Fresh Pond development to be test case for new neighborhood group

Originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle on March 14, 2014.

A proposed 93-unit residential development across from Danehy Park in Cambridge will be the first test case for a new neighborhood group concerned about overdevelopment in the area.

The fledgling group, Fresh Pond Residents Alliance, is not opposed to all development, said one of the organizers, Cambridge resident of more than two decades, Jan Devereux. They just want to make sure new proposals are taking into account other development in the neighborhood.

With more than 1,600 newly constructed or permitted residential units in the Alewife and Fresh Pond area, Devereux said it was about time the neighborhood wakes up to the “sleeping beast” around her and her neighbors. There are 492 newly constructed apartments on Fawcett Street, 220 apartments permitted at 130 Cambridgepark Drive, 244 residential units permitted at 160 Cambridgepark Drive, 398 residential units at 165 Cambridgepark Drive, and another 227 apartments being constructed at the old Faces site, according to Cambridge Community Development. That does not include a half dozen other residential projects ranging from 10 to 70 units that have either been constructed or are planned for the area around Fresh Pond, Devereux said.

“Overall, there’s very low awareness that this is all happening,” Devereux said. “We know that growth is inevitable, but there should be a public planning process that lays out what the goals are and what kinds of community amenities should be exchanged for letting the big developers make big money on these big buildings.”

On Tuesday, March 4, the Planning Board continued a hearing for a proposed residential development on New Street that would add 93 apartments to the area, on top of 54 units that developers AbodeZ and Acorn Holdings built in 2010.

Phil Terzis, vice president of project planning for Acorn Holdings, said they are still determining the mix of apartment types that will go into the new development. The application illustrated one- and two-bedroom units, but Terzis said they are considering adding three-bedroom apartments after getting feedback from the Planning Board. Despite the big influx in the supply of housing in the area, Terzis said they’ve haven’t had too much trouble renting the units out.

“It’s a pretty popular building,” Terzis said. “It rented up quickly and has stayed relatively full since then.”

Cambridge changed its zoning to allow more residential development in its industrial zones, and Terzis said that’s opened the door for developers to accommodate the city’s desire to see more housing. In a 2012 report by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, authors said the region would need to double its housing supply to keep up with increased demand.

According to the Cambridge Community Development Department, the median price for a one-bedroom apartment increased from $1,400 to $2,000 per month from 2000 to 2011, representing a 43 percent increase. Rents for three-bedroom apartments increased 33 percent, from a median price of roughly $2,000 to $3,000 per month in the same time period.

At the same time, pedestrian safety and traffic has long been an issue for residents in the Alewife and Fresh Pond area, Devereux said. Last year, two people living in Cambridge were seriously wounded or killed in pedestrian incidents along Alewife Brook Parkway, which is owned by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Sue Clippinger, director of Cambridge’s Traffic and Parking Department, said the roadway was already meeting the state’s standards.

That’s little comfort to Devereux, who said it “doesn’t seem wise” to be adding thousands of apartment units to already-congested streets that aren’t particularly pedestrian-friendly.

Several councilors campaigned on the need to draft a citywide plan, including Dennis Carlone and Nadeem Mazen. Carlone attended the Planning Board meeting to oppose the project, according to a blog post written by his aide, attorney Mike Connolly.

“Making a [new] neighborhood takes a great effort and the public domain is key, but that’s not what’s being discussed here,” Carlone said. He called for widening New Street to accommodate two-way traffic, bike lanes and wider sidewalks with larger trees to better screen the bulk of the proposed four-story building, according to the post.

Terzis said Acorn Holdings is currently engaged in surveying residents to determine how they access the Alewife MBTA station and is preparing to come back to the Planning Board with landscaping improvements. If approved, the apartment complex would replace a window manufacturing warehouse.

“We’re hoping it will be a nice addition to the neighborhood,” Terzis said.

Devereux said she’s not looking to halt the developer’s progress, but she is hoping to make a difference in the design.

“This is the first test case,” Devereux said. “I’m not naïve enough to say that we can stop the building, but I’d like it to be a positive addition to the neighborhood and not just a big box.”

The Planning Board has not yet rescheduled the hearing for 75 New St.

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