Google expansion approved

Revised plan: more park space for less garden space

Cambridge City Council voted Monday night to approve a plan for Google Inc. to increase its Kendall Square office in an expansion that would halve a public rooftop garden.

The proposal sparked an outcry late last month when it was presented to the City Council by Boston Properties Inc., Google’s landlord, after some councillors and residents said they were surprised by losses to the park, which sits atop a Kendall Square parking garage and is protected by an open-space covenant.

Boston Properties returned to the City Council Monday with a slightly revised proposal that includes bumping up the amount of new park space the developer will construct in exchange for reducing the garden and pledging $2 million to design and construct that green space.

“This is a step in a process,” said Steve Vinter, head of Google’s Cambridge office, after the council’s 7-to-2 vote in favor of the plan. “Growing is a thing that takes time, and we are really appreciative of the work done by the community and the council.”

During the public comment session of the meeting, he said, “What this has really been about is about how to make Kendall Square more vibrant, and that should really be what we are discussing.”

Vinter said previously that Google needs to expand in Cambridge to accommodate a growing workforce. Last night, he said Google’s local head count was about 800, growing from 40 people just five years ago. The search engine giant acquired ITA Software Inc., another Kendall Square tech company with about 500 employees, in 2010 for $700 million.

The expansion plan includes the construction of two glass-wall connectors that will link Four, Five, and Three Cambridge Center. Boston Properties said construction should begin later this year with an expected completion date of mid-2013. The expansion will add about 40,000 square feet between the buildings, and allow Google to spread out across 300,000 square feet of office space.

The outcry was focused largely on the connector between Four and Five Cambridge Center because it sits on top of a parking garage and will lop off 18,000 square feet from the rooftop garden, which dates back to 1983. Boston Properties needed council approval to build on top of the public park.

“It is an oasis, an Eden, a marvel, something that Boston Properties should be incredibly proud of because of the stellar job they did and do creating and maintaining it. Destroying it should be the last thing on their minds,” said Heather Hoffman, a Cambridge resident and member of the East Cambridge Planning Team, who spoke out against the expansion.

The East Cambridge group, which met with Boston Properties and Google officials last week to discuss the proposal, originally voted against supporting it in its current form, and instead offered an alternative plan. It suggested that Boston Properties attempt to extend the rooftop garden onto an adjacent building instead of developing another ground-level park nearby.

Boston Properties said it explored that proposal but it is not structurally feasible.

But on Monday night the East Cambridge group said its board members opted to back the revised plan, which Boston Properties submitted to the City of Cambridge last Friday.

Charles Marquardt, a member of the East Cambridge Planning Team’s executive board, said his group would still like to see more of a commitment from Boston Properties to build residential units in the neighborhood in the near future. As part of the revised plan, which adds 50,000 square feet of open space to Cambridge, Boston Properties said it would present plans for about 180 residential units after the additions to Google are completed.

Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom, who voted against the expansion along with Councillor Craig Kelley, agreed that the city should have a stronger commitment from Boston Properties that it would pursue residential development. “It doesn’t sound like a good deal to me,” she said.

Despite the two opposing voices on the council, the overwhelming majority appeared eager to see Google expand in Kendall Square.

“We value companies like Google in this community,” said Councillor David Maher. “We live in a very competitive economic development world right now — competitive around the country, but also competitive around the area. All of us saw how very quickly Boston was ready to pounce at the opportunity to court one of our companies.”

After the Google expansion plan was delayed last month in Cambridge, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino invited Google to consider moving across the Charles River.