Twining Normandy Critique

January 22, 2015, 5:30 Sullivan Chamber, Cambridge City Hall

Ordinance Committee hearing on proposed “Mass + Main Street Residential Mixed Income Housing Sub district

Talking Points on the Normandy/Twining Proposed Up-Zoning

     This proposed project represents a request for up-zoning that is 2 ½ times what is permitted at this time with a special permit. They wish to create a new sub district that re-zones an entire block, affecting properties they do not own and a city-owned parking lot. The up-zoning they seek will have an impact on properties and residents throughout Central Square.

     This area of Central Square is zoned now for maximum height of 45 feet along Bishop Allen Drive (the residential interface), and 80 feet along Mass Ave. The Twining/Normandy Petition would increase those heights to 70 feet along Columbia and Douglass streets (without need of a special permit) and 195 feet (19 stories not counting roof-top mechanicals) on Massachusetts Avenue.

     An analysis of the proposed “sub district” within the Central Square Overlay District shows that about 45% of the land  to be re-zoned is outside the overlay district, including the proposed  “Bishop Allen Residential Support Zone” on the north side of Bishop Allen Drive where parking lots, a garage, the Elks Lodge and St. Paul’s Church are mixed in with residences.

      The proposed tower would loom over and shadow abutting low-rise neighborhood residences and churches on the north side of Bishop Allen Drive and further, as well as the public parking lot #6 that has been discussed as a site for potential 100% affordable housing. It will be a blight on Jill Brown Rhone park and Lafayette Square for decades to come.

      The proposed 230 units will be majority market rate and luxury apartments will be priced far outside the rental range of local residents and will drive up rents in the adjoining neighborhoods, negating the value of the affordable units. 17% of the total units are designated for low- and moderate-income.

      Central Square is the unique crossroads of four major Cambridge low-rise residential neighborhoods – Area 4/Port, Cambridgeport, Mid-Cambridge, and Riverside; Jill Brown Rhone Park is its major public open space.

      Normandy/Twining representatives have been slow to meet directly with long-established neighborhood organizations that abut or will be directly affected by the development as is traditional and now being required by the Planning Board.

      The need to keep local housing affordable will be better served by increased affordable inclusionary units in a residential building within the current zoning.

     The high-rise out- of-scale tower proposed by Twining/Normandy will completely disrupt the fabric and character of the Central Square Cultural District. It repeats the East Cambridge Courthouse error of building a tall tower in a residential area. 

     Jill Brown Rhone Park and Lafayette Square is the major open public space in Central Square. This out of scale tower, will significantly undermine its public plaza value.

      In August 2012, responding to testimony from hundreds of residents, the City Council rejected the Forest City/Ratner proposal to build a 14-story tower across from Jill Brown Rhone Park.

      Normandy Partners is the major investor behind the proposal. The majority of Normandy operations are in the Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. areas, with minor operations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Normandy invests in gentrifying metro areas.  It owns or has developed 25 million square feet of commercial property, 2,500 residential units and 1,100 hotel rooms.  Its investors have invested $1.5 billion, and it controls $5 billion of real estate. Normandy has no interest in the lives of Cambridge residents. They are baldly trying to maximize profits for their investors.

      From Steve Kaiser : “…an up zoning petition that would benefit primarily one Developer, rather than representing a benefit to the common or general good.  It is virtual spot zoning, with one enticement: housing for middle income people and higher.  Everything in the zoning that offers help to low income and middle incomes people can be satisfied by the developer building middle income housing and ignoring low income or low-middle income.”

    Kaiser continued: “the C2 committee represented a maximum Floor Area Ratio of 4.0 as the housing incentive.  The Normandy-Twining zoning proposal wants an FAR of at least 5.6, although it might be higher (the language is confusing).  The proposal is a hodge-podge of base zoning, special permits from base zoning, a zoning overlay district and a sub district overlay which is supposed to be within the main overlay area, but actually spills over into an adjacent Business A zone and part of a Residence B zone.”

      Normandy is welcome to build on their property within the current zoning, as long as their project is not detrimental to the surrounding communities. Current zoning is quite generous, allowing residential buildings of up to 8 stories on Mass Ave. The Cambridge City Council has no responsibility to Normandy’s investors. If they are unable to reach their profit margins at this site, perhaps they shouldn’t’ have purchased it. 

Working for a Livable, Affordable and Diverse Cambridge

The Cambridge Residents Alliance




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