August 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009 - 7:00pm

Porter Square Neighbors Association Meeting Minutes

August 20, 2009


  • Revised parking plan for Kaya Hotel
  • St. James / Oaktree condominium update

Revised parking plan for Kaya Hotel

Michael McKee presented a revised design for parking at Hotel Kaya. He also introduced David Proch-Wilson, who will be the project manager. Also present was Mr. Gim, the owner. The key element is to use mechanical "stackers" operated by valets, enabling a single level of underground parking rather than the original two. The Planning Board and Traffic, Parking, and Transportation Department (TP&T) expressed several concerns, primarily that some drivers would be unwilling to use valet parking, and that if the valets were overwhelmed the queue could spill onto Massachusetts Avenue.

As a result, the plan is being revised to include some self-parking as well as the valet parking. The hotel has committed to monitoring congestion and providing mitigation for problems that arise. Details of the revised revision: 6 single spaces (one of which is handicapped accessible), 14 stackers handling 28 cars, and 6 additional valet-only aisle spaces for congested periods. During lulls people could park in the down position of the stackers but not operate them. This gives a maximum of 20 self parking spaces during lulls, or 40 spaces (all but 6 valet-only) at peak periods.

We expressed concern over what happens if somebody gets to the front of the queue and doesn't want to use valet parking. McKee responded that the surface loading dock allows you to make a three point turn and exit without parking. There is nothing the hotel can do to keep a Cambridge resident from parking on neighborhood streets, however. There was also concern about loading and truck access, though these do not change in the revised plan. Also touched upon were bicycle parking (12 spots in garage, possibly more in garden) and continuing concerns over deliveries and the loading zone. There was some information about construction. No contractor has been selected so there is not a detailed plan yet. The general idea is to use the rear (parking and eventual garden) as a staging area, prefabricating as much as possible offsite. All truck traffic will come from Mass Ave on the existing driveway. Construction will take 14-18 months and is hoped to start this fall.

St. James / Oaktree condominium update

Susan Hunziker gave an informal report. A subcommittee of direct abutters and neighbors was formed in June with the sponsorship of both PSNA and the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee. This committee, headed by John Armstrong, has met several times over the summer, both among themselves and with representatives of the church. The church also gave open houses and tours for the neighbors on July 12 and August 3.

There was some confusion over these; we expected direct discussions between the church/developer and the subcommittee; the church was expecting broad neighborhood participation (unlikely during the summer.) In fact the open house was sparsely attended, but there was some useful information presented. The subcommittee provided a flyer making three requests:

* Reduce the size, particularly the 4-story height

* Move the residential driveway and trash pickup to Mass Ave

* Design the building to harmonize with adjacent homes and buildings

Gwen Noyes of Oaktree has responded that the size is non-negotiable, that they cannot move the residential entrance to Mass Ave because the City (TP&T) wants it on Beech Street, and that they have already significantly modified the style and materials of the building to be more consistent with both the church and the abutting homes (and that they are still working on the design.)

The developers point out that the proposed building is considerably smaller than the zoning allows. The church is protecting themselves from this by demanding that the building design protect and enhance the church's garden. If the current proposal were to be rejected, it is possible that in a few years the church could run out of money and be forced to sell the garden or the entire property. Even if the church building itself were preserved for historical reasons, this could result in further condo or other development with unknown consequences.

With respect to traffic, the developers are working with TP&T to modify the sidewalk in front of the church and provide a six-car loading/dropoff zone for the church and for tenants such as the day school. This will also involve setting the front of the building back a bit and giving the city an easement so that the sidewalk width can be maintained. Kingdom Hall, the immediate abutter on Beech Street, is concerned over the impact of construction on their (antique) foundation.

Other abutters are concerned about loss of privacy in their back yards. While the church has prevailed upon Oaktree to eliminate balconies facing the church's garden, they are still planned facing the residential neighborhood, and there may also be a roof garden on the three-story setback portion of the roof. Both of these could be significant privacy concerns for abutters. At the August 6 meeting between the neighbors committee and the church, Oaktree presented a number of images and diagrams, including a study of shadows cast during the morning and evening hours. It does seem that shadowing itself will not be a significant problem.

John Armstrong asked whether they had a 3D software model of the project, which he thought would offer a better way to view the building and its impact than static images. They do; apparently few architects build physical models these days. Susan suggested that this model would offer a way for abutters to see the project and its impacts from their backyards and second and third floors. Oaktree was quite willing to invite abutters to their office to see this model, which really won't work on a laptop. Susan agreed to organize these "tours" and has contacted all direct abutters. The Cambridge Historical Commission is looking at sight lines on Mass Ave, and both they and the state historical commission may yet have some influence on the project. The developers expect to file their special permit application on about Sept. 10th with the planning board. They have also scheduled another public meeting that evening at 7 p.m. at the church. This will probably be their last major public presentation. T

he PSNA is planning to discuss our response to the proposal at our September meeting. For a collection of information and comments about this project, see our information page. The next PSNA meeting will be September 17.