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The Cambridge Planning Board asked a real estate development firm to modify plans to build a pedestrian shopping center in Harvard Square between JFK Street and Brattle Street at a public hearing Wednesday. The Board asked the firm, Regency Centers Corporation, to submit a new proposal that addresses concerns over the commercial development’s design and use.
The decision is the latest development in Jacksonville, Fla.-based Regency Centers’ ongoing bid to gain approval for the proposed mall that would encompass three historic buildings at 1-7, 9-11 JFK Street, and 18 Brattle Street. Regency’s current plans call for demolishing the Corcoran building—currently home to Urban Outfitters and Tealuxe—and building a four-story replacement.
Board members said they are concerned Regency’s plans for construction mitigation may not sufficiently integrate the mall with the rest of Harvard Square.
“I think there are some design elements that need to be worked on here but, overall, I am supportive of the types of relief that are being requested,” Catherine P. Connolly, the Board’s vice chair said. “I think that the project as a whole looks like it is going to ultimately make this block look really well together.”
Preliminary plans earned the approval of the Cambridge Historical Commission in Aug. 2017. Once they receive clearance from the Planning Board, the authors of the proposal will return to the Historical Commission for further discussions on building materials and design.
Sam Stiebel, the vice president of investments at Regency Centers, said he believed his firm’s final plans would contribute to the surrounding neighborhood.
“We support a vital and vibrant Harvard Square,” Stiebel said at the hearing.
The proposed mall will have a height of 65.5 feet, over the city limit of 60 feet that requires a special permits for exemptions, according to James J. Rafferty, an attorney for Regency Centers. Rafferty said he believes additional height will have a limited impact on the Square in terms of aesthetics and shadow.
“We think we’ve come up with a profile and footprint that really mitigates the impact of the building,” he said.
Some city residents, though, said they were unconvinced by Regency’s assurances.
Cambridge resident James Williamson said he disagreed with idea that there is a need for a large commercial space in Harvard Square.
“I don’t see where there’s been a demonstrated need for more density in Harvard square that would justify a penthouse space on top of this, well, adjacent to the rooftop of this historic building,” Williamson said.
Resident Peter B. Kroon submitted a zoning petition to the city council in Sept. 2017 that aimed to restrict the size and type of stores in Harvard Square. Iram Farooq, Cambridge’s assistant city manager for community development, said he thinks the Kroon petition, which would affect the Regency proposal, will “most likely” expire before it comes to a vote and will need to be resubmitted.
Denise A. Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said she believed Regency would address many of the design concerns raised by residents in their modified proposal.
“I think the architect could come back with something that the planning board says, ‘we could come back in fifty years and say this is worth protecting,’” Jillson said.
—Staff writer Henry W. Burnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Franklin R. Civantos can be reached at email@example.com.
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