Alexandria Wins Zoning Change in East Cambridge, Removing One Obstacle to Huge Biotech Park

2/10/09Follow @wroush

An ambitious plan by Pasadena, CA-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities to create a 16-acre biotech park in East Cambridge, MA, moved one step closer to being realized last night. By an 8-1 vote, the Cambridge City Council approved a rezoning request from Alexandria that will allow it to build taller, denser buildings than those previously permitted along the Binney Street corridor, just north of Kendall Square.

Luke detailed Alexandria’s ten-year plan for the area back in June. Overall, the $1 billion project spans a six-block area along both sides of Binney Street between First Street and Sixth Street (a stone’s throw from Xconomy headquarters on Rogers Street). It would add five new buildings with 1.5 million square feet of “green” lab and office space for life-science tenants, as well as 220,000 square feet of housing, 30,000 square feet of ground-level retail space, underground parking, 2.3 acres of open parkland, and up to 52,000 square feet of community space (in the form of the “Foundry” building off Third Street, which Alexandria is donating to the city; the city itself will decide how the space is divided up between community and municipal uses).

To make the project viable, Alexandria (NYSE: ARE) needed a change in zoning ordinances to allow it to build mixed-use buildings as high as nine stories tall. Some area residents have opposed the change, saying the buildings will be too high, and raising concerns about construction noise and the risk of exposure to potential pathogens in the new labs. At last night’s city council meeting, almost a dozen East Cambridge residents spoke up against the proposal, some holding signs reading “Too Big, Too Close, Too Toxic,” according to a report today in the Harvard Crimson.

But other residents representing local construction workers’ unions urged the council to accommodate Alexandria, saying the project would bring much-needed jobs. And the Cambridge Planning Board, in a recommendation to the City Council last month, concluded that “there are many very positive aspects to the current scheme.”

“Alexandria is very pleased that the City Council approved the revised zoning in the Binney Street district,” Tom Andrews, Alexandria’s senior vice president and regional market director, told Xconomy. “Over the next several months we intend to prepare and submit a development plan for review and approval by various City and State agencies. We look forward to working closely throughout this process with the East Cambridge community, the Planning Board, and other City and State officials.”

Alexandria, which brands itself as the “Landlord of Choice to the Life Science Industry,” already manages nearly 2 million square feet of lab and office space in Cambridge, including Technology Square area near Kendall Square and the Science Hotel on Memorial Drive.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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