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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Medford City Council approves 8-story research building

Locals and councilors debated how the project would affect the economy and character of the city.

Medford City Hall is pictured on March 12, 2021.

The Medford City Council voted to proceed with plans for a $50–60 million state-of-the-art research and lab building designed by Ci Design — an architecture firm specializing in science and research — at a meeting on Oct. 3. The development will be located at 243 Mystic Ave.

The proposed development caused debate among city leaders and residents about how to preserve the city’s unique character while embracing opportunities to shape Medford’s economic landscape.

The proposed research facility is an eight-story building in a relatively small area, raising questions about the potential impact on Medford’s tight-knit neighborhoods.

Representatives from Ci Design, the “scientist-led development group,” defended their decision to construct a new complex at 243 Mystic Ave., emphasizing the strategic importance of having accessible transportation.

“We chose this lot at 243 Mystic for a variety of reasons; it’s a very great location for what we want to do,” one representative said. “We’re focused on very early-stage companies coming into this property, and because of the location, because of its proximity to transportation, we think it’s a very good location to build lab space.”

On its website, Ci Design describes itself as a leader in science and technology, commercial and industrial project design around the world.

“For a building like this, that’s going to be [home to] early-stage companies, most of these employees are going to prefer not to drive to work,” a representative said. “We chose this spot strategically because there is access to transportation.”

The proposal received mixed responses from councilors at the meeting. Councilor George Scarpelli voiced concern on behalf of the community in regards to how the proposed building might impact traffic and parking in “probably the most densely populated traffic area.”

“It affects our community,” Scarpelli said. “I would love to find a location for this type of development. … It’s a beautiful building, but it’s out of place. You have a community of two to three family homes no more than 100 yards away from you. You’re talking about an intersection that has been habitually taken advantage of. You’re talking about a neighborhood that has felt that they have been treated so unfairly and overlooked [for] so many years.”

Councilor Justin Tseng acknowledged concerns about potential traffic congestion in the area. In agreement with Ci Design representatives, however, Tseng believes prior council initiatives to implement better public transportation within Medford will help alleviate that issue.

“I hear the concerns about traffic, I go through that intersection at least twice a week if not more,” Tseng said. “But I do think, as you have mentioned, it is really important to note that we fought as a council for bus access to remain in the new bus plan on Main Street and on Harvard Street because we knew that projects like this were going to come in and because of those, because of our actions as a council, because of community members we have pretty regular bus access coming in to connect this property with Malden.”

Scarpelli, while cautious about potential impacts on traffic, also recognized the value of the development space and urged responsible growth for the sake of the city’s community.

“This is valuable, valuable development space that we should grow with responsibility and make sure we have all the factors in place,” he said. “We don’t have all the factors in place. We’re going to approve this without knowing if it’s going to handle the safety of that roadway, if it’s going to handle the traffic of that neighborhood.”

Scarpelli said that Medford has failed to bring in new developments in the last few years, stifling the city’s ability to grow. He emphasized the importance of allowing gradual, intentional development that takes all extraneous factors into account.

“We need development … in Medford. We’ve done nothing in the last four years — nothing, zero,” Scarpelli said. “But because of that inability to grow, we’ve now left ourselves in a pretty valuable situation. … If we can wait 18 months, we’re going to have a better opportunity here.

Councilor Richard Caraviello, highlighting the economic importance of the project and providing an alternate perspective on the proposed building, reminded fellow councilors of a recent missed opportunity for developmental growth.

“Not too long ago, we allowed a $234 million project to walk out of our city,” Caraviello said. “This is not my ideal project that I’d like to see there, but I don’t want to see jobs walk out of town.”

After an hour of debate, council members passed the motion to proceed with Ci Design’s development project with a vote of five in favor, one against and one absent.