Cambridge wonders ‘What’s the plan?’ for Volpe site

The Boston Globe | By Tim Logan
September 16, 2016

volpe-cenThe race is on for one of the most prized development sites in Greater Boston, if not the country.

You wouldn’t know it though.

A slew of major builders last week filed proposals to redevelop the Volpe Center in Cambridge and gain access to 14 acres of buildable land in the heart of Kendall Square, a rare chance to reshape a big chunk of one of the nation’s richest real estate markets.

But the federal agency that will pick a winner for the site — likely by the end of the year — is conducting the contest under a near total “cone of silence,” sharing little about what they’d like to see at the Volpe or what developers are pitching there. And that’s frustrating many in Cambridge, where civic debate and in-depth analysis is practically a way of life.

“It’s like they’re from some different time,” said City Council member Nadeem Mazen. “It’s ‘We’re the federal government and we’re going to do what we want.’ ”

City staff and council members spent months last year trying to update zoning on the site — which today houses a ’60s-era concrete tower surrounded by acres of fenced-off grass and parking lots — to reflect what they’d want today. But they gave up amid a jumble of competing demands for affordable housing, open space, and other civic needs. They’re starting again, with the hope of finalizing plans next year after a developer is picked.

“There will be many opportunities to influence this,” said Iram Farooq, assistant city manager for community development.

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