Zoning Variance Objection

  • Studio at 550
    550 Massachusetts Ave.
    Cambridge, MA 02139
    January 8, 2020
    To the Cambridge Board of Zoning Appeals:
    We are writing to protest case# , for a variance for the building addressed at 544 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge due to objections to the following:
    The applicant, Cliff Schorer is requesting variance request on 3 ordinances: Lot area for each dwelling unit to be decreased from 300sf to 151ft; Number of dwelling units to be increased from 20 to 29; and Number of parking spaces to be decreased from .5/du to 0. 
    Citing item B of supporting statement where applicant writes, “There is no change to the access and egress and no additional parking or traffic impact anticipated. This is perfectly located above public transfortation and has been a failure as office and assembly space on the upper floors leading to deterioration.”. We object to, especially the last part of the argument noting that Studio at 550 is a very active arts organization who serves nearly 300 artists per week providing much needed rehearsal, class, and performance space which contributes to the cultural identity of Central Square.  Since the transfer of ownership of the building Studio at 550 has paid our $2300/month rent on time every month, contradicting the argument that the business is a “failure” as an assembly space. Studio at 550 provides not just space to artists but also much needed programs and community engagement efforts which not only engage artists, but also neighbors to Central Sq, the greater Boston arts scene, and artists and audiences from throughout New England and beyond.
    Studio at 550 has operated in the 3rd floor space since 2016, and while we agree that the building has fallen into disrepair, a more fitting solution to the development of the space would be to make efforts to include an already existing arts space into the plan for development of the building.
    Citing item E of the applicant’s supporting statement where he argues that the conversion of zoning from retail/office to retail/residential would be “in the spirit of recent Zoning changes to the CSQ Overlay” we would argue the following: There has been some considerable effort in establishing an Arts Overlay District within Central Sq, with Councillor Mallon chairing Mayor McGovern’s Arts Task Force in efforts to support existing artists to strengthen Central Square as an Arts and Cultural District. There has been considerable work in advocacy with the newly established Central Square Business Improvement District in the same vein. Converting existing artist space to residential space would directly contradict these efforts blindly knocking out a much needed resource for the community which the City and other agencies are fighting so hard to retain.
    From the perspective of leasee of the 3rd floor of 550 Massachusetts Ave., Callie Chapman, Director of Studio at 550:
    A) I never was in correspondence with the current landlord (Cliff Schorer) at all before this request was filed. No effort was made on his part to even engage in conversation.
    B) I showed up at 550 Mass ave. and there was a notice posted on the building only 7 days before the hearing. Even though one of the property owners (Jim) was in the building 1 day before to check on a leak in the ceiling, he never mentioned it while he met with me.
    C) The property owner is citing a "hardship" as the reason he is requesting a variance. Whereas due to financial circumstances surrounding his purchase of the building are interesting there is nothing dire to prevent compliance with existing ordinances.
    All requests for variance due to the overarching objective to transform existing arts/assembly space into rental apartment units would detrimentally change in the essential character of the neighborhood.  Citing multiple efforts by community members, associations, individual businesses, individual artists, arts organizations, City councilors, mayors, and citizens of Cambridge to keep the arts in Central Sq in particular, this project will contradict these efforts and strip one more arts organization from the district. Contributing to the ongoing deterioration of stability for the arts in Cambridge.
    With objection to the variances requested,