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Cambridge Ordinance Committee reviews MIT's Kendall Square zoning petition

City Councilors set the stage for further discussion

About 30 members of the public attended the City Council's Jan. 24 Ordinance Committee hearing on MIT's proposed Kendall Square Initiative. The Ordinance Committee, which comprises the entire City Council membership, is charged with reviewing changes to municipal law, including the zoning code.

At this kick-off public hearing, MIT officials provided a comprehensive overview of its zoning petition and proposal to enliven Kendall Square. Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz and Managing Director of Real Estate Steve Marsh summarized MIT's zoning petition submitted to the city in December, and provided further context on the Institute's response to the Faculty Task Force Report recommendations regarding east campus planning, a campus gateway, and a study of student housing needs. Ruiz and Marsh had earlier provided a presentation on the Kendall Square proposal to the Planning Board on Jan. 15.

MIT's Kendall Square Initiative seeks to rezone 26 acres of Institute property in the east campus area bounded by Main Street, Ames Street, Wadsworth Street and Memorial Drive, and including the parcel at One Broadway. The proposal aims to transform four parking lots into a vibrant mixed-use district with housing, lab and office space, retail and open space, and preserve several parcels for possible future academic development.

At the hearing, City Councilors asked questions and offered opinions and feedback on a variety of topics including housing needs in Cambridge and at MIT, the proposed retail mix, abutter concerns, accommodations for innovation space, MIT's future academic needs, open space provisions, community benefits and dimensional features.

About 20 residents, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and members of the MIT community provided testimony on similar topics, some citing support for the petition, others noting concerns.

Ordinance Committee Chair David Maher closed the session by observing: "It's the first step in the council process. We have to ask ourselves — are we in a worthy conversation? To me it's a very worthy conversation. This is a complex proposal, but we all share, in some form, great excitement about Kendall Square. The dialogue should be a fruitful one going forward."

Maher indicated that there would likely be two additional Ordinance Committee hearings in February before the committee forwards the petition to the City Council. The City Council is the policy-setting body for the City of Cambridge and will make the final determination in regard to MIT's zoning petition.

In a parallel fashion, the Cambridge Planning Board is continuing its review of the MIT proposal and will hold its next hearing on Feb. 19. Once its deliberations are complete, the Planning Board will forward a recommendation to the City Council.

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