Deadline for MIT Kendall plan looms

Community polarizes as process continues

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Shown in white in this model from MITIMCo are three proposed lab or commercial office buildings along the south side of Main Street. (The Media Lab appears at the left.)
Nick Chornay—The Tech
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MIT plans to construct commercial, academic, and residential buildings on what are currently parking lots. In this model from MITIMCo, the three near white buildings are possibilities for commercial buildings on the south side of Main Street. (In the foreground are the Green Building and East Campus dormitory.)
nick chornay—The Tech
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An eastern gateway to MIT at the current site of the T stop across from the Marriott Hotel is part of MITIMCo’s vision for Kendall Square. One possible view of the gateway is depicted in this model, which sits in a room on the ground floor of 1 Broadway, where there will be an open house on Saturday, March 23, at 10 a.m. and on Tuesday, March 26, at 6 p.m. MIT would like to develop the area for a mixture of commercial, residential, and “innovation” purposes, with open spaces and inviting storefronts at the street level.
Nick Chornay—The Tech

MIT’s Kendall upzoning petition to Cambridge, which would allow for the construction of new commercial and residential towers on the east side of campus, expires on April 15. As that deadline nears, executives of MIT and the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) have been eager to see the City Council approve the petition, even as the conversation within MIT has exposed a rift between the proposal’s supporters and opponents.

Aware of the timeline, the City Council has expedited the process for the Kendall petition. The Council voted on March 7 to move the petition forward before public comment took place. The Council has also scheduled a special working meeting for this morning with MITIMCo to work out issues with the petition.

At the City Council meeting on Monday, CSAIL professor Seth Teller said that it was “embarrassing” that the MIT community could not present a united front, noting that professors and other MIT affiliates showed up to council meetings to speak against a proposal that the Institute itself has been pushing for years.

President Reif called Kendall Square “the most dynamic and most exciting innovation cluster that the world has to offer” at a meeting of the Kendall Square Association last week. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that,” he added, going on to say that Kendall Square’s strong entrepreneurial community contributed to an “ecosystem” that would allow MIT to “move ideas out into the world.” MIT’s petition for dense, mixed-use development, including special “innovation” spaces, aligned well with the visions of a vibrant hub of smart, innovative companies that speaker after enthusiastic speaker presented.

Opponents of the petition have argued that it would exacerbate Cambridge’s housing squeeze, which they say is a major problem for graduate students. On Monday, MIT News announced the members of a much-anticipated working group charged with investigating the housing needs of graduate students. The group is chaired by urban studies professor and former chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 and includes five other faculty members, three graduate students, and three MIT staff.

At a heated faculty forum on Tuesday, opponents of the petition worried that it was neither by nor for MIT as an academic and research institution.

Former MIT planning officer Bob Simha gave an impassioned monologue calling the land to be rezoned MIT’s “last asset,” lamenting the passing of what he saw as an era in which faculty members rather than real estate executives put together a plan for MIT’s future that cared more about MIT’s graduate students and academic goals.

Following Simha’s speech, Thomas A. Kochan, chair of the MIT 2030 faculty task force, stood up and declared that “what Bob just described is exactly what’s going to happen next,” explaining that his team was developing a way to incorporate faculty input into the process after MIT’s petition — after all, only a zoning petition that sets the limits for what can be built — is passed. “We are going to have an interactive and participatory design process.”

Teller immediately shot back, asking, “Shouldn’t the petition be a consequence of that process, rather than a precursor?”