Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 10, 2016

Starting from Scratch – Agenda Items from the Jan 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 10:18 pm

Starting from Scratch – Agenda Items from the Jan 11, 2016 Cambridge City Council Meeting

City HallIt’s hard to characterize as "new" an elected body that’s 8/9 the same as the previous one, but it’s a clean slate nonetheless with a new Mayor. We’ll have to wait and see where this train takes us. Also, the City Clerk’s Office has changed the way they make meeting materials available starting with the new Council term. It’s good in some ways, but it’s a lot more difficult in other ways, especially in linking to specific documents without having to open up a 30MB PDF file just to find a single item buried among 300 pages. Here are a few agenda items that seem worthy of comment:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, in response to the City Council’s request for a legal opinion on whether the City can act either through ordinance, home rule petition or additional avenues to protect tenants from dramatic rent increases or unfair evictions, and whether the City has the ability to strengthen the tenant protections provided under the state Condominium Conversion Act.

As the City Solicitor’s opinion makes clear, municipalities have very limited authority in such matters, especially in the regulation of rents, but some specific tenant protections could possibly be enacted via a successful Home Rule petition.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the Barrett, et al, Zoning Petition.

Unfinished Business #9. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan and Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 19, 2015 to discuss a petition filed by Patrick W. Barrett III, et al. to amend the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance by amending Article 2.000 ("Definitions") and Article 4.000, Section 4.22 ("Accessory Apartment"). The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held on Oct 27, 2015. Petition expires Feb 17, 2016.

Communications #1. A communication was received from Patrick W. Barrett III, Esq., regarding the Barrett Petition.

These three items refer to the Barrett Petition that would modify zoning relating to Accessory Apartments and Basement Space. With a Feb 17 expiration date, now would be a good time to get the City Council Committee assignments completed so that the Ordinance Committee could reconvene and iron out any desirable amendments to this petition.

[UPDATE: The Barrett Petition passed (as amended only to insert an effective date of May 1, 2016) by a 7-1-1 vote (Cheung, Kelley, Maher, Mazen, McGovern. Simmons, Toomey voted YES; Carlone voted NO; Devereux voted PRESENT).]

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item #15-32 (2015), regarding a report on the economic analysis for Central Square. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor McGovern on City Manager Agenda Number Twenty-six of Dec 21, 2015.]

The timeliness, scope, and accuracy of this report hardly makes it a good starting point to reactivate discussions on the future of Central Square, but it’s something. Even a refutation of some of its assumptions would refocus some attention back to this area.

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Community Development Department to amend article 4.000 of the Zoning Ordinance to require that a power needs assessment be a requirement for appropriate projects that undergo special permit review. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Twelve of Dec 21, 2015.]

There was a residential project proposed for 10 Essex Street that went through its required hearings and approvals two years ago and was never built. At the time, one topic discussed was the need to accommodate an electrical vault accessible from the street. This otherwise technical detail was relevant in light of the fact that the abutting new H-Mart in Central Square (which would have an entrance through this proposed building) had its opening delayed for a long time due to inadequate electrical infrastructure to service that block. Only a temporary waiver permitted the opening of this now very popular store and one might speculate that this could be related to the failure to build this welcome transit-oriented development. Either that or it’s the usual inaction of this particular property owner.

When the City’s latest Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment findings were announced recently, I made the point that the adequacy of the city’s electrical infrastructure should have been given more attention in that study. Councillor Cheung’s Order of Dec 21 is relevant in that it seeks to ensure adequate electrical infrastructure for new large developments, but greater attention also needs to be paid to the entire electrical network of the city, especially in view of potential additional burdens – often on very aged and inadequate electrical lines – that may come with extended summer heat waves.

Charter Right #6. That the City Manager is requested to coordinate with the appropriate departments to give recognized community groups the ability to present alongside or directly after city staff, on the record and as part of the presentation agenda during meetings of the Ordinance Committee. [Charter Right exercised by Mayor Maher on Order Number Thirteen of Dec 21, 2015.]

I really hope this proposal is discarded outright or radically amended into something sensible. There simply is no standard for what constitutes a "recognized community group", and the proposal would in all likelihood simply confer a special status upon a political entity such as the "Cambridge Residents Alliance" to present their official review of all proposals to come before the Ordinance Committee. Nothing now prevents members of this or any other organization from presenting oral or written testimony just like any other citizen or interested party.

[UPDATE: After a curious discussion, this matter was referred to the Government Operations & Rules Committee (not yet appointed).]

Unfinished Business #8. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Nov 18, 2015 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to amend Article 6.000 to create a new Section 6.24 Car-sharing Provision that will create a definition and general provisions for Car-sharing and will allow the limited use of parking spaces. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 28, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Oct 27, 2015. Amendment submitted by Councillor Cheung on Dec 21, 2015. Petition expires Feb 16, 2016.

This will likely be ordained at this meeting (or very soon) now that the public notice requirements have been met.

[UPDATE: The Car-sharing Zoning Amendment passed on a 7-2 vote with Councillors Kelley and Toomey voting NO. Councillor Toomey has since filed for Reconsideration of the vote.]

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Peter L. Cohen, with regard to a proposed amendment to the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance to restrict garage development in dimensionally non-conforming lots.

I don’t know much about this petition, but judging from the signatures on the petition it sounds like someone wants to build a garage on a dimensionally non-conforming lot on or around Donnell St. or R.C. Kelley St.

Resolution #5. Resolution on the retirement of Elaine Thorne.   Mayor Simmons

Elaine Thorne has, in addition to other duties, served as the staff person for the Central Square Advisory Committee for many years. She has been a great friend for over two decades and I wish her well in her retirement. Perhaps one day we may see her again as a citizen member of on the City’s boards & commissions. Her expertise and her perspective as a life-long Cantabrigian would be a welcome addition.

Resolution #7. Congratulations Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis.   Mayor Simmons

It is very appropriate for this year’s Fresh Pond Stewardship Award to be awarded to Chip Norton and Henrietta Davis. It was nearly two years ago that Chip Norton died unexpectedly, but he served many years working to protect the watershed areas of the Cambridge water supply. Henrietta Davis has also been an advocate for Fresh Pond and the watershed areas for many years (though I do wish she would return the MAPC Cambridge watershed study I loaned her many years ago!).

Order #3. That the City Council Ordinance Committee be and hereby is requested to review the attached proposed amendment to §12.16.030 Trees—Climbing, Signposting, Fastening horses.   Councillor Kelley, Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Toomey

You certainly have to read the text of the Order to appreciate its intent, namely to address the problem of bicycles being recklessly locked to living trees. I do enjoy occasionally looking at the sometimes obsolete language of some of Cambridge’s more dated ordinances. For example: "9.04.070 – Throwing objects in streets or on bridges. No person shall play ball or throw a stone or other missile in any street, or upon or from any bridge." You didn’t know that stickball was illegal in the streets of Cambridge, did you?

Order #4. That the matter of creating smoke free places of employment to protect all workers in unenclosed areas be referred to the Ordinance Committee for consideration.   Councillor Kelley, Vice Mayor McGovern, Councillor Carlone

A motivation for this proposed amendment seems to be to address the potential dangers of smoking at construction sites where there are flammable materials present. The fire at the new Putnam Ave. school that delayed its opening for six months seems to be the most obvious example of this hazard.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department and other relevant departments to draft a zoning ordinance that would see the installation of solar panels be as of right in all zoning districts in the City.   Councillor Cheung

This is a reintroduction of an Order from Oct 19, 2015. It remains an excellent idea after any potential conflicts have been resolved.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and report back to the City Council with language that could create a Grand Junction Overlay District that would help to create incentives and ensure the completion of the Grand Junction Multiuse Path.   Councillor Toomey

This is basically a reintroduction of an Order passed on Feb 23, 2015. The only difference now is that there is some sense that funding may be more difficult to come by in light of the scaling back or indefinite delay of other MBTA projects, e.g. the Green Line Extension. Some "Occupy" types have suggested that "Cambridge should just build it", but that’s problematic if you don’t own or control the right-of-way or, most importantly, the RR bridge over the Charles River that carries an active rail line. That said, creating an overlay district with incentives for abutting property owners to facilitate the construction is a good start.

Order #8. That the City Council go on record accepting the attached provisions of Chapter 162 of the Acts of 2015, the same being ‘AN ACT RELATIVE TO THE TAX STATUS OF CERTAIN LAND OWNED BY A HOUSING AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE.”   Mayor Simmons

It’s hard to say whether this was done for a specific property or in connection with some of the creative financing plans the Cambridge Housing Authority has been exploring and adopting. In any case, the Act was adopted and signed by the Governor, so all that’s left is for the City Council to accept its provisions.

Communications & Reports from City Officers #1. A communication was received from Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Transmitting An Open Meeting Law Complaint filed by Kim Courtney and Xavier Dietrich, 955 Massachusetts Avenue #259, Cambridge, regarding the amended Minutes of the City Council meeting of Aug 10, 2015.

We can only hope that these two mosquitoes will soon fly away or find another host on which to feed. – Robert Winters

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