Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 21, 2011

Reports, Reports, and a Retirement – Nov 21, 2011 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 11:07 am

Reports, Reports, and a Retirement – Nov 21, 2011 Cambridge City Council meeting

There is much to say about this meeting, including numerous Planning Board reports on recently filed zoning petitions. One noteworthy item is the announcement from City Manager Robert Healy that City Solicitor Don Drisdell will be retiring in January. Don has been with the City for a long time, including many years as Deputy City Solicitor before he was appointed City Solicitor in Dec 2002. Nancy Glowa will succeed Don as Acting City Solicitor, effective Jan 20, 2012.

One of the most striking aspects of the upcoming City Manager’s Agenda is that of the 68 matters listing as "Awaiting Report", there are responses for 29 of them – a huge clearing of the backlog. This points to the possibility of a very long meeting. Topics include: a proposed Farmers Market, the merger of the Longy School and Bard College, trimming tree branches, the McCrehan pool, job training programs, a gun shot incident, courteous driving, a Landmark Designation Study Report for the Ellis School, language for a proposed zoning amendment, cable service contract options, a Yellow Pages ban, a bamboo ordinance, bike corrals, bus shelters, upkeep of the Cambridge Common, bicycle safety, the BIO 2012 Convention, the traffic light at Magazine St. and Memorial Drive, restaurant valet parking, hazardous metal pieces of street signs, Bobcats to clear snow, Household Hazardous Waste Days, Citizen Observer alerts, a technology plan for the City, paying for city services on-line, paperless City bills, a unique identifier for official documents (actually a great idea), Code for America, a service similar to SeeClickFix, and the sidewalks on Boardman Street.

And you want to just watch the Patriots game? Just think of all the good stuff you’ll be missing!

Reports from the avalance of zoning petitions filed in August are now filtering in from the Planing Board. There is a negative report on the Andrews Petition (#15), a positive report on the Bagedenow Petition (#16), a negative report on the Bishop Petition (#17), a negative report on the Runkel Petition (#18), and a positive report on the de Rham Petition (#45).

Manager’s Agenda #37. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Number Item Number 11-83, regarding a report on technology plan for the City, the use of social media tools, and identifying projects that would benefit from using Gov 2.0, as well as a response to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-84, regarding the creation of a research and development office for technology.

This is an interesting read. Though the devil is in the details and the City has not always made the best decisions in terms of public communication and web-based interactions with the public (such as the search function of the City website and delays in posting timely information), it seems clear that the City is in the process of making some necessary improvements.

Manager’s Agenda #40. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 11-92, regarding the feasibility of creating a system that the general public could use to search by a unique identifier for official documents such as building permits, variance applications, License Commission inspections, and the like.

This is based on a very good Order from Councillor Kelley that would make it possible for a resident to easily research the status of a property across multiple categories – zoning, building permits, inspectional services, variances, etc. This would be a huge improvement for both residents and City administration.

Unfinished Business items include several zoning petitions that have been passed to a 2nd Reading and could potentially be voted. These include the de Rham (#9), Bishop (#10), Runkle (#11), and Bagedonow (#13) Petitions. The Chestnut Hill Realty Petition (#12), the gift that keeps on giving to the campaign accounts of several city councillors, could also be voted. There was some comic relief on the Chestnut Hill Realty Petition at the last City Council meeting when one city councillor who lives at the top of a hill and who rents basement apartments in his building questioned concerns about basement flooding based on personal experience. Perhaps some basic knowledge of physics should be mandatory for city councillors, e.g. the fact that water flows downhill and not uphill.

Resolution #19. Congratulations to Department of Public Works Commissioner Lisa Peterson and Recycling Director Randi Mail for their innovative recycling initiatives that merited the MassRecycle 2011 Board of Director’s Outstanding Achievement Award.   Vice Mayor Davis, Councillor Simmons

It’s worth noting that one of Lisa Peterson’s first responsibilities when she began working for the City 20 years ago was to manage the implementation of the City’s new curbside recycling program. Recycling Director Randi Mail and Commissioner Peterson are always seeking ways to expand and improve recycling programs in Cambridge and they always do so with a clear view of the cost-effectiveness of any initiative. We are fortunate to have both of these people in the City’s employ.

Resolution #24. Congratulations to the members of the Mid-Cambridge Oral History Project and the Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School on the publication of "From the Heart of Cambridge: A Neighborhood Portrait."   Vice Mayor Davis

These are the stories of people from my own neighborhood within the larger Mid-Cambridge neighborhood. The best stories are from those who have been here far longer than I have, especially my dear friend Floyd Freeman who now lives in Michigan after his house burned down several years ago and who is still going strong at the age of 96. The book tells the stories of 90 people and their families and friends. It is available for sale at Porter Square Books, the Harvard Book Store, The Coop, Rodney’s Bookstore, and directly from the Longfellow Neighborhood Council. All profits go to support the Longfellow Neighborhood Council and Community School.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at the earliest possible City Council meeting on the possible uses, and the extent of such uses, per the current table of uses in the Zoning Ordinance, and associated language for building conversions, of the Sullivan Courthouse at 40 Thorndike Street.   Councillor Kelley

The Roundtable meeting last week on this topic struck me more as a marketing presentation than anything else. In the long view, it should be noted that this building was originally permitted because it served an essential government function. It is extremely unlikely that it would have ever been permitted at that site if it had been proposed as a private development such as an office building or residential tower. Nonetheless, the presentation seemed to suggest that the most likely future uses would be as an office building or residential tower. The State has a financial interest in this building, but a good case can be made for cutting this building down to a scale more in keeping with the adjacent neighborhood.

Order #3. That the City Council hereby sets 7:00pm at the Dec 12, 2011 City Council meeting as the time to receive the Red Ribbon Commission Report on Central Square.   Councillor Reeves

Another delay. The real question is whether this eventual report will be anything more than a dressed-up proposal to substantially develop the Naggar property at Mass. Ave. and Norfolk St. in partnership with the City. The more substantial planning effort is, at least in principle, the concurrent one with Goody Clancy focusing on both Kendall Square and Central Square (K2C2). The Central Square part of that study could also become just a plan to redevelop the current Central Square parking lots and add height and density to buildings in the area. Residents of Central Square should follow this closely. There are many good opportunities but also some tangible threats and it is not at all clear whether the residential neighborhoods of Central Square are adequately represented in any of these planning efforts. Time will tell.

Order #10. That the City Council hereby goes on record re-filing as of Dec 7, 2011 the Julia Bishop et al. petition to amend the zoning in Special District 2 in North Cambridge.   Mayor Maher

This Order seems to indicate that the highly contentious Bishop Petition will be allowed to expire and the negotiations among neighbors, City officials, and the developer will intensify with the re-filed petition. Councillors made some clear promises before the election in regard to this petition, and they will certainly have their feet held to the fire on this one.

Committee Report #1. 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 hearing held on Oct 13, 2011 to consider a petition submitted by the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in Section 20.200 et seq., the Central Square Overlay District, by deleting Section 20.304.5.6, which currently requires all establishments where liquor is served to have their principal public entrance on Massachusetts Avenue or Main Street.

There are good, simple alternatives to the petition that was filed – alternatives that will allow new uses where they make sense but not open the door to substantial unintended consequences that could severely impact residential neighbors. – Robert Winters

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