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City Council Hears Plans for Potential Cambridge Skyscraper

By Jalin P. Cunningham, Crimson Staff Writer

City planners want to build Cambridge’s first skyscraper.

Representatives from the Cambridge City Planning Board unveiled a potential plan to build a skyscraper in Kendall Square at a joint meeting on Monday with the City Council ordinance committee.

The plans would renovate a 14-acre plot of land currently owned by the federal government, housing the Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. According to the Planning Board, the area has remained unchanged for 45 years.

City planner are seeking to build a tower or towers on the land at heights up to 1,000 feet. Other potential plans include towers of 500 feet and 350 feet.

A 1,000-foot tower would make it the tallest building in New England, let alone Cambridge, towering over Boston’s 790-foot John Hancock Tower and MIT’s 295-foot Green Building.

If the city chooses to remodel the land, the space would violate existing city zoning ordinance. Currently, the ratio of a building’s total floor space to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built—the floor area ratio—for proposed buildings must be less than three. The proposed zoning changes include increasing that ratio to 4.5. Most neighborhoods in Cambridge have a floor area ratio of below one.

The plan’s supporters argued Monday that skyscrapers would be beneficial for the parcel because it would not only visually mark the center of Kendall Square, but allow for larger amounts of open public space.

In the remodeled space, the Planning Board proposed building 1,000 new housing units, with 150 of the units made accessible to those with low to moderate income levels.

But members of the City Council were generally unenthusiastic about the plans for the parcel.

“There’s a feeling in the community that Kendall Square is for the intelligentsia of Cambridge… and that shouldn’t be the feeling,” City Councillor E. Denise Simmons said, adding that the plans for the parcel should attempt to increase diversity by offering larger percentages of affordable housing.

“If I sound a little on edge about this, it’s because I am,” she said.

City Councillor Marc C. McGovern said if the area undergoes construction, planners need to make a conscious effort to make the space appealing to families and a less affluent audience by including things like affordable restaurants and grocery stores.

Residents, on the other hand, generally provided positive feedback, calling the space “complicated” yet “exciting.”

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

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