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Beal Withdraws Request to Rezone Cambridge Property for Less Residential Space

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Beal Companies has withdrawn — for now — its request to Cambridge, Mass., officials that they rezone land north of Beal's One Kendall Square mixed-use complex into a separate project that would feature more laboratory and other commercial uses, and less residential space, than the city currently allows.

"We withdrew our request in order to provide time for more conversations with the neighbors and community. We look forward to re-filing our petition in the near future," Peter Spellios, senior vice president and general counsel for Beal, told BioRegion News via e-mail this afternoon.

About a dozen residents expressed opposition to the rezoning petition at a Cambridge City Council meeting last month, citing concerns over the height of the project, the effect on traffic and quality of life, and what they said was Beal's unresponsiveness until then to community needs; Beal countered that it had some 40 meetings with individual neighbors and civic groups [BRN, March 16].

At the time, Beal told BRN it had yet to determine the amount of lab and commercial space it would allot for the land, though the real estate developer did say it would all be contained in a six-story building at the northeast corner of Binney Street and Cardinal Medeiros Way.

The new project would have risen north of the nine-building, 676,000-square-foot One Kendall Square, a mixed-use project that includes laboratory space for tenants seeking to be within walking distance of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the nearby cluster of life-sci companies.

Its highlight was to have been a six-story, 85-foot-tall building — 40 feet higher than the site's height limit for commercial buildings, subject to setbacks of at least 100 feet from Cardinal Medeiros Way, and 20 feet higher than the high end of the 35- to 65-foot limit allowed by current zoning for various residential properties within the neighborhood. When a "penthouse" story for mechanical systems not included in height calculations is accounted for, the building would have been 105 feet tall.

Project plans also called for reducing the size of an existing seven-level, 1,530-space garage, but maintaining the remainder of that facility; preserving the nine-screen Kendall Square Cinema as a cultural venue; and relocating the Bright Horizons day care center from a basement location to an above-ground space with adjacent outdoor play area.

The opposition to Beal's rezoning request arose during a year when all nine council seats are up for election. At the council's April 6 meeting, Councilors David Maher and Tim Toomey introduced a resolution urging the council to formally ask Beal to consider immediate withdrawal of its plan, "and engage in further dialogue with neighborhood leaders and affected neighbors such that a full discussion can be had prior to any re-filing."

"The cynic in me wonders if the real motivation for this order is to make sure that any deadlines for City Council action on such a zoning petition would occur after Election Day this November," wrote Robert Winters, editor of the online news outlet Cambridge Civic Journal (emphasis in the original).

In February, the City Council approved rezoning 15.7 acres of the city's East Cambridge section for a $1 billion, 1.8 million square-foot laboratory development planned by Alexandria Real Estate Equities [BRN, Feb. 17].

Beal hasn't said when it might re-file its rezoning request — but is saying it has no plans to give up on additional development north of One Kendall.

"Beal remains fully committed to this project. It is a great project for the city of Cambridge. We look forward to further conversations with the neighbors and the city, and are open-minded about ways in which to make this project even better for everyone," Spellios said.

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