Bus Lot Owners Describe ‘Golden Opportunity’ for Sanofi Parking Lot

The Owens family detailed its plans to create an expanded, 431-car parking lot on Cambridge Street Monday night, noting that they are in negotiations to lease the refurbished parking lot to drug maker Sanofi – a company that is preparing to open a new, massive headquarters at Cambridge Crossing on the other side of the Gilmore Bridge.

CEO Ed Owens and CFO Ed Owens Jr. appeared at an abutters meeting on Monday, Sept. 16, with their attorney, Stephen Miller, to discuss in depth the changes they are looking to make to accommodate a parking lot and shuttle bus system for Sanofi.

First and foremost, they have removed their controversial proposal to put a large electronic billboard on their site. Now, they hope to expand their open air lot from 193 cars to 431 cars. The current school bus use would be relocated elsewhere if the approvals are granted, but would remain on site for another three years under a contract if it is not approved.

“The last time we were here we were seeking approval for a billboard,” said Miller. “The billboard application has been removed. The school buses and building will be gone. There will be no more school buses.”

Owens Jr. said they have a letter of intent with Sanofi to lease the space for 10 years to create satellite parking at the Sullivan Square location that would be operational Monday through Friday only. It would start on Sepember 2020. The 431 cars would park at the lot, and then six to 10, 24-person, shuttles would ferret the Sanofi workers to Cambridge Crossing. The lot would not be used on weekends, but the Owens family said they would consider parking for residents on weekends and during snow emergencies.

That would take place between 8-10 a.m. in the morning, and then from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the evenings. The shuttles and cars would access the lot only via Spice and D Streets. Shuttles would leave the lot on D Street, travel up Rutherford Avenue to Austin Street, where they would utilize the Gilmore Bridge to get to Cambridge Crossing.

There has been no traffic study produced yet for the proposal, but Owens Jr. said they are supposed to have a report in the coming weeks.

They plan to put up a new fence, new landscaping, new lighting, repave the lot, and create shelters for those waiting for shuttles. There would also be enhanced security provided by Sanofi, as well as a new camera system.

Ed Owens said the school buses are larger, and equal about three cars per bus, so the space wouldn’t be increased. He also said the buses come and go more often, about four times a day, plus some buses that leave more often for sporting events and field trips.

He also said it is the beginning of a great opportunity as the drug giant may be locating its parking here now, but could be interested in a much greater development on Sullivan Square in the future. That, he said, is what the community has made clear, that they would like development and not parking on the site for the long-term.

“One thing I’m excite about if we get approvals is this whole area is going to change because this company we’re hoping to lease to is one of the largest in the world and the people they hire are scientists from the pharmaceutical company,” he said. “Everyone wants to be near MIT and Harvard…What the community wanted was development here. We hear you loud and clear. I think we’re working ahead to get this company to have interest in it…We have a golden opportunity here. We want development. You want development. It think we’ve done everything we can. We want the right tenant. We feel this is the best tenant we’ll ever get for the land…I think we can make everybody happy.”

He said by getting Sanofi and its workforce in the door via the parking facility, it could begin to leverage connections in the ever-expanding biotech industry in Cambridge. Once they see how close Sullivan Square is to Kendall Square and North Point, they might really consider doing more in Charlestown.

A major concern for the abutters, such as Hood Park and The Graphic owners, was the heavy use of D Street and Spice Street by vehicles and shuttles. The small street has been a disaster for many years, but was recently fully reconstructed by Encore Boston Harbor as part of its mitigation plan. Nevertheless, access to the lot depends upon an easement with MassPort (for the old railroad tracks) and crossing an area owned by MassPort that suffers from serious drainage and flooding issues.

Owens said they hadn’t yet talked with MassPort about access and the flooding issues, but plan to do so.

Getting permission from MassPort to access the road and cross the tracks is a very tricky proposition, as evidenced recently from struggles by Encore and The Graphic. A representative from The Graphic said it took him one year to get permission from MassPort to use D Street as an access point for the new development.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards said after the meeting she is in favor of the proposal, and that it wouldn’t represent a major increase in the land use, as three cars equal about one bus.

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