Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

July 29, 2012

Midsummer at the Council – July 30 City Council Agenda Highlights

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:39 pm

Update: Here are the main things that happened at the marathon July 30 City Council meeting:

1) Action on the Forest City/MIT Zoning Petition was delayed until a Special City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, Aug 6 at 7:30pm with this as the sole agenda item. Mayor Davis and Councillor Maher indicated that there may be additional provisions included in the agreement that would protect 168 expiring-use affordable housing units that are part of University Park.
[Cambridge Chronicle report by Erin Baldassari]

2) The appropriation and authorization to borrow $81,500,000 to provide funds for architectural design, construction and other associated costs of the King School project was passed unanimously to a 2nd Reading.

3) The City Council Zoning Petition for School Site Zoning was ordained unanimously.

4) The NorthPoint Zoning Petition was ordained unanimously.

5) The North Mass. Ave. Rezoning Petition was ordained unanimously, and the related zoning petition for the Trolley Sq. area is to be re-filed on Sept 5.

6) The Area Four Neighborhood Preservation Petition (a.k.a. the Permanant Parking Petition) was received and referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee (where it will be received with great laughter and derision). – RW


Midsummer at the Council – July 30 City Council Agenda Highlights

The annual Midsummer meeting of the Cambridge City Council always sports one of the longest agendas of the year (being the only meeting between June and September). This year is light compared to other years with "only" 26 items on the City Manager’s Agenda, 10 on the Calendar, 5 Applications & Petitions, 43 Communications (mainly from an orchestrated effort opposing the Forest City/MIT zoning petition as a proxy for Central Square zoning recommendations yet to come), 71 Resolutions, 34 Orders, and 7 Committee Reports. Most of the items are the usual drivel, but a few stand out or are guaranteed to generate comment. Here are the items that caught my attention:

King School/Putnam Ave. Upper School Reconstruction:
Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the appropriation and authorization to borrow $81,500,000 to provide funds for architectural design, construction and other associated costs of the King School project.

The list of new features associated with this school is impressive. Some residents have argued that a complete teardown is not necessary and that may be a part of the discussion at this meeting.


Manager’s Agenda #26. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-57, regarding the City Council’s request for a report regarding the question of appropriate regulation of satellite dishes.

The report includes proposed language for a possible ordinance regulating how satellite dishes could be located on buildings. Federal law does not allow these devices to be too harshly regulated nor fees to be charged, but there is some flexibility to allow regulation of placement on building unless there are no feasible alternatives.


Forest City/MIT Zoning Petition:
Unfinished Business #7. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 15, 2012 to discuss the petition of Forest City/MIT to amend the Zoning Ordinances by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street and further to provide for the potential development of a residential building on Sidney Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Green Street. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 25, 2012. Planning Board hearing held May 1, 2012. Petition expires Aug 13, 2012.

Committee Report #2. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on June 27, 2012 to continue discussion on the petition of Forest City/MIT to amend the Zoning Ordinances by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street and further to provide for the potential development of a residential building on Sidney Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Green Street.

Committee Report #5. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on July 25, 2012 to continue discussion on the petition of Forest City/MIT to amend the Zoning Ordinances by extending the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District from Green Street out to Massachusetts Avenue in the area adjacent to Blanche Street and further to provide for the potential development of a residential building on Sidney Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Green Street.

The twisted rhetoric and misinformation that has grown around this matter is beyond incredible. Here are a few truths to consider:

  1. A previous petition, the Novartis Petition to create a new Special District 15 along a portion of Massachusetts Avenue between Albany Street and Windsor Street, passed 9-0 on June 20, 2011. There was no request from "the community" to build any housing whatsoever. There was no requirement that they provide retail space. The sole tenant is a pharmaceutical company. The Forest City/MIT proposal includes 13-15,000 sq. ft. of ground floor retail. Its sole tenant for the rest of the building is Millennium, a pharmaceutical company that is already a tenant of University Park.
  2. In the new Special District 15 created as a result of the Novartis Petition, the maximum FAR is 3.5 and the maximum height as-of-right is 120 ft. (plus mechanicals) which can be increased to 140 ft. via Special Permit. In contrast, the Forest City/MIT proposal is to build a 95 ft. building (plus mechanicals). The height associated with the Novartis proposal was never opposed by "the community".
  3. The original Forest City/MIT proposal did not include housing, but the revised petition did include housing in response to suggestions from the City Council and the Community Development Department. That proposed housing was controversial and was subsequently removed in response to pressure from "the community". There is simply no way to rationally make the case that Forest City has been anything other than responsive to feedback from elected officials and "the community".
  4. The original zoning for University Park required 400 units of housing of which 150 were to be "affordable". There are now 674 units of housing in University Park of which 26% are classified as "affordable" – well in excess of City goals.
  5. The block at the heart of this petition currently contains a boarded-up former bar, the Thailand Cafe, an MIT garage for service vehicles, an auto glass replacement shop, the former Salvation Army Thrift Store, and the All-Asia bar (which is relocating to Prospect Street under a new name). This block has been an eyesore for many years. It generates about $55,000 in real estate taxes per year. If the petition passes, there will be retail opportunities for local companies and it is estimated that the City will receive about $2.4 million in real estate taxes every year. In addition, an Incentive Zoning payment and a Community Benefit Mitigation payment will total about $2,163,000.

Much of the public comment associated with the Forest City/MIT petition has centered on matters unrelated to this site or the petition. It is being used a proxy for possible future Central Square zoning recommendations yet to come. It is likely that there will be future recommendations for strategic increases in density in Central Square – largely driven by the desire to create more housing opportunities in the area and to provide other community benefits. Opponents have stated that the Forest City/MIT petition should be delayed pending the final report of the Goody Clancy study and its associated advisory committee, yet all indications are that the current proposal is consistent with that process. This makes this assertion little more than a red herring or a transparent delay tactic.

Ultimately, the fate of any zoning petition comes down to how the nine city councillors will vote, and six votes are needed for ordination in this case. It will be a shame if this matter is decided not by the merits of the proposal but by entirely political considerations. One councillor has a long-term friendship with one of the opponents. Another pro-density councillor lives on Essex Street where some of her neighbors are at the core of the opposition – based on an unrelated concern that parking lots on Bishop Allen Drive may one day become sites for future housing. These and other councillors have been seeking rationale for voting against this petition even though those who were on the Council in 2011 voted unanimously in favor of the Novartis Petition that provided fewer "community benefits" and more height than the current proposal. If this petition fails, it will be a victory for hypocrisy.


City Council Zoning Petition for School Site Zoning:
Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2012 to discuss a petition to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by adding to Section 5.50 entitled "Special Dimensional Regulations" a section 5.54 entitled "Special Regulations for Municipal Elementary and Middle (K-8) Schools. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 25, 2012. Planning Board hearing held June 5, 2012. Petition expires Aug 21, 2012.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on July 19, 2012 to conduct a follow-up meeting on the petition to amend the Zoning Ordinances of the City of Cambridge by adding to Section 5.50 entitled "Special Dimensional Regulations" a section 5.54 entitled "Special Regulations for Municipal Elementary and Middle (K-8) Schools.

This petition is primarily crafted to allow sufficient flexibility in the reconstruction or renovation of the proposed middle/upper schools that are at the heart of the so-called "Innovation Agenda." This should be relatively noncontroversial.


North Mass. Ave. Rezoning Petition:

Manager’s Agenda #24. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to the Planning Board’s recommendation with regard to the North Massachusetts Avenue Rezoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #10. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on June 6, 2012 to discuss the petition from the Planning Board to rezone the North Massachusetts Avenue area. A hearing was also scheduled at 4:15pm to discuss a petition of the Planning Board to amend the Zoning Map for an area along North Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B. The petitions were discussed together. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after July 2, 2012. Planning Board hearing held May 15, 2012. Petition expires Sept 4, 2012.

Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Administrative Assistant, City Clerk’s Office, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public meeting held on June 28, 2012 to continue discussion on the petitions from the Planning Board to rezone the North Massachusetts Avenue area and to amend the Zoning Map for an area along Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B.

Order #20. That the petition to amend the zoning map along Massachusetts Avenue in the vicinity of Trolley Square and Linear Park from Business A-2 to Residence C-2B be re-filed on Sept 5, 2012.   Councillor Maher

There are two petitions in play here. The Planning Board petition to incentivize retail in this stretch of Mass. Ave. has plenty of neighborhood support and the blessing of the Planning Board. It will likely be voted at this meeting. The other petition that is more specific to the Trolley Sq. area has not yet been passed to a 2nd Reading and expires before the next City Council meeting, hence the Order that it be re-filed.


Northpoint Zoning Revision:
Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on May 23, 2012 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance on a petition filed by CJUF III Northpoint LLC to amend Article 13.700 – Planned Unit Development in the North Point Residence District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after June 25, 2012. Planning Board hearing held June 5, 2012. Petition expires Aug 21, 2012.

This is a relatively minor revision to previously approved zoning for this area (2003). It has the blessing of the Planning Board.


The "Permanent Parking Petition":
Applications & Petitions #1. A zoning petition has been received from Susan Yanow, et al. transmitting a zoning petition entitled "Area Four Neighborhood Preservation" requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance and Zoning Map in Area Four and the Central Square area.

There was an unsuccessful effort at the June 18 City Council meeting to introduce this petition as a late order. The petition proposes to do the opposite of every anticipated recommendation of the ongoing Goody/Clancy process relating to the Central Square area. Ironically, these same petitioners endorse waiting until the final Goody/Clancy report before any action is taken on the Forest City/MIT petition. This is just civic comedy – proposing the opposite while at the same time arguing that Goody/Clancy should be used as a guide. This petition would also sanctify the permanent existence of surface parking lots around Central Square.

There is a need for a robust discussion on the pros and cons of additional density in Central Square to take place. We should all look forward to such a discussion. This petition contributes nothing to that discussion.


Resolution #21. Resolution on the death of Anne F. Williamson.   Councillor Maher, Mayor Davis

Anne Williamson was a long-time friend and one of the most reasonable and rational people I have known in civic affairs in Cambridge.

Resolution #48. Resolution on the retirement of Gordon Gottsche.   Councillor Toomey, Mayor Davis, Vice Mayor Simmons

Gordon Gottsche, the Executive Director of the non-profit Just-A-Start, is practically a Cambridge institution. We should all wish him well in his retirement.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council in Executive Session the nature of the possibility of six lawsuits, their status, and any others that might have been filed.   Councillor Reeves

This seems like the next step in what will likely be a miserable effort by this councillor to leverage the upcoming process of hiring the next city manager. Let’s hope that there are at least five city councillors who will not allow themselves to be led around.

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Department of Conservation and Recreation to create the placement of appropriate signage or indication of entry into the City of Cambridge on or around the North Bank Pedestrian Bridge.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

This is a nice sentiment, but there’s a small problem of geography. A significant part of North Point Park on the Cambridge side of the new bridge is actually in Boston. The city boundary is determined by the historic channel of the Charles River, and many iterations of filling and redefining the boundary of the river have led to this oddity. Perhaps there should be a legislative fix putting the park entirely in Cambridge, but this really is a metropolitan park and the municipal boundaries should not be overly emphasized.

Order #14. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff and report back to the City Council on whether a tagging program could be implemented to notify owners of bicycles that have been removed from sign posts by the Department of Public Works and contact information for retrieval of said bicycle.   Councillor Kelley

As we like to say, "Same Roads, Same Rules." When an automobile is tagged and towed on street cleaning day, the cops and tow truck drivers never leave a note. Cyclists are obligated to know the rules, and that includes rules regarding the use of sign posts for long-term personal parking.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council statistical information regarding enforcement citations for loud motorcycle mufflers, car radios and the City’s plan to address these issues.   Councillor Kelley

I am completely in support of this Order and for action to be taken to crack down on this aural abuse, but this matter has been brought up time and time again and it never goes anywhere.

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff on whether, and under what conditions, emails to both Council@Cambridgema.gov and to individual Councillors, at both their personal and City emails, may be shared with the general public and what, if any, redaction of personal information should be done prior to such sharing, whether the sharing of an email is by forwarding it to others or by posting it to a website.   Councillor Kelley

This is an intriguing Order. Some of the hate mail originating from nitwits on the right and left might provide for entertaining reading. My personal belief is that anyone who sends inflammatory e-mail does so in full recognition that it may come back to embarrass the writer. On the other hand, if there was an expectation that ordinary messages to public officials would be thrown into the public arena, this would likely lead to fewer people contacting elected officials. Perhaps simply asking elected officials to use reasonable discretion is answer enough to this Order.

Order #30. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to report back to the City Council with an estimate of how sequestration would affect municipal finances and the finances of human services organizations that partner with the City.   Councillor Cheung

I have to confess that I have no idea what this Order is asking. I know what carbon sequestration is and I know what it means to sequester a jury, but beyond that I have no idea.

Order #32. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments on the feasibility of providing bike regulations to a wider audience including through media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, public service announcements and newspaper ads, increased enforcement and installation of signs informing bikers that they must obey the rules of the road.   Councillor Cheung

Though this is certainly a good idea, I believe it can be fairly said that almost all cyclists are completely aware of the Rules of the Road. Some of them just choose to ignore those rules. Will a few "tweets" change their scofflaw behavior? Probably not. In contrast, it’s likely true that periodic aggressive ticketing of cyclists does have the desired effect.

Order #33. That the City Manager is requested to work with the appropriate City departments to expand enforcement of the prohibition on Cambridge pick-ups by non-Cambridge cabs not specifically called to Cambridge.   Councillor Cheung

There is another point of view that questions the whole idea of granting exclusive rights to certain cab operators and perhaps even the very idea of hackney licensing. Does this licensing really serve the public good? Or does it merely inflate the value of hackney licenses and drive up consumer costs? Though it would have to be done across all city and town boundaries, perhaps we’d all be better off if hackney licenses were eliminated. This, of course, won’t put any "Elect Candidate X" bumper stickers on any Cambridge cabs. – Robert Winters

4 Comments

  1. It is too bad that the comments regarding Forest City suggest that if the neighborhood was asleep regarding Novartis, then we should continue making mistakes, possibly forever. My logic suggests that we learn from mistakes, and can be smarter in the future……MIT owns the land and has begun to overwhelm parts of Cambridge with their money and power….so why not push back. The sensible development on this site would be housing affordable for middle class families and those who need the help of the Cambridge Affordable Housing trust. IN addition, affordable retail on the ground level would be ideal……housing and retail that meets the current residents of the community that is being impacted. Because Forest City and MIT can meet their goals of research and profit to the greatest extent by building big pharma buildings, that does not mean that we have to go along with it. Big Pharma should be in Kendall Square, not on this site on Mass Ave, closing in on the heart of the Square.

    By the way, your failure to mention that the noisy penthouse on the proposed Forest City site could go up to 128 feet is an interesting “mistake” at best.

    So, the message to Forest City is, build as of right or wait until there is a larger discussion of the future of Central Square…..I hope that they do not get the upzone and I hope they rethink their development. Because MIT now owns an area of Mass Ave. that could be called distressed only makes MIT responsible for the outcome.Also when you reference Councilors, give us their names……how about some transparency.

    Comment by gerald bergman — July 29, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  2. “Sequestration” is the technical term for the automatic cuts in Federal spending that will take place on January 1 since Congress was unable to reach agreement on a more rational fiscal plan. These cuts were supposed to be so bad that no one in their right mind would allow them to happen, thus forcing Congress to act. Understanding what will happen to federal aid on which Cambridge depends is a perfectly reasonable request.

    Comment by Saul Tannenbaum — July 29, 2012 @ 8:46 pm

  3. The Mayor’s Office released the following statement (July 31, 2012):

    I’m writing to update you on the status of the Forest City Zoning Petition.

    Right now, without needing City Council permission, Forest City can build up to 80 feet and just under 139,000 square feet of space. They would not be required to provide ground floor retail or other benefits for the community. They are asking for an additional 15 feet in height and an additional 107,000 square feet to be used for lab space and ground floor retail.

    Originally Forest City also proposed a high rise residential structure. I’m pleased to report that Forest City has removed this portion of the proposal, a residential tower at the corner of Sidney Street and Green Street that would have abutted the Mass Ave park and cast some shadows on Jill Brown-Rhone Park.

    The most important news is that the Mayor’s Office is now working with representatives of Forest City and the Chair of the Ordinance Committee to address housing needs in other ways:

    1. We are hoping Forest City will extend affordability on approximately over 150 units of housing in University Park by 50 years. The units are now set to lose their affordable status starting in the next decade.

    2. It is also proposed the Forest City provide 20 new units of affordable housing, possibly in connection with a new housing development.

    I appreciate that this had been a difficult and complex process for the community. In order to continue and possibly complete negotiations with Forest City, I have scheduled a special City Council meeting at City Hall for next Monday August 6 at 7:30 PM. The public is welcome to attend.

    Comment by Robert Winters — July 31, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  4. Off topic, but does anyone know why Inman Square is having brownouts during the day and blackouts at night? At this point I can reset the microwave clock blindfolded.

    JChase

    Comment by JChase — August 1, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

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