40 Micro-Units Proposed in Harvard Square

Originally published Feb. 21, ,2014 in Banker & Tradesman.

A rendering of the proposed 40-apartment addition to the existing building at 56 JFK St. in Harvard Square. Photo courtesy Cambridge Historical Commission.

A rendering of the proposed 40-apartment addition to the existing building at 56 JFK St. in Harvard Square. Photo courtesy Cambridge Historical Commission.

Harvard Square real estate heavyweight Raj Dhanda is proposing to build 40 micro and studio-sized apartments off of Winthrop Park in Cambridge.

Dhanda was in front of the Cambridge Historical Commission on Feb. 6 seeking approval for the project, which would add three stories to the existing two-story building at 56 JFK St. in Harvard Square. Dhanda is asking to waive all of the residential parking requirements and get setback relief in some areas, said Stuart Dash, director of Community Planning for the Cambridge Community Development Department.

There’s not a better place to locate the 450-700 square-foot apartments, Dhanda said, and the space-savvy interior designs will make the apartments look much bigger than they are. He’s hoping to attract a group of tenants that want to live in an urban environment and most especially, who don’t want to drive.

“The idea would be that it would be extraordinary from the design to the utilization of the space,” Dhanda said. “These apartments – and they would be apartments not condos – will look out onto a gorgeous park. Where could you tell me there’s another place like it?”

Dhanda said he’ll be asking around $2,000 a month for the units and “can’t imagine a scenario where they wouldn’t be in high demand.”

Dash said the city was just beginning to allow apartment buildings with less than one parking space per apartment. On Feb. 18, the Planning Board approved a 46-unit apartment at 10 Essex St., which is roughly a block away from the Central Square MBTA Station, with 0.5 parking spaces per apartment.

“Even going to 0.5 spaces per unit is considered to be a significant change for us,” Dash said. “But, you could argue we’re finding that you have a population who live in the micro units who are not using cars or they’re using ZipCars or some other alternative to owning a car.”

The project will be back in front of the Historical Commission in March, and then will likely have to go before the Planning Board, Dash said. Some residents have already expressed concerns about the impact of a residential building without parking on already traffic-congested streets.

Denise Jillson, president of the Harvard Square Business Association, and board member of the Winthrop Park Trust, said they were concerned about the impact of shadows on the park. In a letter to the Historical Commission dated Feb. 5, Winthrop Park Trust president Sheldon Cohen said the trust was opposed to any project that would adversely impact the historic public park.

“Any reduction in sunlight may harm the trees, grass and other plantings, increase the cost of upkeep, and will profoundly diminish public enjoyment of the park and its environs,” Cohen said in the letter.

“There are just so few places where people can enjoy green spaces,” Jillson said.

Dhanda said they are in the process of making revisions to the design now and would present a new proposal to the commission next month that minimizes the impact of shadows.

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