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MIT plans massive project for Kendall Square

An architectural rendering shows the planned extension of Broad Canal Way into the Volpe Center site in Kendall Square, Cambridge. MIT on Wednesday filed zoning plans for the 14-acre parcel.Elkus Manfredi

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is planning to use the former Volpe Center site in Kendall Square to build up to 1,400 apartments and condominiums, along with office, lab, and retail space.

The university, which will pay $750 million to buy the site from the federal government and build a new transportation research lab on the 14-acre parcel, filed zoning plans with Cambridge city officials Wednesday, providing the clearest picture yet of what it has in mind for one of the Boston area’s most desirable development sites.

“The potential to redevelop the Volpe site is a unique and transformational opportunity for our entire community,” wrote Israel Ruiz, MIT’s executive vice president, in a letter to the City Council.


Before it can build on the Volpe site, MIT must replace the existing federal research lab. In the meantime the school is pushing ahead with rezoning for the broader project, which will probably take a decade to complete.

Its 22-page proposal outlines a series of buildings across the property, a mix that would tilt toward office and lab space, but could include up to 1,400 units of housing. It would also mandate at least 3.5 acres of open and community space and require street-level retail designed to create a “memorable Main Street” experience along Third Street and Broadway. Preliminary renderings show a central grassy corridor and promenades lined with stores, designed to bring pedestrians into the site, which today sits behind fences and is mostly surface parking lots and lawns areas.

It’s part of a broader push by MIT — which beat out a half-dozen big-name developers for the rights to the Volpe Center — to make the booming but sterile Kendall Square feel more like a fully-fledged neighborhood.

“Our future success depends on making sure that Kendall succeeds as a place — a place where people want to live, work, and play, and a place that makes our city stronger, too,” MIT president Rafael Reif said in a recent statement.


The zoning outlines rules covering affordable housing — 20 percent of units will be set aside for low- and moderate-income residents, as well as for local businesses. Twenty-five percent of street-level storefronts will be set aside to small independent stores. It also requires that MIT contribute $10 for every square foot of nonresidential, nongovernment space — a sum that will likely total millions of dollars. The money will be evenly split between community needs and improvements to transit in Kendall Square.

Under the zoning regulations, building heights are limited — one residential building of up to 500 feet is allowed. Other buildings would be capped at 350 feet, and no nonresidential building can reach more than 300 feet.

MIT plans to unveil the proposal next week at a community meeting, and then begin the zoning review process with the city.

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.