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July 2007

There was no meeting in June.

EMACK AND BOLIO'S
Bob Rook of Emack & Bolio's arrived with three different flavors of ice cream and an eagerness to hear our complaints, which were largely about the erratic hours. E&B has one employee for each shift in the slow season and two in the high season. In the slow season, the store has to close so that the employee can go to the bathroom or the bank or get supplies from Star Market. Signs on the door such as "Back in 15 minutes" don't mean much because there is no indication of when the countdown started.

Mr. Rook acknowledged a problem with an employee, who has since been fired, in the winter/spring period. He was surprised to hear that the problem has continued. Someone suggested that he get one of those signs with a clock to indicate when the store would be open; he agreed to do that and will also look into what the problem might be now. He wants to fix it; if he hasn't send a report to me as we did for the post office, with a date and time, and I'll pass it along

The discussion turned to the lack of seating on the plaza outside. E&B stores some tables and chairs, but not enough to accommodate the demand and enliven the plaza. I suggested that Gravestar talk to Healthworks about handling this storage because they have more space and are open much earlier. Astrid suggested an installed table and benches like those in Davis Square. Si Shapiro agreed to bring this up with the city and with Gravestar.

Mr. Rook also said that that E&B hasn't raised prices in 2 years and is also $0.40 cheaper than JP Licks in Davis Square. I haven't had a chance to conduct any market research on this point, but I certainly intend to.

Also, E&B offers, but does not include on its menu, a smaller, cheaper cone for children. Attendants are supposed to offer it when parents are buying ice cream for their small childen, which is how you're supposed to find out. This option is not promoted to avoid a run on it by Patrons Of A Certain Age who merely want to continue to see their own feet.

Contrary to appearances, our local E&B is "doing just fine" in terms of being profitable to stay there, but Mr. Rook is definitely interested removing any barriers to selling more ice cream.

ZIPCAR
We had time to talk about the issue that Daniel Schutzberg raised on the list about the Zipcars that materialized in the driveway of the residential lot next to his house. Inspectional Services spoke with the new owner of 2-8 Orchard, who owns this lot, and the cars will be removed in the next couple of weeks. It is not legal to run a business (commercial) out of a residential lot. Zipcars have commercial license plates.

The process by which this all happened leaves much to be desired. The owner who leased the spaces to Zipcar needed to communicate with the city and the abutters, and abide by zoning. A regional manager for Zipcar came to check out the site, found nothing wrong, and apparently assumed that the owner had done what the city required of him. So they just made a deal.

Residents apparently have no way of knowing whether the process was followed for the other Zipcar spaces that are turning up in various residential locations unless they inquire.

Does anyone want to pursue this? (Don't look at me; my dance card is full.)

FARMER'S MARKET
I have learned since the meeting that there will be no market in Porter Square this summer because a manager could not be found.

REVIEW OF PLANS FOR HOTEL KAYA
EVENTS SINCE MAY
After Mr. Gim presented his preliminary plans at our May meeting, Michael Brandon was concerned that not all abutters had been heard from. He leafleted part of Porter Road ahead of the meeting with North Cambridge Stabilization the following week, where Mr. Gim presented his plans. Michael was correct: Many folks on Porter Road had not heard about this project, and some had complaints about the operations of Kaya.

Mr. Gim contacted me afterward, and when we met, I suggested that he meet with residents of Porter Road to inform them of his plans and to hear their complaints. My thought was that he needed to understand these problems and address them in his plans. He held that meeting on Tuesday, July 17.

The abutters' complaints concerned rats, lingering odors associated with washing greasy equipment on the sidewalk, and employees who park in the loading zone. I understand that the rat problem had been taken care of sometime in the spring.

THE PLANS

The presentation to the abutters and PSNA consisted of three plans: the preliminary one we saw in May, a newer version that responded to some of the comments from that meeting, and an apartment building that could be built as of right.

The size of the hotel project has not changed: 54 rooms with 38 parking spaces. The latest plan has two restaurants instead of one (the karaoke bar is back) that sop up the 210 seats that Kaya has licenses for. The building is 4 stories with 18 rooms on each of the top 3 floors.

The traffic & parking plan is the same: all spaces are underground, with tandem (valet) parking for 14 spaces; cars will enter on Mass Ave and exit on Porter Road through a new curb cut.

The apartment building would include the affordable housing bonus and would contain 42 units, each 300 sq. ft. Required parking (42 spaces) would be at and below grade. The section of the lot that is zoned for residential use is 40% open space, as required. This space is in two places on the site: the larger area is close to the abutters on Porter Park and the smaller one is along Porter Road. The plan for the lot includes the curb cut on Porter Road, which would not be available as of right.

Mr. Gim said that he would prefer to build the hotel.

The new plan for the hotel responds to our comments about the undifferentiated wall by adding some bay windows and breaking the façade into two parts, with a notched section that turns in from the sidewalk a little bit and has a different facing material. The unnotched section is cantilevered over the outdoor seating for the restaurant, as shown in the previous plan.

ISSUES RAISED

Operational

A laundry room and other facilities that would service the hotel are in the underground story. It is not clear where all the functions will go and whether space for the sort of cleaning of kitchen equipment that has bothered abutters is part of this area. The concern is to handle all of this stuff on site and far from residential structures. Obviously, there wasn't enough time between Tuesday and Thursday to flesh this out, but it needs to be done.

Another concern was noise from the karaoke bar, which Mr. Gim pointed out would be in the basement.

Someone asked whether an engineer had checked the drainage system. Flooding and sewer problems were and still are common in that area.

Hotel vs. housing

Some residents of Porter Road would prefer housing to a hotel. One person asked whether a hybrid of hotel and housing was an option.

The size and the appearance of the building

The new plans do not respond to the concerns raised in May about the massing of the building. In May, we had suggested setting back the top floor and considering other ways to make this large building look smaller than it is. Thus, it remains The Incredible Hulk, reinforcing the very thing that folks detest about the Long Funeral Home across the street: its scale.

When the possibility of making the hotel smaller (as in fewer rooms) was raised, Mr. Gim said that the fewest he could have was 48. Fewer rooms would have to go for rates higher than $200, which is the figure he's working with now. A comparison to the Kendall Hotel, which charges $300 and up, suggests the hotel might be a more up-scale building, but the resulting higher rates would not make the hotel an option for residents to put up guests.

Traffic flow + curb cut

There are several issues.

First, the loading dock is at the rear right corner of the building along the driveway and close to the entrance to the underground parking. Concerns were raised about whether there was sufficient room for trucks to make the turn on the site and for vehicles to enter and exit the garage when a truck is parked by the dock. A loading bay, in which trucks pull out of the stream of traffic, such as those behind Star Market, might be required.

Second, how traffic enters and leaves the site is probably the biggest concern. Traffic would enter on Mass Ave and leave on Porter Road. This curb cut required to make this work would eliminate two on-street parking spaces. This loss would be enormous to Porter Road residents. Many folks would prefer that all traffic enter and leave on Mass Ave.

Third, a serious traffic study is required and it needs to be based on input from residents.

Fourth, parking for employees is not addressed. Mr. Gim estimates that 30 employees, 15 employees on the morning and swing shift; 4-5 on the night shift. He will subsidize T passes for employees, but some will not be able to or want to use public transportation.

The park in the back

There were differences of opinion about the open space behind the building. Residents of Porter Park suggested that the residential portion of the lot become a park. Mr. Gim has presented the park as an amenity that would be open to the public. Some abutters like this idea, but other abutters would prefer resident-only parking. Another concern about the park is that it would attract vagrants, particularly at night; others point out that because the park is on private property, it would be easier to remove any members of the public who attempt to live there.