Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

September 23, 2018

Charter Right Do-Over – Agenda items from the Sept 24, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:19 pm

Charter Right Do-Over – Agenda items from the Sept 24, 2018 Cambridge City Council meeting

City HallMuch of the previous meeting was made subject to the Charter Right by Councillor Toomey, so those items will be back before the City Council this week plus a few more bits and pieces. Here are a few that seem interesting:

Manager’s Agenda #7. A communication transmitted from Louis A. DePasquale, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 18-30 regarding a report on the possibility of Cambridge joining the national suit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Normally I don’t care for lawsuits like this, but in this case I’ll make an exception. These are the worst kinds of dope dealers. Better yet, we don’t have to pay for the litigation unless the City prevails and is awarded damages.

Charter Right #2. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department to establish a Senior Living Overlay District at the current site of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility to encourage and incentivize redevelopment specifically for continuum of care services. [Order #1 of Sept 17, 2018]

I think we’re starting to get a bit too prescriptive with Cambridge zoning, especially with the introduction of "overlay districts" for every imaginable use. Many of us would like to see opportunities for senior living or a place where artists can flourish. We would also like places to buy affordable groceries. Is the creation of an overlay district to dictate one use while preventing other potential good uses the right way to go? It’s one thing to classify land use as residential, commercial, industrial, etc., but how far down should this categorization go?

Charter Right #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments and relevant housing partners to aggressively attempt to obtain, or help others obtain, the Sancta Maria property for purposes of affordable housing. [Order #3 of Sept 17, 2018]

Whatever happened to the idea of a relocated Public Works Yard? I’m not necessarily recommending this, but putting DPW on Concord Ave. and building mixed-income housing on the current DPW site isn’t a crazy idea.

Both of these Orders now appear to be moot thanks to this news flash:
Salvation for Sancta Maria: Nursing facility to remain open in Cambridge (Sept 17, 2018, Cambridge Chronicle)

Charter Right #7. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the tax status, zoning history, and sale of The Constellation Center’s Parcel C in Kendall Square. [Order #7 of Sept 17, 2018]

Anyone who has followed this knew this Order would eventually come. That will be an interesting and likely fruitless journey down the road of Retroactive Zoning & Tax Classification. Looking forward would make a lot more sense, but I’m sure I’ll find the history interesting.

Charter Right #12. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Economic Development Division to regularly update the vacant property database as well as review the strategies presented in the Storefront Vacancies Best Practices Report and report back on the feasibility of implementing these recommendations. [Order #12 of Sept 17, 2018]

I testified recently at a follow-up meeting of this committee about the potential unintended consequences of encouraging "pop up" businesses to occupy vacant spaces at (presumably) much lower rents than nearby businesses. I can easily see a seasonable "pop up" store showing up and stealing all the holiday business away from an existing business. The temporary filling of a vacant store could then lead to another vacancy.

Charter Right #14. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone and Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Co-Chairs of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on July 23, 2018 to discuss a proposed amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 10.17 entitled “Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance” in section 10.17.070 entitled “Fees for Residential Parking Stickers.” [Committee Report #6 of Sept 17, 2018]

I attended this meeting. My impression is that we have several elected officials who have never seen a fee increase or a tax increase that they didn’t embrace and celebrate. The simplest way to understand fees is to make clear the distinction with taxes. A fee pays for a service, and the money raised has to support that service. It’s not just another revenue source like a tax that can be used for whatever pet project a councillor wants to support. Personally, I find the notion of renewing a parking sticker every year a bit ridiculous. We accept it only because we’re familiar with the routine (and the long lines for some). A much better system would be to pay a one-time fee for a sticker that’s good for as long as you own the vehicle and still live in Cambridge. It would be easy to encode the sticker for easy verification against City databases. The only people waiting on lines would then be for new residents or new vehicles.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula M. Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councilor E. Denise Simmons, Chair and Councilor Sumbul Siddiqui of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on June 12, 2018 to discuss the housing ombudsman position, receive a detailed update regarding the timeline and plan for the affordable housing overlay district, an update on the inclusionary housing report, and the map of all affordable housing in the city.

I get the sense that not many Cambridge residents know what exactly is being proposed in the current plan for a citywide "affordable housing overlay district". I’ll provide a few more details shortly, but the basic idea is that your city councillors want to give builders of subsidized housing the right to to build up to four times the density as any other property owner with some setback requirements waived and little or no public process permitted. – RW

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