The Volpe Site

As chair of the Ordinance Committee, I am deeply involved in the many zoning proposals that come before our city. As you can imagine, given the interest in Cambridge real estate, it is a very busy but equally rewarding position. Currently, there is one zoning petition before the Ordinance Committee that I want to bring to the attention of all Cantabrigians, because ultimately, the developments will, in some way shape or form, impact each one of us.

The Volpe Center Rezoning Petition is complex and proposes the highest density and building heights in Cambridge. The current Volpe Center lies on 14 acres of federal land in the heart of Kendall Square and is a federally owned building that serves as a headquarters for a U.S. Dept. of Transportation agency. The Volpe Center wants to build a new transportation center, and for several reasons, has decided that they would seek development of a new building on four acres in exchange for remaining parcels of their 14 acres of land. As you can imagine, this approach, while in many respects financially prudent for the federal government, also means that Cambridge must deal with some complex financial and real estate matters. Additionally, representatives of the Government Services Administration (GSA), which is the federal government’s arm in charge of handling this project, has been unavailable for participation in our ordinance hearings and thus has not given members of the City Council an opportunity to better understand their position. Subsequently, there are many unanswered questions, including how much will the new building cost? What is the proposed height versus the amount of open space? What are the transportation repercussions? What we do know is that as a city we need to maximize community benefit with the proposed density increase— whether that is with open space, affordable housing, and/or other concessions.

This past week, the Council received two reports that seem to represent a good start in better understanding the overall Volpe Center picture. The first is a transportation impact analysis and the second is a financial feasibility analysis. Both of these reports provide greater insight into the overall financial and community impact of this development. 

The development of the Volpe site will be nothing short of transformative for Kendall Square and the City of Cambridge, and it is crucially important that we take the time to understand the situation and help shape the development so that we truly achieve a great urban design space. This area should be enjoyed for many generations to come and I want to make sure that we do everything in our power to make it as successful as possible. The city has to take a significantly stronger urban design investment in developing a physical plan to guide the GSA and its potential development teams to meet all city objectives for this area.

At this stage of the process, I do not feel comfortable approving this petition. I do look forward to working with the GSA, the East Cambridge Planning Committee and other stakeholders in order to best create an urban place that we all can be proud of and enjoy as a true part of our city.

I hope that you have a great weekend and are able to enjoy this unusually warm weather.

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