16 posts

Thoughts on Volpe and CRA Up-Zoning

Two zoning petitions are currently before the City Council that will dramatically increase the development potential in Kendall Square and East Cambridge. The first is best known as the Volpe Rezoning and the second is a petition by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) to increase the square footage of the MXD district by approximately 1 million square feet. In my opinion neither of these proposals will be ready for ordination by the end of the term and I do not plan on voting in favor of either one in its current form.

With the Volpe rezoning we have an opportunity to use 14 acres in the heart of Kendall Square to redefine what Kendall will be for future generations. It is a complicated petition for sure, due to the economics of the site and the need for the future developer to construct a new facility for the Federal Government. It is the sort of hypothetical development scenario they base graduate courses on at MIT. The economics of the site—the affordable housing component, the allowed heights versus open space, the cost of a new building—is the primary sticking point in this process, and frankly I have not been presented with a compelling enough case on this point to consider voting in favor of the petition.

NASA officials examine a model of the Electronics Research Center, which became the Volpe Center when it was transferred from NASA to DOT in the early 1970s.
NASA officials examine a model of the Electronics Research Center, which became the Volpe Center when it was transferred from NASA to DOT in the early 1970s.

More work needs to be done, more questions need to be answered, and more feedback from residents of East Cambridge and The Port needs to be incorporated. The East Cambridge Planning Team has spent many hours examining the proposal and have some thoughtful alternatives that should be considered or hard evidence needs to be presented to explain why that concept cannot be done.

Just across the street we are presented with a second up-zoning of the CRA parcels which would allow 1 million square feet of additional development. Again, I haven’t heard a compelling argument on why we should be considering an additional 1 million square feet at this location with 3 million square feet being proposed across the street at Volpe.

Perhaps with more information, discussion, and community feedback we can find a proposal that works for Cambridge’s future. These petitions are not there yet, and I will not be supporting them in their current form.

Pilgrim Closure Creates Opportunity to Boost Renewable Energy Production

Photograph by Joanne DeCaro, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Photograph by Joanne DeCaro, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The announcement last month of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station’s closure, the only nuclear power plant in Massachusetts, is a great opportunity to increase the amount of electricity the Commonwealth generates from renewable energy sources. Pilgrim is the source of 14% of all of the power produced in Massachusetts and we need to make up that capacity with clean, renewable sources like wind energy and solar power.

The Commonwealth is a nationally recognized clean energy leader because we have made a clear legislative effort to grow our green energy sector in order to meet our Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) goals, which requires a 25% reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050. Earlier this year, I joined many of my colleagues in asking the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to pass comprehensive energy legislation by the end of the 2015-16 legislative session. This is a big issue on Beacon Hill right now, and I know that Chairmen Downing and Golden and the rest of the Committee are working diligently to develop a robust energy policy that would allow the Commonwealth to meet its GWSA goals.

However, in the interim, it’s vital for our solar power sector that we lift the cap on net metering immediately. The state’s 2007 solar incentive program has made Massachusetts a national leader in solar energy with more than 1,000 solar companies producing power to as many as 133,000 homes while employing 12,000 people, but a cap on financial credits given to solar power producers is currently stalling the production of additional solar facilities across the Commonwealth.

If we don’t raise this cap, the Commonwealth’s solar industry risks long-term setbacks and could lose millions of dollars through the federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) program, which expires on December 31, 2016. Although this deadline is a little over a year away, being connected to the electric grid is required to qualify for the ITC, and solar power developers estimate that they need to secure financing within the next three months in order to start and complete construction by next year’s deadline.

Growing the solar power sector will create jobs and is an important part of the Commonwealth’s retreat from fossil fuel dependency.

Cambridge Medical Marijuana Dispensary Application Misrepresented Local Support

Last Friday afternoon I sent a letter to the Department of Public Health in regards to an application to open a medical marijuana dispensary in East Cambridge. The Greeneway Wellness Foundation, which was granted a provisional certificate by the Department on February 1st, intends to open a medical marijuana dispensary at 11 First Street (also known as One First) in the space where Finagle a Bagel currently operates.  Upon reviewing their application, I was disappointed to find it contained many inaccuracies, and I felt the need to set the record straight.  It’s important that people have access to the medication that they need, and incidents like this will only serve to delay that access.  -Tim Toomey

UPDATE: I was informed by The Greeneway in a letter received on Wednesday, Feb. 12, that they are now exploring alternative locations. However, this does not guarantee that this applicant will not continue to pursue One First as a dispensary location. I will be continuing to work with residents, City officials, and Mass DPH to ensure that any dispensary opened in Cambridge is sited in an appropriate, safe location.

UPDATE 2: I received a call Thursday afternoon (2/13) from the attorney representing the Greeneway. They are “no longer interested” in pursuing One First as a location and will be looking at alternative locations in Cambridge that fall within the zoning established for dispensaries. I will continue to monitor this situation until it is officially resolved. -Tim

Dear Commissioner Bartlett,

It is my understanding that the Department of Public Health recently approved The Greeneway Wellness Foundation, Inc. for a provisional license, a step within the medical marijuana licensing framework which allows The Greeneway to pursue local approval to operate a medical marijuana dispensary within the City of Cambridge.  It is also my understanding that the suitability and local support claimed by The Greeneway for their proposed location (11 First Street, Cambridge, also known as One First Street) were heavily weighed by DPH during the approval process.

While I cannot speak for any of the other local officials listed by this applicant in their application as being “in support” of the proposed location, I can unequivocally state that my support for siting a medical marijuana dispensary at One First Street, a residential condominium building, was never given, neither verbally nor in writing.  During the initial phases of the medical marijuana application process, I met with John Greene twice, at which time I acknowledged the general support that the voters of Massachusetts voiced for medical marijuana, and pointed out that Cambridge was in the process of developing guidelines for zoning and permitting medical marijuana dispensaries.  More importantly, I specifically informed Mr. Greene that it was critical for him to do his own due diligence by meeting with residents of One First and the surrounding neighborhood, and that it was important for him to gain the support of local community organizations like the East Cambridge Planning Team before I would ever consider supporting his application.  I provided him with a number of contacts for Cambridge organizations, and to the best of my knowledge he did not use them before his application was submitted.

These inaccuracies are particularly troubling because one of the assurances that DPH made to the public regarding the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program was that local support would be heavily weighted throughout the licensing process.  Of the nine members of the Cambridge City Council, eight members of the Cambridge State Legislative Delegation, dozens of Cambridge neighborhood organizations, and hundreds of residents of One First Street, Mr. Greene supplied one letter of local support (application exhibit 5.4, letter from Councillor Cheung) for his proposed dispensary. I would like to know if this one letter was all that was needed in order for this applicant to earn the application evaluation points needed to designate “local support.”

Furthermore, the City of Cambridge adopted its zoning and permitting ordinances for medical marijuana dispensaries this fall, well before any final decision was made regarding Mr. Greene’s application. One First Street is outside the two districts that were zoned for medical marijuana dispensaries, and to my knowledge, would not comply with the permitting adopted by the City. I would like to know whether these facts were ever considered, or even known by DPH when the decision was made to approve this application.

The voters of Cambridge, both as a whole and within my legislative district, have been strongly supportive of allowing medical marijuana in the Commonwealth.  While other cities and towns tried (unsuccessfully) to ban medical marijuana altogether, Cambridge thoughtfully and efficiently updated our zoning and permitting laws to ensure that patients could gain access to their medicine as soon as it was feasible. It is for that reason in particular that I am disappointed that this applicant did not return the courtesy of doing the public outreach that was not only suggested by myself, but was also required as part of the application process.

I support a medical marijuana program in Massachusetts, and I want this medicine to be available in a safe, secure location for my constituents who need it. However, by failing to verify the support and legality of location claimed by this applicant, DPH has created a situation that will almost certainly result in the delayed siting of a dispensary in Cambridge. At the end of the day, it will unfortunately be patients who suffer the most because of it.

Please accept this letter as a matter of record that my “support” for this application has been grossly exaggerated, and that the statements it contains regarding my support are misrepresentations of the truth.


Timothy J. Toomey, Jr.

26th Middlesex District