This story ran on page 6 of the Boston Globe on 5/17/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

New plan offered for Cambridge site
By Richard Kindleberger, Globe Staff, 5/17/2001

A neighborhood of 5,000 or more residents would rise on abandoned rail yards in East Cambridge under a moribund proposal given new life with the selection of a new development manager, the partners said yesterday.

Spaulding & Slye Colliers joins the 45-acre property's owner, Guilford Transportation Industries Inc., in pushing the $1 billion-plus project.

The development is also expected to include office and research buildings, retail, and a hotel.

The site, in an area known as North Point, is described as the last large parcel left for development in Cambridge. It forms a triangle bordered by Somerville, the Museum Towers apartment complex, and the Monsignor O'Brien Highway.

As part of the plan, the developers would move the Lechmere Green Line MBTA station across the O'Brien Highway and win rights to redevelop the existing T site in return. They are considering building a pedestrian bridge over the highway to improve access to the new neighborhood, now isolated by the roadway.

''I see just enormous opportunity in creating something that integrates the area into the rest of East Cambridge,'' said David Vickery, Spaulding & Slye's principal in charge.

His firm replaces Farmer & Flier Associates of Brookline, which got off to a bad start two years ago when Cambridge politicians learned of the plan in the newspapers. Farmer & Flier's partners were also dogged by conflict-of-interest questions related to their partial ownership of a separate firm used by the T to redevelop and manage other properties. Even though they were later cleared by the state Ethics Commission, Guilford dropped them because of the controversy.

The revived proposal received a somewhat warmer welcome yesterday, although observers said the key to its success would be how closely the developers work with the city and the neighborhood. Mayor Anthony D. Galluccio said that with good planning and consultation, ''the development of this unused industrial railway site presents enormous opportunities.''

Timothy J. Toomey Jr. of East Cambridge, a city councilor and the district's state representative, noted that the developers are proceeding ''very cautiously'' this time. The previous team ''came out of the sky with this massive proposal for the area, which just blew everyone away,'' he said.

Vickery spoke of building 2,000 to 3,000 housing units, but Toomey said the higher figure would be ''absolutely'' too many. He also thought the 6,000 to 8,000 new residents talked of by Vickery would overburden the area with traffic.

Toomey said he hoped the development would provide housing for all income levels and blue-collar manufacturing jobs. He wanted open space big enough for a sports field, rather than half-acre parcels with ''a couple of benches and some trees.''

Dave Fink, president of Guilford, said his company has never pursued a development project this big. ''We want to build a neighborhood is our main idea,'' he said. He said it needed to be both ''acceptable to the community and economically viable.''

Moving the T station across O'Brien Highway is required by mitigation agreements reached in connection with the $14 billion Big Dig project. It is intended to permit extending the Green Line to Medford.

Seth Kaplan, a Conservation Law Foundation lawyer, said the North Point proposal has promise.

''From a smart-growth, urban development point of view,'' he said, ''we need more housing, we need it in the urban core, and we need it on transit.''

Richard Kindleberger can be reached by e-mail at
This story ran on page 6 of the Boston Globe on 5/17/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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