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January 2009

Porter Square Neighbors Association Meeting Minutes
January 15, 2009

Agenda

  • Postal Customer Advisory Group (did not happen; presenter was delayed)
  • Lesley University Master Plan
  • AIB relocation and zoning proposal
  • Ears to the ground

Lesley University Master Plan

Lesley University presented their master plan for their three-part campus in Cambridge consisting of the original Quad campus on Oxford Street, the Brattle campus shared the Episcopal Divinity School, and the Porter Square campus. They view themselves as being integrated with the urban environment, using Massachusetts Avenue as both a connection corridor (the campuses are about a 10 minute walk apart) and a sort of student union with a wide variety of amenities to their students, faculty, and staff. Much more information about the master plan is online as part of their annual “Town and Gown” report.

Immediate plans involve relocating the Art Institute of Boston to the Porter Campus. More about this below. In the long term, Lesley envisions office buildings with ground floor retail on the two parking lots across from University Hall, and additional structures, probably including underground parking, behind University Hall. This is far in the future, however.

Arts Institute of Boston elocation and zoning proposal

Lesley plans to relocate AIB, which currently has 525 Bachelor of Fine Arts and 90 Master of Fine Arts students, to the Porter Campus. This will require a substantial new building at the site currently occupied by the former North Prospect Church, immediately south of University Hall (the old Sears building), and a substantial zoning change. For more information, see Lesley's web site about the AIB Relocation.

They have filed a zoning amendment petition with the city. It expires March 11, so they expect a decision by then. If the zoning request passes, they begin the permitting process which will involve a number of studies and hearings before the Planning Board. Specifics may be found at Lesley's draft zoning amendment
and their associated commitments. In summary, the proposal would

  • create a new “Lesley Porter Overlay District” consisting of all Lesley property in Porter square,
  • allow increased density within the overlay district sufficient for the AIB building and possible future construction on the Porter campus,
  • rezone the North Prospect Church property as Business C, like University Hall and other Lesley properties in Porter Square,
  • limit the height of future buildings on the west side of Massachusetts Avenue and require ground floor retail,
  • strongly encourage building any future parking structures underground, and
  • require public open space in front of the new AIB building and green space behind University Hall (if and when something built there.)

Questions from the floor

Q: Will the Maud Morgan art center be moved into AIB?

A: In the planning 4,000 sq ft (of 100,000 sq ft) are being set aside for a possible move of the Maud Morgan art center, however, the decision has not been made by the Maude Morgan board.

Q: How will the additional parking demand generated by AIB be handled, and what about parking displaced by future buildings on the current parking lots?

A: The Lesley / neighborhood working group have been discussing the issues of parking and of open space at great length. Lesley will be moving significant existing activities, with the associated parking, to the EDS campus. They believe this will free up sufficient parking space for AIB. Zoning requires that any parking places removes through building on existing lots must be replaced, probably by (underground) parking behind University Hall.

Q: A neighbor on Frost Street was not in favor of a dormitory behind University Hall.

A: Lesley believes they already have nearly sufficient dorm space for 1000 students. They currently house 725, plus 98 units now being built. In any event, there are no concrete plans and no funding to build anything there at present, and future projects would require their own permitting process.

We want your opinion on this proposal. Comments can be sent directly to the City Council or can be communicated to the Lesley Neighborhood working group via the the PSNA email list or working group representatives John Howard and Susan Hunziker. In the past we have expressed general support for bringing AIB to Porter Square on the grounds that it will enhance the vitality of Massachusetts Avenue and Porter Square, create a more lively streetscape, and take advantage of available public transportation.

Ears to the ground

One neighbor complained of poor service from Verizon. She was without a phone for 7 days and not satisfied with Verizon's excuses. Other meeting participants suggested a number of ways to escalate the problem to Verizon management and various regulators.

The next meeting is February 19.