.
By Jalin P. Cunningham, Crimson Staff Writer

After more than two hours of public discussion, the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeal on Thursday delayed a decision on Harvard’s plans to renovate the Smith Campus Center until July 30 at the earliest.

Approval from the Board of Zoning Appeal would be the final step before the University can begin renovating the building formerly known as the Holyoke Center at 1350 Massachusetts Ave., which was originally set to begin next year. The plans have already received approval from the Cambridge Historical Commission and the Cambridge Planning Board.

A preliminary rendering of the renovated Smith Campus Center shows a remodeled front facade, where restaurant Au Bon Pain is currently located.
A preliminary rendering of the renovated Smith Campus Center shows a remodeled front facade, where restaurant Au Bon Pain is currently located. By Courtesy of Hopkins Architects

The plans for the Smith Campus Center include redesigns of the building’s first, second, and 10th floors and the construction of new meeting and common spaces. The plans also call for a reconstruction of the building’s front facade, where restaurant Au Bon Pain currently sits, and changes to both the indoor and outdoor dining areas.

Administrators have hailed the plans as beneficial not only to students, faculty, and other University affiliates but also to the public. Cambridge residents and members of the board at a public hearing on Thursday, however, expressed mixed opinions of the plans.

Detractors said the proposed building renovations were “too grandiose,” arguing that changes would detract from the “peaceful” nature of Forbes Plaza, the area at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Dunster Street currently occupied by outdoor seating.

“If Harvard’s encroachment on Forbes Plaza is authorized, then we might as well rename Harvard Square ‘Harvard’s Square,’” Cambridge resident Thompson E. Potter said. “Harvard doesn’t need any more glittering, window dressing, or programmatic spaces.”

Other residents suggested that the proposed campus center plans would disrupt the public chess space that currently sits beside Au Bon Pain’s outdoor seating area and maintained that Harvard’s plans to decrease the sidewalk width by 10 feet would be detrimental to street performers and protesters.

People in support of the proposed plans emphasised Harvard Square’s need for welcoming indoor public spaces, especially in the winter months.

Laura E. Donohue ’85, the owner of a stationary shop in the Square, argued that the University’s plans will benefit both the area’s public and various retailers, as an indoor space with accessible public bathrooms would be especially attractive to patrons on cold and rainy days.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeal ultimately delayed a final decision until July, saying that they were uncomfortable making a decision after hearing so many differing opinions voiced.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalincunningham@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

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