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MIT and Cambridge Reach Zoning Accord

A zoning controversy rooted in MIT's 1970 purchase of the University Park site has been settled with a compromise ordinance forged during several marathon negotiating sessions involving MIT and Cambridgeport residents and businesses, Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves and City Councillors.

Agreement-and a unanimous City Council vote on what is called the Cambridgeport Industrial District-came shortly after 2am February 11.

The ordinance the council ultimately approved was the result of six years of discussions, which were productive but none the less failed to reconcile the differences of the various parties. However, they provided the necessary foundation for the five days of intensive marathon sessions that followed. The parties agreed to meet in what turned out to be the final phase of the rezoning effort at the request of Mayor Reeves. All sides praised the mayor's leadership as crucial to reaching resolution on the issue.

The ordinance covers an 80-acre district adjacent to University Park and extending to Memorial Drive and the old Ford Assembly Plant near the Boston University Bridge rotary. It also reaches from Vassar Street to Brookline Street, the edge of the Cambridgeport residential neighborhood. MIT owns about 40 percent of the district.

A highlight of the ordinance is MIT's dedication to the city of a 1.5-acre open site at 82 Pacific Street for a park or playground. In exchange, MIT is allowed to apply development rights for the 82 Pacific Street site to other areas of the district in developing housing.

The ordinance also provides mechanisms to achieve affordable housing, to establish a light manufacturing area, to preserve the property values of existing businesses, and to allow housing development where feasible. MIT's plans for housing in this district are still being formulated and will be summarized in a later issue of MIT Tech Talk.

Sarah J. Eusden, assistant for government and community relations in the Office for Government and Community Relations, and Catherine Donaher, a consultant with MIT since 1980, publicly led the MIT team in the negotiations that resulted in the ordinance.

Ronald P. Suduiko, assistant to the MIT president for government and community relations, said that Ms. Eusden and Ms. Donaher were guided by members of the Communications and Planning Group: O. Robert Simha, director of planning; Robert K. Kaynor, associate director of planning; Philip A. Trussell, director of real estate and associate treasurer; Mark A. Barnard, assistant director of real estate; Stephen D. Immerman, director of special services in the office of the senior vice president; and Paul Parravano, assistant for community relations.

MIT acquired substantial acreage in the Cambridgeport area when the Simplex Wire and Cable Co. moved out more than 20 years ago. In the years that followed, the University Park Development made progress by committing to the development of 400 units of housing, 140 of which are complete. The development has also created a number of jobs in Cambridge.

However, the zoning for the remaining 80 acres of the Cambridgeport Industrial District remained unresolved. In the last six years, the City council named two committees whose zoning-proposal efforts the Planning Board developed into a zoning petition. A group of concerned neighborhood residents filed a competing petition. Much later both were rejected. The neighborhood group refiled its petition and a landowners group responded by filing a petition reflecting its views. This group included MIT and 30 property owners representing business which in some cases have operated in Cambridgeport for more than 75 years.

It was these two petitions that the marathon negotiating sessions sought to reconcile. Progress was elusive until Mayor Reeves along with City Councillors Sheila Russell, Jonathan Myers and William Walsh stepped in. After five days of lengthy meetings the goal was achieved.

When the unanimous vote was recorded in favor of the compromise petition, representatives of both sides-including Walter L. Milne, who retired last year as MIT's assistant to the president and to the chairman-gave each other a 2am standing ovation.

A version of this article appeared in the February 26, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 21).

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