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Google’s expansion plan riles neighbors

Plan has some in Cambridge fearing loss of parkland

Concern about this rooftop public park between Four and Five Cambridge Center may derail Google’s current expansion plan.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Google Inc.’s proposal to expand its offices in Kendall Square is facing stubborn opposition from neighbors and some Cambridge city councilors, who say the plan must be changed to preserve park space.

The plan, which calls for construction of a 25,000-square-foot glass connector between existing Google offices and an adjacent building, has sparked intense debate since it was presented to the City Council last week.

Critics are pushing the Internet search giant and its landlord, Boston Properties Inc., to save a rooftop garden that would be cut in half.

“I just don’t think they put enough thought into it,’’ said City Councilor Minka vanBeuzekom, who opposes the current plan.


The council is scheduled to take it up again March 19.

“I don’t think there will be enough support on the council unless Boston Properties comes back with some changes,’’ City Councilor Tim Toomey said Tuesday.

Toomey, chairman of the council’s Economic Development Committee, said he contacted Google on Tuesday to talk about making the proposal more palatable to neighboring businesses and residents. The council’s approval is needed to implement the plan.

Envisioned for Google is what the proposal calls an urban campus linking Four and Five Cambridge Center with the new connector to make room for the company to grow.

One question is whether Google, which has more than 350 employees in Three and Five Cambridge Center, intends to consolidate its operations with those of ITA Software Inc., the travel software firm it bought for $700 million in 2010. ITA has about 500 workers in offices half a mile from Google’s Kendall Square operations.

Google declined to comment about specific plans. Its statement said:

“There’s a strong pipeline of talent in the Boston area which has fueled our growth in the region for nearly a decade. We look forward to continue working with the community and the city as we grow our presence.’’


As part of the expansion plan, Boston Properties has pledged to build a new public park along nearby Binney Street. It would replace the square footage lost from the rooftop garden and provide an additional 29,000 square feet of open space.

Barbara Broussard, president of the independent neighborhood association called East Cambridge Planning Team, said she wants a firm commitment that the new park would remain open space and not ever be developed.

“We’re being offered nonpermanent open space for permanent building rights, and that seems a little unfair,’’ she said, adding that the group plans to meet with Boston Properties to discuss the proposal.

A rooftop garden would be halved under Google’s plan. Neighbors fear a replacement park won’t be kept green. At top is how the newcampus would look.Handout

Supporters of the plan say the connector building would add striking architecture to Google’s complex and ensure its long-term presence in Cambridge.

“I think this is incredibly exciting for Kendall Square,’’ said Travis McCready, executive director of the Kendall Square Association, which represents businesses, landlords, and residential properties. “Google is a core part of the technology community here - so this is a big one. This is a very big one.’’

Last week, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino leaped on the news that Google’s plan faced opposition and invited the company to discuss a move across the river. The mayor has aggressively recruited companies to the South Boston Waterfront, which he renamed the Innovation District to help attract companies in an array of industries.

Google opened its first local office in Boston in 2002 but relocated to Cambridge in 2007.


Despite concerns about the current expansion plan, most members of the Cambridge City Council said they were eager for Google to grow in Kendall Square.

“I want to see their hopes and dreams for expansion fulfilled, one way or another,’’ said Mayor Henrietta Davis of Cambridge, adding that the company should have offered the city more chances to review the plan before bringing it to the council.

“If you don’t go through the proper channels,’’ she said, “people think they have something to hide, which I don’t think is the case.’’

Casey Ross can be reached at Michael B. Farrell can be reached at