Cambridge is considering ways to redevelop the Volpe National Transportation SysteNic Czarnecki/Metro Boston

As Cambridge eyes ways to redevelop a plot of land in Kendall Square, city officials are thinking big. The site, says one city councilor, could become home to the tallest building in New England.

Councilor Leland Cheung has proposed zoning changes that would allow developers to build a massive 1,000-foot-tall skyscraper in part of the14-acre site of the Volpe National Transportation SystemsCenter, a six-building array of government offices. At about 800 feet high, Boston’s iconic John Hancock Tower is currently the region’s tallest.

“This is the only place in Cambridge, and it’s pretty much the only place in the Boston-Cambridge-Somerville area, that you could build to this height,” Cheung said.

The Volpe lot is large – redevelopment plans could see as many as ten acres made free to carve up with structures and open space. And Cheung said height restrictions, including one based on proximity to the airport, wouldn’t apply.


Officials have said the chance to update the 14-acre plot is a big opportunity to better link it to the area, a sought-after hub for commerce, science and technology. Other ideas include adding office and ground-level retail space and an innovation center.

Cheung imagines using the lot to build a skyscraper could be a boon for the local housing stock at a time when the market for apartments is booming and demand for affordable units is high.

Plus, he said, the city-redefining project could send an important message to the rest of the world.

“Kendall Square is the economic hub for the region. Cambridge is the intelligence capital of the country,” Cheung said. “Why shouldn’t we have a landmark building right here in the center of it all?”

At least one of Cheung’s colleague’s respectfully disagrees.

“With all due respect for other councilors, I think it’s totally silly,” said Councilor Dennis Carlone.

Carlone, an architect and urban designer, said big buildings are expensive and can come with big, punishing downdrafts. They cast wide shadows and, though they may be impressive from afar, can be eyesores up close, he said.

He said he thinks shorter buildings and a built area that caters to the public is more appropriate. He’s not interested in stealing the spotlight from the Hancock Tower, he said.

“Just to have the tallest building in New England, that means nothing to me,” he said. “You have to be very, very careful about skyscrapers.”

Officials in Cambridge have scheduled a public hearing on the issue at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 29 in Cambridge City Hall.

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