Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 15, 2015

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 am

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

City HallThere are some substantial reports from the City Manager and some interesting Council Orders on this week’s agenda.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-97, regarding a report on the MLK School construction compliance with the Cambridge Employment Plan.

Normally I don’t care at all about this sort of bean counting, but I did find interesting the following facts in the Manager’s report:

(1) The Cambridge resident worker hours on the MLK project totaled 3.8% which is less than the required goal of 25%. However, the Cambridge resident population of workers skilled and/or experienced in construction trades has been less than 2% making this requirement virtually impossible to meet. [Perhaps it’s time to revise that goal.]

(2) The minority worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 32.6% which is above the goal of 25%.

(3) The women worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 1.0%. U.S. Census data reveals that women in Massachusetts skilled in the trades is less than 2%.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Cambridge Off Leash Working Group regarding off leash dogs in Cambridge.

The discussions about how best to accommodate our canine friends have been going on for a decade. Dog owners actually comprise a pretty effective political lobby in Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt, with suggested changes, the Carsharing Zoning Petition.

This has generated some concerns recently as well as some alternate proposals on how best to accommodate carsharing, e.g. using some on-street resident parking spaces for this purpose. This zoning petition is specifically about off-street spaces and the Planning Board recommends that off-street lots should maintain at least 75% of their spaces for privately owned vehicles and that only lots with a minimum of 4 spaces may accommodate carsharing vehicles. However, the Planning Board also recommends that these limits can be waived via a Special Permit on a case-by-case basis. The theory here is that by making carsharing more easily available the number of privately owned vehicles should decrease thereby relieving some of the demand for on-street spaces.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appropriate zoning language for recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions, as requested in Council Order Number 6 of May 18, 2015.

As the report states, "The intent of these proposed changes is to implement changes recommended by the recently completed Incentive Zoning Nexus Study." Specific changes include:

• Removing the current special permit trigger so that housing contributions would be made by all projects with 30,000 or more square feet of uses subject to the Incentive Zoning provisions;

• Expanding the definition of an incentive project to add seven new uses for which housing contributions would be required (in addition to the current uses of office, lab and retail): hotel/motel, radio/TV studios, institutional, health care, social services, light industry/wholesale, and heavy industry;

• Increasing the contribution rate to $12 per square foot [from the current $4.58], with an annual rate increase of $1 per year over the next three years;

• Making automatic the annual adjustment of the contribution rate based on changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI);

• Requiring that the City initiate a periodic reevaluation of the housing contribution by initiating an updated nexus study after three years;

• Eliminating the current deduction of the first 2,500 square feet from the calculation of the contribution;

• Establishing a definition of a “Middle Income Household” and adding language to make clear that the Affordable Housing Trust can use resources generated to assist Middle Income Households.

Order #1. Zoning Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance for the area along Walden Street near the intersection of Garden Street and extending through the intersection of Sherman Street currently zoned Business A be rezoned to a newly created zoning district entitled Business A-4 and add a new Business A-4 line to Section 5.33.   Councillor Cheung

If eventually ordained, this new zoning designation will respond to some of the issues raised by a proposed residential development at the former Masse’s Hardware site(s). It’s interesting that the proposed maximum residential density would actually be higher than is currently the case, though there would now be minimum front and side setbacks that do not exist under the present zoning. I have been told that the affected parties are agreeable to this new zoning.

Order #4. That the City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, June 29, 2015 be and hereby is cancelled after consultation with the City Manager so that a joint public hearing between the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee be held at 6:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber to discuss the zoning petition to amend Section 13.10 to change the development controls in the Planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay District; said majority of the area of the PUD-KS is occupied by the Volpe Transportation Systems Research Center operated by the US Department of Transportation.   Mayor Maher
[Petition text] [Summary of major proposed changes] [All currently proposed zoning amendments]

The process for this zoning amendment is uniquely different than just about every other petition due to the many constraints associated with this being a federally-owned property. There are time constraints based on the current presidential term as well as financial constraints inherent in the federal law that allows this arrangement in which revenue generated from the rest of the site must cover any costs associated with constructing a new building for the Volpe Transportation Center on the site. This may also impose some limitations on the lofty goals expressed by some regarding the percentage of affordable units to be mandated as part of any residential construction. One variable that could relieve some of those constraints is the allowance of greater height and, not surprisingly, this has some people bent out of shape about the possibility that the tallest building in Cambridge might grow from this zoning. The unusual procedure of having a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Board (rather than completely separate parallel processes) is also not setting well with the same people, but in this unique situation it seems warranted.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

People may not like the advertising, but there are indications that Hubway may not be economically sustainable without it.

Order #6. That the City Council go on the record condemning Harvard Towers Corporation for neglecting to reach out to the City of Cambridge to determine if there are ways to mitigate the negative repercussions on the City’s housing market stemming from the mass eviction of tenants of 295 Harvard Street.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

This building (built in 1962) contains 111 apartments, and tenants were given very little warning that they all have to be gone by Aug 31, 2015. The building is just a block away from where I live and nobody in my neighborhood seems to even know what is ultimately planned for the building.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of permitting cyclists to advance simultaneously with the pedestrian "walk" signal and to to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of piloting bicycle-specific signal faces at the Cambridge-Hampshire St intersection.   Councillor Mazen

Many cyclists already do start moving with the walk light (not me), but I have to say that this is really more about convenience than about safety. When motor vehicles and bicycles are both stopped at a traffic light, all parties are aware of each other and there’s little or no conflict when the light changes. The greater hazard is from moving vehicles turning in front of moving cyclists and from cyclists positioning themselves in the roadway in ways that are fundamentally unsafe, i.e. passing a potentially turning vehicle on the right.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff or the appropriate departments on the feasibility of legally requiring supermarkets and other food seller and resellers to donate leftover food to donation centers in order to cut down on food waste.   Councillor Mazen

Many, if not most, food markets already do this to some degree. Facilitating food donations and composting programs would be more helpful than simply mandating that it be done. This means addressing the need for adequate transportation, scheduling, and other logistics.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with total amount of funds currently in and total expected to be in the Community Benefits Funds account as well as the origins of the funds and any expenditures to date.   Councillor Toomey

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $88,430 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used for consulting fees to conduct a community wide needs assessment relative to our Community Benefits plan. The requested amount is two-thirds of the total cost of the needs assessment ($132,430 total). With a vested interest in the outcome, the Cambridge Community Foundation has made a substantial financial commitment of $44,000 to cover one-third of the total cost (see Agenda Item Number 15). This is the first step regarding the further development of a plan to distribute funds earmarked for Community Benefits. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Fourteen of June 1, 2015.]

This matter has been stewing for a number of years and it’s about time that the City Council moved things in the direction of a resolution and a system for handling these funds and putting them toward productive use. – Robert Winters


The Upshot (the morning after): On Manager’s Agenda #1, most of the councillors chimed in about their disappointment that the dreams of past Councils regarding apprenticeships in the trades have not been realized. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the changing demographics of Cambridge or maybe to the fact that many young residents don’t understand that well-paying careers in construction, law enforcement, and other areas are actually available to them (Benzan).

There was some public comment on the Carsharing Zoning Petition (Manager’s Agenda #20) – mostly concerns about the possibility of disruptive activity associated with this commercial activity taking place in residential neighborhoods. One deficiency in the petition is that it doesn’t address the possibility that a resident with off-street parking might choose to park on the street in order to derive income by leasing their off-street space to a carsharing company. If that were to happen, there really should be a complaint-driven revocation process written into the regulations.

The recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions that were the subject of Manager’s Agenda #21 are now a zoning petition that will be scheduled for Ordinance Committee and Planning Board hearings.

The Council spent far too much time discussing the propriety of cancelling their June 29 meeting in favor of a Joint Special Meeting with the Planning Board (not a Roundtable, so there will be no fixed time limit and public comment will be permitted) to discuss the Volpe zoning petition. The Special Meeting was eventually unanimously approved with the possibility that a brief Regular Meeting might also be scheduled in the event that there is any pressing regular business.

The Council voted 8-1 (Mazen voted No) on Order #8 to open the possibility of advertising on Hubway bikes as a means of ensuring the economic viability of the program.

The Council expressed their condemnation of the actions of the owners/managers of Harvard Towers (295 Harvard St.) in evicting all residents (111 apartments) with very short notice and no information on their future plans for the building.

1 Comment

  1. That BA-4 zoning looks awful. The car sharing stuff looks better though I’m not really clear on who it would apply to and if it isn’t too watered down.

    Comment by Patrick Barrett — June 15, 2015 @ 7:19 am

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