Important private meeting Thursday between developer, neighbors
by David Taber
Pemberton corner neighbors held their first planning meeting on Sept. 5 to plan their response the proposed construction of a four-story condominium on the site where Pemberton Market now stands.
“What they are trying to build is way too big,” said Adam Ried of Warwick Park, who is a co-coordinator of the ad hoc neighborhood group.
Louise Parker also of Warwick Park, who is coordinating the group along with Ried, said that about 50 people attended the meeting and that she knew of about 10-to-20 people who were unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts.
Most of the attendees were from streets adjacent to the corner - Rindge Avenue, Fairfield Street, Warwick Park, and Pemberton Street - and some were from across Massachusetts Avenue, Parker said.
“A great deal of concern was expressed about the development,” she said.
The meeting was closed to the press.
The plan under discussion would replace the Pemberton Market building at 2180 Massachusetts Ave. with an almost 63-foot structure containing ground floor retail space and fifteen residential units on the three upper floors, said Linda M. Haar, a consultant representing the project.
It is being put forward by descendants of the grocery store's original proprietor Nicholas Mudarri. Mudarri opened the grocery, then called The Avenue Spa, in 1926. It has been owned and operated by the family for the last 80 years, Haar said.
Haar said that the families main goal is to keep the grocery open. The building has fallen into disrepair over the years and recent architectural and engineering analyses have concluded that it would be unfeasible to attempt to rehabilitate it, the consultant said.
Including the residential units is the only way to make the construction of a whole new building economically viable, she said.
“They found that building another single story commercial building would be cost prohibitive,” she said.
But before they can obtain a building permit, they will have to apply for a number of zoning variances from the City of Cambridge, she said.
They will need a floor area ratio variance, to get around rules regarding the maximum amount of floor space allowable in a building on their lot, as well as a height variance and a height set back variance so they can construct four full floors, she said.
Michael Brandon, Secretary of the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee said that he thinks the developers might need other variances as well, including a use variance to include more than the maximum number of residential units that their lot size allows.
They will also need a special zoning permit for the retail space because one percent of the proposed structure will cross over into a residentially area, Haar said.
Parker said that Pemberton Corner neighbors are not happy with the family's proposal for the site, and want the developers to make more of an effort to comply with zoning regulations.
“People are really hoping that that the developers will go back to the drawing board and design something in line with current zoning,” Parker said.
Residents first learned of the proposal at an August 9 meeting hosted by Haar, Ried said.
Haar said that the early August meeting had been useful for the development team.
In response to concerns raised by neighbors they are looking at the possibility of bringing the building's height down 8 feet by flattening the structure's proposed sloped roof, she said.
The team will also be conducting a traffic analysis of the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Rindge Avenue and a shadow analysis to determine what darkness the building will cast on the surrounding properties, she said.
“The plan is absolutely not finalized, we want to work with the community,” she said.
But Brandon, who said he has discussed with Haar the changes the developers are considering based on the August meeting, said that he does not think that the neighbors concerns have really sunk in.
“One senses that the developers do not understand the level of concern in the community, and that they are going to come back with something that doesn't address the level of concern out there,” he said.
Parker said that the purpose of the September 5 neighborhood meeting was for residents to clarify what concerns they had and begin to develop a strategy for working with the developers to come up with a plan that is more in line with the community's desires.
“We formed several subcommittees that are investigating various aspects. We don't have an exact plan as of yet but we will be meeting with the developer again soon,” she said
Before the meeting Parker said that one of the things she was concerned about was the cost analysis that developers said they had used to determine how large the project would need to be in order to be profitable enough to offset construction costs.
She said that the group was pursuing independent cost estimates and that she hopes that the developers will make their estimates, which she said had been on their Website, but were later taken down, available for comparison.
Both Parker and Ried said that they think that continuing dialogue will prove fruitful.
“The developers are connected to the neighborhood and care about what happens. We are at the very beginning of the process, but so far so good. I am very hopeful,” Ried said.
“Its always a negotiation, they are going to come in with the biggest project they can do and hopefully they can move back from there,” Parker said.