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Cambridge Planning Board Postpones Vote on Crimson Galeria Construction Proposal

Cambridge Galeria
The City of Cambridge plans to expand the Galeria shopping center in the near future. Shops such as Staples, Shake Shack, Maharaja and Bon Chon currently occupy the space.

The Cambridge Planning Board convened Tuesday evening to discuss plans for construction at the Crimson Galeria in Harvard Square, which were ultimately postponed.

The Crimson Galeria, located at 57 JFK St. in Harvard Square, houses shops and restaurants including Staples, Shake Shack, and Tom’s Bao Bao. The proposed construction would add an additional three floors to the existing Galeria building. Each subsequent floor would take up approximately three-fourths of the square footage of the previous floor.

Since 2014, Raj Dhanda — a local developer overseeing the current construction proposal — has worked to pass an assortment of construction plans at the site. His 2014 proposal to add three stories of residential units to the top of the Galeria building was declined due to concerns about shadows in the adjacent Winthrop Park.

Marilee B. Meyer, a member of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, said in an interview Tuesday that she lobbied against the original construction plans in 2014 because of concerns about shadows.

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“The original design was too tall, too big — it shadowed the park altogether,” Meyer said.

Peter Quinn, a Somerville-based architect overseeing the plans for construction at 57 JFK St., said in an interview that he thought that the construction would have a negligible impact on the aesthetics of the neighborhood. During the meeting, Quinn presented a number of proposed designs to the committee demonstrating, arguing that the additional floors would not be very visible from the street.

Members of the planning board raised concerns about space’s gross floor area allotments. Under Cambridge’s zoning ordinances, the City Council can control how much floor area is allotted to different spaces across Cambridge.

The group representing 57 JFK St., called Crimson Galeria LP, hoped to change the space’s floor area at Tuesday’s meeting by petitioning to exempt the basement of the building from being counted in the overall area metric. This exemption would lower the group’s required contribution to the Harvard Square Improvement Fund.

The board, which declined to hear public comment on the issue, unanimously voted to postpone a verdict until they can consult the Cambridge City Solicitor.

Abra Berkowitz, a member of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, said she appreciated that the planning committee decided to delay the vote.

“I feel bad for the petitioner, but there are some kinks that need to be worked out,” Berkowitz said. “Since this plan is almost a million dollars... I think it’s something that needs to be taken very seriously.”

According to the meeting’s agenda, Crimson Galeria also wanted to pursue exemptions for parking and loading requirements that are required for spaces in the Harvard Square Overlay District. The planning committee’s decision, however, also postponed discussion of these exemptions.

Dhanda said he was disappointed with the board’s verdict.

“We were hoping to get the approval,” Dhanda said. “Now we just wait and see what the solicitor has to say.”

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

— Staff writer Sydnie M. Cobb can be reached at sydnie.cobb@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cobbsydnie.

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