Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 2, 2012

Apr 2, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights and other News from the People’s Republic

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council,Kendall Square — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:20 pm

Apr 2, 2012 Cambridge City Council Agenda Highlights and other News from the People’s Republic

There’s not much to say about the meeting itself, but the agenda items do bring a few other things to mind.Bike Post

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the supplemental appropriation of a Metropolitan Area Planning Council Regional Bike Parking Program Grant in the amount of $24,948 to the Grant Fund Community Development Department Other Ordinary Maintenance account to purchase bicycle parking racks.

Manager’s Agenda #4. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of a $2,000 grant received form the Cambridge Health Department to the Grant Fund Community Development Department Salary and Wages account to pay for an intern who will work with city staff to promote cycling and to research and plan for bicycle parking in numerous locations around Cambridge.

This is all well and good, but there are a few things about all these bike posts sprouting through the sidewalks of Cambridge that need to be said. First, it’s incredible how many abandoned bikes are clogging up these posts. The fact that the DPW guy in charge of wrangling bikes was arrested for stealing bicycles may be a factor, but I’d love to hear a truck making the rounds announcing "Bike rack cleaning. No parking on the odd side of the street or your bike will be tagged and towed. Bike rack cleaning…."

Another curious fact of these bike racks is that the responsibility of property owners to provide space for bikes for their residential and commercial tenants is being transferred to the City. On my block, my tenants store their bikes in the basement or behind the house but other property owners provide no space at all on premises for bicycles. The plan is apparently to transfer this responsibility entirely to the City by installing bike racks on the sidewalk – even though the primary users are not customers but tenants of the buildings. One commercial building with plentiful basement space and four commercial parking spaces behind the building now has no parking on premises for either bikes or motor vehicles. The parking spaces were given to an abutting residential condo building, and the City will be providing bike parking on the sidewalk. I wish I could externalize all my responsibilities like that.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-34, regarding a report on designated open space within the MXD District. [attachment]

This report really should have been provided a month ago when the controversy over the Kendall Square rooftop garden first arose. Better late than never, I suppose. It would be more informative if there was an accompanying document showing the whole range of current and planned open space in the wider area, especially the new open space that came out of the Alexandria rezoning process.

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the North Massachusetts Avenue Rezoning Petition received from the Planning Board. [attachment]

This petition concerns the part of Mass. Ave. from Porter Square to the Arlington line. As the report states, the principal elements of the proposed zoning are maintaining ground floor retail (non·residential uses on the ground floor would be required), protecting historic structures, facilitating outdoor seating, and adjusting the Business A2 (BA2) district boundaries. The closing sentence states, "The Planning Board feels that the proposed zoning changes reflect key opportunities to allow North Massachusetts Avenue to continue to evolve into an inviting, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use street with active ground floors."

Manager’s Agenda #7. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to a request that the City Council authorize the City Manager to seek approval from the Office of the Inspector General to utilize "Construction Manager-at-Risk" as the contracting method for the Martin Luther King School Renovation Project.

I don’t profess to understand what advantages this may have, but anything that may potentially limit costs is welcome. We’ve spent a lot of money in recent years on the Library, the Police Station, and the High School, and much more will be spent during the next decade in reconstructing buildings that will house the new middle school programs.

Order #1. That the City Council schedule a Roundtable Meeting for Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 4:00pm to receive an update from Goody Clancy and the Community Development Department on the Kendall Central Study.   Mayor Davis

This is one of MANY meetings coming up regarding possible plans for both Kendall Square and Central Square. One criticism I would express about the Goody Clancy role in this is the strong sense that their primary goal even before entering into this was to dramatically increase the residential and commercial density everywhere possible between Kendall Square and Central Square. Some of this is good, but the whole process feels like a juggernaut with the various advisory committees simply receiving the "vision" of the planners and not the other way around. Perhaps the upcoming meetings on Apr 4 (Central), Apr 5 (Kendall), Apr 6 (Kendall), Apr 10 (Kendall), Apr 11 (Central), Apr 12 (Kendall), Apr 25 (Goody Clancy at the City Council), and Apr 26 (Kendall) will bring out some more residents – few of whom have attended any of the previous meetings.

So many of the people who will be affected by proposals for Central Square have had little or no input into these ongoing discussions. This includes the Red Ribbon stuff of the last two years. The first news for some will be when places like the Clear Conscience Café and the Harvest Market are hustled out of their spaces to make room for other things. Other favorite places will be priced out of Central Square as it continues its transformation toward upscale restaurants as basic retail outlets pass into history. It’s popular to talk about buying local, but we are swiftly moving toward a future where a trip to Somerville or Everett will be necessary for anyone seeking affordable groceries, clothing, and other basic needs.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the Council on the legal requirements for public notice and meetings including issues on legibility, regulatory framework and definition and public comment at said meeting or hearing.   Councillor Kelley

The impetus for this Order is the proposed Dunkin Donuts next to the Evergood Market at Mass. Ave. and Shepard St. It’s doubtful whether there would have been such outrage if the Dunkin Donuts was proposed to open on Broadway or in East Cambridge or Central Square. Alas, not all neighborhoods have a Master Plan. – Robert Winters

1 Comment

  1. The process for creating a “vision” for Kendall Square up through the area termed the “Transition Zone” and Central Square is a daunting one. The number of stakeholders and potentially impacted individuals, businesses and groups is potentially staggering. Add to that the shear volume of meetings and information, many not held at the most convenient times for people to attend who may happen to work outside the area.

    Just listing the number of meetings in the next ten days as you have done brings to light the speed at which the process is moving and how important it is for people to be made aware of the potential impacts and benefits from what is being proposed.

    I am not sure how the meeting volume could be lessened, but I am disappointed to see a City-scheduled meeting for Good Friday. I would have prefered that the religious sugnificance of this day for many in the City be acknowledged by not scheduling what could be an important meeting on that day.

    As for the loss of retail, particularly owner operated local retail, it comes down to a variety of economic factors which the City and its residents cannot control in the short term such as the general strength of the MA and US economy and how it recovers from the recession. However, there is many things that the City and its residents can do to support a strong local economy:

    1) Try and support your local merchants as much as possible. They are the people and businesses that contribute to local charities, sponsor local youth sports teams and a variety of other activities that most of the “big box” retailers do not.

    2) Rents are driven by property values, taxes and what people are willing to pay to rent the space. This has resulted in a transition of many local retailers to banks and chain stores that make what was a uniquely Cambridge area look like most any other street in America. However, I think Cambridge can take steps to help encourage local retail. One step could be the establishment of an owner operated exemption from real estate taxes along the lines of the residential exemption for people who live in their own homes. If this was made available to landlords who rented to owner operated businesses and passed the savings along to their tenants than using the $198,085 residential examption amount at the commercial tax rate of $20.76 / 1,000 you would see an annual savings of $4,112 which could be a real help to local businesses getting off the ground and keeping growing.

    There has been considerable talk about keeping local business in Cambridge. I think its time to convert the talk into concrete action or risk losing our squares to the banks and chains.

    Comment by Charlie Marquardt — April 2, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

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