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What to Look Forward to the Mass + Main in the City of Cambridge

Mass and Main, officially called Mass + Main, is a group consisting of three apartment buildings located on the corner of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. The project is in partnership with the city itself as the developer received zoning consent back in May of 2015.

The Plan, Approvals, and Other Details before the Construction

As mentioned, the developers gained approval in 2015. Two years later, the design was also approved in January. The final plan involved a mixed-income community that would feature a total of 308 apartment units that will be used for residential while retail will be on Columbia Street and Massachusetts Avenue.

Mass + Main will take a total of 307,000 square feet of space to offer a mixed-use community with excellent access to the subway on the MBTA Redline. The construction phase already started in November of 2017 and is anticipated to finish by the middle of the year 2020.

Before the construction, the property was where the Fortune 500 company Quest Diagnostics stood. In late 2012, it was sold to the developer that performed an extensive community outreach for four years. The outreach program included five open houses, as well as 25 public and community hearings. Plus, there were also more than 1,100 conversations to help improve the upcoming project they were building.

After collecting the data, they used what they had gathered to form a plan. A consensus was shaped and it involved a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) for a residential community. Out of the units, they would be comprised of affordable apartments and middle-income units (about 20% of the apartments). It would also consist of retail shops.

Three years after the purchase of the property, the City Council granted the zoning approval with a 7:2 vote ratio. The Planning Board, meanwhile, gave its nod for the Special Permits unanimously. The Special Permits are the last of the public approval required before getting the permits for the building.

It is noteworthy that when the City of Cambridge Planning Board accepted the proposal for Mass + Main, the original plan for the Central Square property was just to construct a total of 285 units. Additionally, the initial proposal said it would only have two buildings with one fronting Columbia Street and the other on Massachusetts Avenue.

Later on, the developers decided to demolish the garage nearby at 47 Bishop Allen Drive. They were going to transform it into a four-story building, which would be comprised of 23 units. These units would feature residences of family sizes. When this plan was proposed, it was later approved by the Planning Board.

Why Central Square

With several locations to choose from, the developers were once asked why they opted for Central Square for the project out of the other Boston metropolitan areas. According to them, the location is an excitingly vibrant place that already has lots of entertainment, restaurants, shops, and cultural organizations. These things are all surrounded by residential neighborhoods, which make the area quite attractive, not only for the renters and possible homeowners but also for businesses looking for a new home.

Central Square was once a bustling district in the 1920s where it was a hub for commercial transactions. There were a total of six department stores and there was the Central Square Cinema right at the intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue. Unfortunately, this part of the community declined in the 1950s until the 1970s because of the battle concerning I-695, which was to be built with six lanes. The neighborhood prevailed and no highway was constructed.

Because of Central Square’s rich history, mainly as a civic, cultural, and shopping centers in the downtown area of Cambridge, it is the perfect location for a project like Mass + Main.

Some Hurdles

Just recently, the project faced a lawsuit. It is considered as one of the most extensive proposals for a mixed-use development in Cambridge and there were some people and groups that were against it. The developers were able to reach a deal with an organization. The lawsuit was about the negative impacts that the huge project would have on the neighborhood.

It all started when there was a petition circulating with the aim of reducing the height of the development. The plan was for it to stand 195 feet. According to the group, it should only go as tall as 150 feet and the petition went around as early as January 2017. It was presented to the authorities by a member of the School Committee, along with one of the former councilors of the city. The mayor also joined the presentation of the petition.

The mayor agreed the Mass + Main proposal was too tall for the neighborhood and would be incompatible with the rest of the parts of Central Square. He also questioned the benefit of the project to the location itself, particularly to the adjacent structures, such as St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. The other buildings, as believed by the group of activists, would be dwarfed and overwhelmed by the upcoming construction.

They also emphasized that the 200-foot building did not belong in the neighborhood. The petition was later known as the Harding petition based on the name of the School Committee member. The group was asking for the project to be reduced in height to only 150 feet. At the same time, it should also increase the affordable housing requirements from 20% to 25%.

The executive developer stated that they were saddened by the petition and its approval would ultimately kill the project. He also added that the existing landscape would be left in its place as an empty piece of land for years to come. For the side of the developers, it was more about the fate of the project and not just the height and the number of affordable apartment units.

For several weeks, discussions were made and there were arguments as well. However, in April 2017, the developers and the group of people that were against some aspects of the project met and they were all able to reach a negotiation. It was good news for the firm as they could finally proceed with the construction. As for the other group, they could continue to serve the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Planning Board rejected the petition with 5:0 votes. It was presented to them in January and the voting was performed in March. There were no details regarding the settlement. However, one thing is for sure and that was the end of the legal dispute. It allowed Mass + Main to continue as planned.

The Groundbreaking Ceremony

With the project given the go-signal by the authorities, its approval gave way to one of the most important ceremonies for a development. Groundbreaking for Mass + Main took place on the 16th of November 2017. The announcement of the activity was made on the project’s official website.

According to the proclamation, the groundbreaking event would take place at the Lafayette Square or the Jill Brown-Rhone Park, along 411 Massachusetts Avenue in the city of Cambridge. As with other ceremonies, the team that represented the developers broke ground to celebrate the start of the construction process of Mass + Main, a mixed-income community that will soon feature residential apartment units at the intersection of Main Street and Mass Ave in Central Square.

The Thursday event started at 3:30 PM and lasted till 4:15. It was held in a tent that faced the site of the project itself. Everyone was welcome to attend the celebration.

The event was simple but there were a few personalities that caught the attention of the press as well as the onlookers. Aside from the developers, the mayor of the city was there, too. The state treasurer also joined the event to show support for the 308,000 square feet development in the thriving neighborhood.

During the event, the developers talked a little bit about the project, explaining that they would start the construction of apartments and retail spaces that would overlook Lafayette Square. The location is ideal many people, especially those who live a consistently busy life because of work or studies. The project goes along the MBTA’s Red Line. It will also touch the areas between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University.

The project is given a total budget of $190 million and is a joint venture between the capital partner and the developer. The construction will soon have three buildings upon completion. However, it will go through different phases first with the first one expected to finish in the fall of 2018. The target date for the conclusion of the project is in mid-2020, although the developers also want to finish quickly around 2019.

One of the most talked about aspects of the building is that it targets to receive LEED Gold, which is a certification that is recognized all over the world. When a project or structure is provided with this award, it means that it has accomplished sustainability requirements and standards. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and currently, it is one of the most used rating systems for “green buildings.”

LEED is given to all project types namely buildings, communities, and homes. It delivers a framework so that structures will create healthy, cost-saving, and highly-efficient buildings that are friendly to the environment.

In the case of the Mass + Main project, the LEED Gold certification will be due to the sustainable features of the structure, including its energy tracking, green roof terraces, and wind energy qualities. Additionally, the apartment community will make sure that all units do not allow smoking inside the premises.

What Does the Future Hold for Mass + Main?

The developers are quite vocal regarding what will happen to Mass + Main. As mentioned, it will be a mixed-income community, which will mark the entrance to Central Square. There are a total of 285 apartments, which will be situated in two buildings while 23 more would settle on Bishop Allen Drive. The developers promise to provide 20% of the units to be affordable and middle income. The passageways will be connected to public spaces.

Aside from the community, there will be shops, food vendors, and restaurants that are right at the passageways and sidewalks. These groups present an easy way for the residents and the tenants to gain access to shops, stores, and food. It will definitely have a bustling marketplace in the area.

Living in Mass + Main will have its many perks. One is that residents will not have to worry about parking. Although the garage will be eliminated, parking will be moved underground, which is more convenient. The developers also stated that there would be more affordable units and housing. Retail will activate the passageways and there will be no problems with flooding and storm. This is because there is a new storm system onsite.

After the first phase of the project and the two buildings are finished, the apartments are expected to welcome their residents during the fall of 2019.

Other Important Facts about the Mass + Main Development

Mass + Main is primarily a residential development. As mentioned, it will have approximately 230 apartment units, which will be situated in the two buildings that are being constructed since November 2017. The project, once completed, will have an unprecedented mix of about 40 moderate-income housing and low-income units. Approximately 17% of the overall plan would comprise of the low-income ones.

Another 10% of the total number of units will be assigned with three bedrooms and these will be spread to the two buildings. There will also be ground floor retail space, as well as a community open area. It will connect to a public park (Lafayette) at the intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue, which is in Central Square.

The vision of the site started with the conversion of the lab buildings of the Quest Diagnostics firm. The developers also aimed at transforming a lot of the areas on the block at the boundaries of Douglass Street, Columbia Street, Bishop Allen Drive, and Massachusetts Avenue. The development would convert these areas into a mixed-income community where people can reside.

The developers specialize in this kind of project, along with urban and transit-oriented plans. They put a substantial importance on housing and they are working together with the community of East Cambridge, particularly with the two apartment buildings that are currently under construction. They have also joined forces with local restaurants located along the Broad Canal, which is situated in Kendall Square.

The project was expected to break ground in 2016 during the summer season. The first occupancy was supposed to be in spring 2018. However, it was delayed because of the approval process and the lawsuit as well. The first occupancy may happen in 2019.

According to the proponents of the project, the Mass + Main development has many benefits for the community. For one, it would supply a highly sustainable housing for those looking for a place to live. There is also a local emphasis on retail, which would welcome merchants from all over the city. The project would also help improve the experience of the pedestrians as well as the urban feel of the community.

As it is transit-oriented, the development is conveniently situated near the Red Line stop at Central Square. It will also provide easy access to numerous bus routes. The development plans will integrate enough parking on the existing parking facilities nearby since the developer owns about 70% of the parking spaces. They envision that most of the residents will take advantage of the public transportation, along with the offered car and bicycle sharing services. These changes can help minimize the effect on local traffic.

For those who are curious about the location of the parking area, it will actually be in two locations. These places were the same ones used by the previous owners of the property, Quest Diagnostics Inc. The first location is a surface parking lot, which is right at 65 Bishop Allen Drive. The second one is at 47 Bishop Allen Drive and is the bigger one out of the two. It features a three-story garage where the residents and the retailers that rent in the community can park their vehicles safely.

Among the controversies of the Mass + Main construction is its height. The developers have made a proper announcement regarding how tall the buildings will be. According to them, the three buildings are of proper height as approved by the authorities. The taller one will be constructed along Massachusetts Avenue, which will stand a total of 195 feet. The height is important for the mixed-income project to work based on the statement of the developers.

They believe that the location is just right for the height that they proposed and approved of by the officials of the city. The total height of this tall building will define the quality of residential properties in this part of Central Square. The developers believe that since the tallest of the three buildings will be at the edge of the neighborhood, it will help Central Square stand out from the other nearby communities.

Additionally, it promotes the residential character of Central Square in contrast to the floor plates of offices and labs that are already constructed in the area. Meanwhile, the second building will be built along Columbia Street and will only be as high as 70 feet.

The explanations regarding the height of the buildings are important, particularly for the citizens, the frequent visitors, and the critics of the project. Many were worried whether or not the tall constructions would cast shadows on the neighborhoods close to the area. This is one of the major concerns of the people whenever there are new developments in their neighborhood and those that are nearby their place.

For the Mass + Main project, the developers promised that they would place their taller building at the edge of Central Square or on Massachusetts Avenue. In doing so, the shadows, especially on the park located at Columbia Street. As for the Lafayette Square Park, the developers guarantee that there will be no shadows at all when the construction is finished.

Aside from the housing units, the alternatives to housing provided by the designers are office buildings that would be as tall as 80 feet. These buildings are currently legitimate under the present zoning of the development using a special permit.

The renderings of the buildings have been out for quite some time, which allowed those who are interested in taking a look at what the project would look like once it is completed. The developers, however, mentioned that the renderings they have provided to the public are not the final designs for the program. In fact, they have been receiving feedback on the use of public workshops. They use the feedback to determine the other design options for the buildings.

When asked about why the project is different from the latest Planning Unit Developments (PUDs) or the zoning approvals, the team of developers explained that the program does not seek any kind of commercial development privileges for both lab and office development. What they sought for was simply for new development rights for the housing units. As a result, the zoning approvals for Mass + Main are different from the new ones.

PUDs describe a certain kind of regulatory and development process, which allows the developer to reach the overall density of the community as well as the land use. Such standards and goals are not bound by the current zoning requirements.

Meanwhile, when basing the effects of the height of the buildings throughout the Central Square area, the developers believe that they are of appropriate tallness. The 185 feet tall building is set to define the neighborhood with its affordable parking and housing requirements. These things are all part of the zoning proposal, which is why the developers were able to defend the height of their tallest proposed building. Ultimately, the zoning approval was a democratic process, according to the team behind the project. Additionally, the community was the last one to make a decision as to whether or not the height is suitable for both Central Square and the nearby Kendall Square. The latter actually accepts up to 300 feet as the maximum height for the structures that may surround it.

Apart from the mentioned facts, the North Point, which is adjacent to Central Square, has a height of more than 220 feet in specific locations. Therefore, it is difficult for some other parcels to have a debate about the height of the Mass + Main development since its highest peak will reach 195 feet only. It also meets the requirements for affordable housing zoning for the location.

Main + Mass Construction Updates

The very first part of the construction process involved the demolition of the garage, which was situated at 47 Bishop Allen Drive. It started quite recently and was targeted to be finished by September 2017 and many citizens were actually pleased since the old garage was considered an eye sore for the neighborhood.

After the garage was demolished, it would be replaced with fresh housing units. A total of 23 apartments that are for rent will stand in its place. The apartments will be located in a four-story building that has been designed to have wood as its frames. Work was expected to begin right after demolition was finished. The new building is set to have generous landscaping and setbacks while giving the neighbors plenty of space. This particular building is scheduled to be open for renters in August of 2018.

The first building obviously is already past its planning stage as it is already under construction. As for the two remaining buildings, the planning continues. By the time the developers provided the first update regarding the construction process, they had divulged that they were still coordinating with the Cambridge City Council and other authorities, as well as the neighbors of the development to make sure that the two buildings would satisfy everyone.

At that time, it was set that the properties left by Quest Diagnostics would be demolished. These properties were two buildings consisting of two and three stories. Meanwhile, the construction of foundations and a garage is set to begin around the middle of next year. The rest of the rental apartments – a total of 285 units – and 17,000 square feet of space to be used by retails shops will be spread throughout the two buildings at this part of Central Square. The developers expect that the construction will be completed in early 2020.

The Mass + Main development team had already started the construction when the second update for the project’s progress was delivered for the public to view. According to the news, changes in the parking lot were chosen by the team. Public parking spaces, which were originally located at Parking Lot #6, will soon be transferred to the street across the original place. The spaces will then be situated at 65 Bishop Allen Drive.

The closed parking lot was used as the staging area for the development procedures of Mass + Main, as well as the other projects of the city, including the Storm Water Management. Additionally, the demolition of buildings was performed along Columbia Street. It was expected that this part of the project would be accomplished very quickly and thankfully, everything went well.

Fencing was also erected, which initiated the demolition of the buildings at Mass Ave (which were the buildings of Quest Diagnostics). Meanwhile, the city parking lot was also fenced off after replacement areas were opened at the new location at Bishop Allen Drive.

Construction also began at 47 Bishop Allen Drive, which consists of the 20+ apartments starting October. This process is expected to be completed in 2018 with no set date but the target month is August. Mass + main construction will continue until 2020.

Finally, the very recent updates from the construction procedures of the Mass + Main development included the confirmation that the Quest Diagnostics buildings were eradicated. Five of the buildings were removed from the site in which the whole process took six weeks. These structures were located along Columbia Street and Mass Ave. Currently, cleanup is being performed to remove building debris. This procedure is crucial as the next step is to construct the foundations and the basement for the building with six stories on the garage located at Mass Avenue and Columbia Street.

It should also be noted that foundations will exist along Columbia Street in which rigs will install them for the basement of the building. The developers cautioned the citizens that vibration may be felt as it is normal and may last for about a week.

More about Central Square and Cambridge City Real Estate

With the upcoming residential apartment units, potential renters and residents may be wondering how much it would cost to live in Cambridge City. Lowell and other nearby areas are on the rise based on the Lowell real estate market trends. It makes sense that Cambridge is also enjoying a growth in sales prices. Over the past year, Cambridge has seen an increase of a total of eight percent to $54,500 as the average home sales this 2017.

The sellers have many reasons to rejoice about, including the fact that the average price for every square foot has also increased from $708 to $767. Both Lowell and Cambridge have experienced a decrease in the year over year for one bedroom units. However, two-bedroom units are up in prices.

As for three-bedroom units, which are what 10% of the Mass + Main project would entail, the prices are up 18% in Cambridge, averaging $1,125,000, which is quite expensive compared to nearby cities. For instance, Lowell real estate properties featuring three bedrooms only cost an average of $280,000.

Cambridge has always been viewed as a costly area for renting and living. However, the rewards are quite evident. With the progress of the Mass + Main project, there are plenty of reasons to live and work in this part of the city.

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