Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: City Council,Kendall Square — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 2:23 am

May 16, 2011 City Council Agenda Highlights

There was actually a Special City Council meeting last week (May 9) to move along three capital budget items that were subject to the charter right at the May 2 meeting. Details are available here. The City Manager’s Agenda this week contains a variety of transfers of funds between statutory categories within a number of departmental budgets – general housekeeping in advance of the anticipated vote on the annual budget next week. There are also Planning Board reports on two current zoning petitions – one unfavorable (Chestnut Hill Realty) and one favorable (Novartis) with proposed amendments.

Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the Planning Board not to adoption the Chestnut Hill Realty Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #15. A communication was received from D. Margaret Drury, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Sam Seidel, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public meeting held on Mar 2, 2011 to consider a zoning petition originally filed by Chestnut Hill Realty and re-filed by the City Council to create a new section that would allow for the construction of rental units in the basement levels of existing multifamily buildings in Residence C Districts within 1200 feet of Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge Street or the Red Line through a special permit process. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 16, 2011. Planning Board hearing held Mar 29, 2011. Petition expires May 31, 2011.

The City Council could potentially vote on the Chestnut Hill Realty petition at this meeting. This petition reeked of mendacity from its introduction as a vehicle supposedly for the creation of basement "workforce housing." It seemed clearly designed entirely to maximize potential revenue from existing properties. The Planning Board report explains some of the negative aspects of the petition without explicitly calling out the petitioners for their mendacity. One potentially interesting aspect to this petition is the extraordinary amount of money that was passed from the top brass of Chestnut Hill Realty into the campaign accounts of (at least) two city councillors. Even if innocent of attempting to buy votes, the scale of the contributions cast enough doubt to fill a basement (or several basements).

Manager’s Agenda #14. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation on the petition by Novartis Institutes of Biomedical Research to create a new Special District 15 on the site bounded by Massachusetts Avenue, Albany Street, Osborn Street, State Street and Windsor Street.

This petition will likely be passed to a 2nd Reading and come to a final vote in the next few weeks. It seems certain that this petition will prevail with appropriate amendments. The Planning Board seems to have done a good job in proposing design guidelines and regulating the massing of any future buildings, though the 85 foot height limit on the Mass. Ave. frontage may seem a bit high. The maximum height in the affected area could be as great as 140 feet. In any case, this portion of Mass. Ave. and the neighboring section that is the subject of the MIT/Forest City petition will likely soon experience a radical transformation – hopefully for the best.

Charter Right #1. A petition has been received from Theresa M. Stone, Executive Vice-President and Treasurer, MIT, together with a transmittal letter from Steven C. Marsh, Managing Director, MIT Investment Management Company to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge to add a new section 13.80 to the Zoning Ordinances entitled PUD-5 District and to amend the Zoning Map to add a new PUD-5 District in the Kendall Square area; said petition rezones a 26-acre parcel in the Kendall Square area. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on Applications and Petitions Number Four of May 2, 2011.] [Text of petition]

The May 9 City Council Roundtable meeting with the Goody Clancey consulting firm working on the Kendall Square/Central Square (K2C2) analysis yielded a fairly optimistic response from most in attendance. The scale of MIT’s proposal for Kendall Square is very significant – enough to have triggered a major backlash movement had it been introduced a decade or so ago – yet most affected parties now seem more interested in working constructively with the City, MIT, and other major property owners in the area to ensure the maximum benefit to the adjacent neighborhoods. The change has been gradual, but there has been a radical shift in the manner in which major development proposals are now received by both elected officials and residents. With some good faith on all sides, there is the possibility of some great outcomes.

At one of the recent East Cambridge Planning Team forums about the future of Kendall Square, I made some suggestions that might have been viewed as ridiculous, i.e. a batting cage and/or a miniature gold course in the heart of the new Kendall Square. I actually wasn’t kidding. Anyone who knows the ways of MIT will understand that the unusual and even the seemingly ridiculous can often be exactly the right match. Perhaps a rollercoaster that wraps around the buildings?

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to designate the appropriate person to fill the pot holes and dangerous road imperfections on the stretch of Putnam Avenue between Western and Massachusetts Avenues, especially those that appear near the curbs where bicyclists must ride.   Vice Mayor Davis

I’m glad someone said it. Usually, the City does an impressive job at patching the potholes at the end of winter. This year it’s been an adventure on many streets, including Pleasant St. between Mass. Ave. and Western Ave., Mt. Auburn Street near Fresh Pond Parkway, many portions of Broadway, and other Cambridge roads. Is this the new traffic calming technique?

Order #9. That the City Council go on record as requesting that the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy maintain the existing State laws governing cable licensing, which adequately protect cities and towns, residents of the Commonwealth, and video service providers.   Vice Mayor Davis

I’m not entirely convinced about this. While I don’t believe cities and towns should lose the ability to negotiate good contracts with potential television providers, it would be a shame if potential competitors to Comcast (The Evil Empire) were dissuaded from doing business in Cambridge. The status quo is not the best.

Order #12. That the City Manager direct the appropriate department heads to install a discreet, unobtrusive, drop down projector presentation screen in the Sullivan Chamber and report back to the City Council.   Councillor Cheung

You might have to rearrange or remove some of the painted portraits of former mayors in order to accommodate the screen. I have some suggestions where you could start.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to ask the the City’s private law firm to waive any statute of limitations defense regarding potential liability to Cambridge for its actions and advice in the Monteiro case.   Councillor Kelley

It’s hard to tell what Councillor Kelley’s motive is here. He recently said how he wants the City Council to take over the Law Department (not exactly kosher under the city charter). My guess is that Kelley is just taking direction from his handlers in order to undermine the City’s legal strategy.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Leland Cheung, Chair of the Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee for a public meeting held on Apr 26, 2011 to conduct a follow-up meeting on outdated city ordinances.

There are some interesting proposals contained in the committee report. I especially like the idea of permitting food vendors in city parks, though I imagine they would probably be selling organic roll-ups rather than hot dogs or sausages – this is Cambridge after all. I’m a little concerned about some of the proposed changes affecting mixed residential/commercial areas. I don’t believe any of the city councillors live in such zones, but I live right in the middle of one. Will they look after my best interests? Sometimes the only way residents can negotiate for a peaceful existence is when businesses have to seek a variance for a change of use. It doesn’t prevent the change so much as help to ensure that it’s something we can all live with. – Robert Winters


  1. Not surprisingly, Order #14 brought out Councillor Kelley’s political dad, Richard Clarey, to continue his multiple-decade vendetta against Robert Healy. He’s now flatly asserting that the City’s lawyers are guilty of malpractice in the Monteiro case. Just in case it’s not entirely obvious, there are few people in the City of Cambridge for whom I have less respect than the aforementioned Mr. Clarey. One metric that I frequently use in the civic landscape of Cambridge is the “clarimeter”. The closer you are to Clarey, the less you can be believed or trusted. This is based on his actions during the darkest days of the CCA (when their Executive Board believed they could direct the actions of “their CCA councillors”) as well as his latter day activities with the North Cambridge Stabilization Committee and the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods (ACN).

    Note: Councillor Davis exercised her charter right to delay further discussion/action on Order #14 until the next City Council meeting.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 16, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

  2. According to the City Manager, Cambridge will soon commence it’s bike-sharing program – funded via a combination of grants, contributions from Harvard and MIT, and City funds. The cost will be over $900,000 for the program. This translates into more than $6000 per bicycle. Doesn’t this seem just a little INSANE?

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 16, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

  3. The councillors are now discussing the various ideas for possible ordinance changes contained within Committee Report #2. Perhaps the most controversial of these is the proposal to REMOVE the fast food cap in Central Square. It is more likely that what eventually will come out of the Ordinance Committee will be a redefinition of what exactly constitutes a “fast food” restaurant and maybe a mild adjustment to the cap.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 16, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

  4. Councillors Seidel, Davis, and Reeves are now speaking about the recent royal wedding in conjunction with Resolution #6. Councillor Decker says she will vote Present – the only sensible vote of the nine councillors.

    Comment by Robert Winters — May 16, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

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