Central Square Special Permit Hearing February 11

Written by Cambridge City Councilor Craig Kelley

If you are interested in the future of Central Square from a zoning and planning perspective, you may want to come to the Planning Board hearing (a continuance of a 12/3/13 hearing) on 10 Essex Street this coming February 11 at 7:20 PM at 344 Broadway.

As you know, the City recently completed a major study of Central Square and it is likely that this new City Council will see zoning proposals coming out of that study or simply coming from specific property owners that want to do something with their land. For example, there is an online discussion about the future of the Quest properties in Central Square here as that developer tries to figure out what the future might hold for his investment.

Information about the 10 Essex Street proposal can be found near the bottom of this page. A rough summary is that the developer is proposing an 49,500 square foot, 80 foot high residential building with 23 parking spots for 46 units and some retail. For a variety of reasons, they need a Special Permit. Their application sums it up as follows:

Requested Relief

The building has been designed in accordance with the Central Square Development
Guidelines and the draft Urban Design Guidelines for the “Heart of Central Square Subdistrict”
presented in 2012 as part of the Central Square Planning Study. Pursuant to the provisions ofthe
Central Square Overlay District, and as set forth more fully elsewhere in this application, the
applicant is seeking Special Permits for building height, setbacks, and a parking ratio of .5. The
applicant is also applying for Special Permits to have the Functional Green Roof Area exempted
from the calculation of Gross Floor Area and as noted earlier, a reduction in commercial Short
Term Bicycle Parking.

In general, Special Permits are meant to be granted. The Planning Board may nibble around the edges to make a project work better for the neighborhood or look nicer or be smaller or whatnot, but it’s not likely to force dramatic changes on a proposal once the first back and forth has happened. While a project requiring a Special Permit is not “as of right” in that it needs more permissions than a simple building permit, getting a Special Permit is not supposed to be a huge hurdle like a variance or a zoning change. That is what the City Council intended when it passed this zoning in the first place or it would have set the true limits of FAR and height and so forth at a different level. The zoning for 10 Essex thus, apparently, allows what the developer wants and the Council allowed there as long as the Special Permit is granted. There is still plenty of room for negotiation and people should not hesitate in sharing their thoughts, but folks shouldn’t expect the final result to be drastically different from what’s been proposed.

Questions concerning the petition may be addressed to Liza Paden at 617-349-4647 or via email at lpaden@cambridgema.gov.

Regardless of one’s feelings about this particular prooposal, it should be interesting to listen to the back and forth on it as a prelude to larger Central Square planning changes down the line.

Thanks a lot.


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