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Kendall Sq. zoning revamped

CAMBRIDGE — In what Mayor Henrietta Davis called a historic vote, city councilors ­approved new zoning laws Monday that will drastically ­increase the height of buildings that can be erected on 26 acres of land in Kendall Square and on MIT’s east campus.

The zoning will more than double the maximum height for buildings in parts of Kendall Square, and the size increase comes amid high demand for office and laboratory space in the square, where there has been a rapidly growing concentration of tech companies.

The new development on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology property has been the subject of debate for several years in the city, and was ­approved by a vote of 7 to 1, with one councilor voting present late Monday night.


Councilor David Maher said the zoning will contribute to an exciting time for development in the city. “I think Kendall Square of the next 10 years is going to be a vast improvement over what we know as Kendall Square today,” Maher said.

The zoning was proposed by the MIT Investment Management Co. in December ­after revis­ing an earlier proposal. The changes will allow creation of more than 2 million square feet of office, lab, retail, housing, and academic space on land now used as parking lots.

The height limit for buildings in much of Kendall Square had been about 120 feet, though some taller buildings are in the area, including the 26-story Boston Marriott ­Cambridge at 2 Cambridge Center, according to city planning and assessor records.

The new zoning will allow a residential high-rise as tall as 300 feet at One Broadway, while increasing the maximum building heights at other locations to 150, 200, and 250 feet. The taller heights would be ­allowed closer to Main Street and the Kendall Square MBTA stop, and lower heights would be near the Charles River, the city said.


Speaking on behalf of Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, Gregory Bialecki, the state secretary of housing and economic development, asked the council Monday to allow the city to continue to grow. He said the Massachusetts innovation economy is on a roll, but the growth cannot stop now. “There is simply no room to stand still,” Bialecki said.

The zoning will allow the creation of almost a million square feet of office, laboratory, and retail space, about 800,000 square feet for academic use, and about 240,000 square feet of residential space, according to the MIT Investment Management Co.

The zoning requires that part of all new commercial space built in the district be dedicated as “innovation space” with short-term leases, small spaces, and shared spaces that can be used by small businesses and start-up companies.

Some MIT professors and other Cambridge residents have criticized MIT’s zoning proposal, however, saying it fails to create enough housing, including rental units for graduate students.

MIT professor Fred Salvucci said that rising rents are driving residents out of Cambridge and that MIT needs to commit to building more affordable housing and housing for graduate students.

“This is about gentrification,” Salvucci said.

The university has said that about 39 percent of its 6,259 graduate students are housed by MIT and more than 1,300 graduate beds have been added since 1997.

The new zoning will allow creation of up to 300 housing units, including some “micro units” with floor plans smaller than some studio apartments. It more than doubles the amount of housing that MIT ­included in a previous zoning petition in 2011.


The only no vote on the new zoning was cast by Councilor Minka vanBeuzekom, while Councilor Denise E. Simmons voted present.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.