FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROJECT
Q: Are you reducing the green area of the site?
A: The green areas are being increased, not reduced. The church property and adjacent carwash site currently have large expanses of parking lot and driveway pavement. The new, combined open spaces will have more water-permeable areas, more trees, and more useable lawn than the existing site. The renewed garden will absorb all storm water runoff for all of the buildings.
Q: I’ve heard that the garden will be much smaller, and mostly paved. Is this true?
A: That is not true. The existing garden is overgrown with large shrubs, which restrict the useable space. The new garden will have more useable, open, green, unpaved space than the existing garden. The new garden will be planted with a combination of shade trees, fruit trees, and lawn. The new design will provide and shade and sitting areas, allowing the space to be more open, inviting and useful for group activities and casual visitors.
Q: Will the new garden be open and available to the senior citizens living across Mass. Ave.? Can you make accommodations for more elderly-friendly seating areas?
A: Yes, the garden will be open to the public from dawn until dusk. The existing fence will be removed, making the garden open to Mass. Ave. We are planning to add some café tables, chairs and benches to make the space more welcoming to all ages.
Q: I’m concerned about parking. Will there be sufficient parking for the project?
A: The existing church has 16 surface parking spaces. These will be relocated in the proposed project, and we will add an additional 46 spaces, (one for each dwelling unit). All but 2 handicapped – -accessible spaces will be hidden in a garage under the building- the existing surface parking lots will be gone. The parking meets the requirements of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance. The church will still have a handicap parking space and one additional space at surface level for drop-in visitors. There will be surface bike parking.
Q: What about pedestrian safety? Will the new parking garage entrance create a danger for pedestrians?
A: The Cambridge Traffic and Parking Department has reviewed and approved the design for traffic flow and pedestrian safety. The three existing curb cuts on the site will be reduced to a single curb cut on Beech Street. There are two existing curb cuts on Beech Street, the one nearest the intersection of Mass. Ave. will be removed, which will reduce traffic conflicts at the intersection. Crosswalks and associated handicapped ramps on Mass. Ave and Beech St. will be replaced with new, ADA compliant versions.
Q: Can the project be made smaller? I’m concerned that it will overwhelm the church and neighborhood.
A: The project was designed to meet Cambridge Zoning requirements for setbacks, height, open space and building area. One of the key goals was to limit the new building height to the existing ridgeline of the main sanctuary. This assures that the sanctuary clerestory tower and the bell towers of both the church sanctuary and the adjacent fire station remain as the iconic elements in this district. On the neighborhood sides, the proposed building heights step down from 4 floors to 3 floors, equal to the average height of the surrounding existing homes. The project has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by the Cambridge Planning Board, the Cambridge Historical Commission, and the Mass. Historical Commission. During the review process, the project was adjusted to include increased setbacks, height restrictions, and other design changes. The resulting design has received a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Cambridge Historical Commission. The Massachusetts Historical Commission has also approved the design.
Q: Cambridge needs more affordable housing. Can the number of affordable housing units in the project be increased?
A: We will be providing 5 new homes for the City of Cambridge’s Inclusionary Housing Program, as per the City’s requirements. Project financing has been based on this number of homes, and to create an endowment to fund long-term restoration of the historic church sanctuary. To add more Inclusionary units to the project would make it financially unfeasible, and the restoration of the church would not be possible.
Q: Who will use Parish House besides the Congregation? Will it be open to the public? What public programming will be offered?
A: St. James’s Episcopal Church designed the parish house to support the congregation’s own community ministry and to be welcoming to the surrounding neighborhood, with a community room, library, and music room and an industrial kitchen as well as the enlarged parish hall and fully-accessible garden. We will house our inclusive Scout Collective 56, our Food Pantry – the only one in North Cambridge – as well as our prison ministry, Outdoor Church, GBIO advocacy group, and other community ministries. We will rent our classrooms during the week, possibly as a social-entrepreneurship incubator, and as always will welcome other community groups to share our space, as the Cambridge Symphony, the Abundant Life community counseling organization, the Mental Health Drop-in Center, and various 12-step groups have in the past.