Where will the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority go next?
Over the past year, the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) has been engaged in an internal strategizing and reorganization process. Now, they’re trying to decide where in the city they could be needed next.
In May 2012, former City Manager Robert Healy replaced all of the city-appointed board members amid concerns that the board lacked a quorum of members. The authority’s former executive director, Joseph Tulimieri, later resigned after the authority learned he approved salaries and a retirement payout, among other expenditures, that were not authorized by the board.
At a March 26 strategy meeting at the Cambridge Public Library, CRA chairwoman Kathy Born said the new board has since been engaged in a nearly two-year-long process of reorganization, beginning with hiring a new executive director, Tom Evans, last spring. At the same time, they pulled Kathryn Madden on board as strategic planning consultant to help guide the authority’s next moves.
“It took us about a year to do an initial assessment that included some questioning about the direction the CRA was going in and where it would be going,” Born said. “After we decided redevelopment had a purpose in the city, we embarked upon a strategic planning process.”
Half-way through the process now, Born said it was time to enter the “listening phase.” Evans said the authority is reaching out to neighborhood and business groups as well as holding public forums and inviting people to give feedback through the authority’s CoUrbanize website.
“We’re just listening to ideas at this point and meeting with residents to understand the issues,” Evans said. “We haven’t done any specific planning for any particular redevelopment project.”
Since the CRA already owns the a lot on Third Street and a parcel of land slated to be used for the Grand Junction Pathway, Evans said they would likely move forward with those parcels. The City Council has also expressed interest in having the CRA help with the redevelopment of the Foundry Building.
Unlike city and state government agencies, redevelopment authorities have the ability to buy and sell land to private developers for redevelopment, but don’t have to follow prescriptive public land disposition or procurement laws. That means greater flexibility in negotiating land deals, Evans said.
Nothing can be done however, Evans cautioned, without a vote of the City Council.
The public comment period ends April 7, and the authority is expected to release a draft strategic plan April 16, with a final plan expected to be released in May. Below is a summary of the 10 projects proposed:
1. 1st and 2nd Street Corridor: This corridor contains some disparate and underutilized properties in a key zone between the historic East Cambridge neighborhood, Cambridgeside Galleria, courthouse redevelopment, Lechmere station, and Kendall Square activities.
2. 3rd Street Lot: The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority owns this 6,000-square-foot lot on the corner of 3rd Street and Binney Street. Recently the site has been used for construction staging site but could accommodate an interim retail/commercial or other use.
3. Concord/Alewife Quadrangle: This 94-acre district between the railroad and Concord Avenue has over 1.5 million square feet of industrial, research, office, schools, and new housing developments. The focus of a 2005-2006 city planning study and rezoning, the area lacks a good roadway network and access across the tracks to the Alewife Station.
4. Foundry: This 60,000-square-foot, city-owned building is currently vacant and in need of renovation. The city is currently discussing its program and development process.
5. Fresh Pond Shopping Center: This auto-oriented retail center was developed in 1978; the 16-acre site currently has an Activity Use Limitation from MassDEP due to former industrial uses.
6. Grand Junction Path: The CRA owns 1.75 acres of open space along this proposed two-mile, multi-use linear path, which will connect East Cambridge, Kendall Square, and Cambridgeport, as proposed in the 2001 East Cambridge Planning Study and a 2006 Feasibility Study.
7. O’Brien Corridor: State Route 28 is a six-lane arterial highway fronted by some vacant and underutilized sites. The adjacent Green Line extension and community path and a proposed roadway redesign will bring change to this area.
8. Vail Court: This 24-unit residential property is in poor condition with boarded up units on the ground floor. The 0.65-acre site is close to the heart of Central Square.
9. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center: The U.S. Department of Transportation conducts state-of-the-art research on this 14-acre site. The existing buildings (340,000 square feet) need reinvestment, and the recent K2C2 plan recommended additional residential, office, and open space development on the site.
10. Webster Avenue: Industrial uses in this area are incompatible with adjacent housing and businesses, and some properties need remediation. This edge of Cambridge is adjacent to the future Green Line Station and proposed development in Somerville.
Residents can weigh in on the plans online at: courbanize.com/cambridge/cambridge-redevelopment-authority-strategic-plan.