Cambridge gonna Cambridge. Remember how there's next to no ground level activation at Alewife? Or the bizarre push for the ground level retail in Cambridge Crossing to be in separate pavilions? It's all gotta be part of someone's master plan instead of, you know, worldwide traditional architecture.
Sure, it's that...but also worse than that. It turns out that this specific PUD did
have a substantial ground floor retail / active use requirement along First Street (dating to the late '80s when this block was redeveloped). Public records show that the owners (circa 2003) petitioned to have the retail requirement removed back then and it got approved:
The Board finds that the request to delete the retail requirement in Special Permit #65 is a Minor Amendment and that the elimination of the retail requirement is reasonable. The history of such requirements at this location and elsewhere in East Cambridge where similar requirements have been imposed suggests that retail space is difficult to lease and that the result is often vacant space that has a negative impact on the character of abutting streets. The Cambridgeside Galleria mall appears to have a powerful and negative impact on the viability of such small retail spaces in its neighborhood. The Board finds that while retail use would still be permitted...and is still encouraged...it should no longer be required.
But, oh, the irony. Cambridgeside has since been making the case (and getting approval) to substantially downscale it's mall presence in exchange for building labs along First St., AND, has had to make First Street activation (via storefronts, etc) in those new lab structures a key element of compliance with Cambridge's supposed contemporary mixed use strategy.
Back in the early 2000s, the city basically made no strategic or policy effort to help mom & pop storefronts, instead just succumbed to a so-called inevitable domination of the mall. Meanwhile, this obsolete ground floor activation waiver is still in place from 2003, so these current developers (Alexandria) seem to think they are not under obligation to do anything with the street level. Meanwhile the Cambridgeside folks building new buildings next door are (seemingly) obliged to.
C'mon Cambridge, don't just accept a lousy public realm because it's hard. In that case, what's the point of planning boards?