Looking ahead – January 5, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting
Here are a few items of interest at the first meeting of this brand new municipal election year. Though the Sullivan Chamber in City Hall appears to be fully renovated, this meeting is taking place in the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at CRLS.
Reconsideration #1. Reconsideration filed on Dec. 16, 2014 by Councillor Mazen on Part (2) relating to granting special Permits in Section 10.43, remained in committee. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Dec 29, 2014 Part (1). Planning Board Hearing held Nov 18, 2014. Petition expires Feb 10, 2015.
The Teague Petition consisted of three parts – the obvious, the misinterpreted, and the absurd. The obvious part calls for making the expiration dates for zoning petitions consistent between state law and the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance. This first part was passed to a 2nd Reading on Dec 15 and is expected to be ordained shortly. The misinterpreted part is the basis of Mazen’s filing for Reconsideration. At issue is the distinction between the phrases "Special permits will normally be granted" vs. "Special permits may be granted". There was a Late Order passed at the Dec 15 meeting asking for further clarification. The Planning Board unanimously recommended leaving the "will normally be granted" language intact and the City Council on Dec 15 voted to leave the matter in committee. Councillor Mazen apparently disagreed and feels that the proposed new language should have been passed to a 2nd Reading. In truth, the Planning Board has always had discretion in the granting of Special Permits and the existing language is perfectly consistent with this. The 3rd part of the Teague Petition that "All permits, including, but not limited to, Building Permits, Special Permits, and Variances shall comply with the Master Plan for the City of Cambridge" was a non-starter for a variety of reasons.
Manager’s Agenda #13. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an order requesting the authorization to borrow an amount not to exceed $39,000,000 for the purpose of refinancing existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid.
Excerpts: "The purpose (of this Order) is to refinance existing General Obligation Bonds to acquire lower interest rates than those currently being paid."… "While the City received favorable interest rates at the time of the sale of these bonds because of its Triple A rating, current market conditions would allow the City to refund the remainder of the eligible maturities (those with 10 years or longer remaining in principal and interest payments) to realize savings of approximately $190,000 annually through 2028, which equates to $2.4m in gross savings."
Resolution #8. Resolution on the death of George L. Hinds, Sr. Councillor Toomey
[George was known to many of us as "The Mayor of Fayette Street". Obituary]
Resolution #12. Resolution on the death of Sister Mary Mark Pizzotti, DM. Mayor Maher
[Sister Mary Mark was Administrator of Sancta Maria Nursing Facility for 42 years. Obituary]
Having lived in Cambridge for only 37 years, I don’t always appreciate the passing of significant Cantabrigians. In the case of Sister Mary Mark, I only know of her role at Sancta Maria through the words of others. George Hinds, on the other hand, has been a neighbor of mine for all the years I’ve lived here. He died on Christmas Day at the age of 85. I knew him first about 30 years ago as that grumpy guy who didn’t appreciate when I would sometimes park my old VW Beetle near his house. As the years passed, talking with George became an indispensable part of my walking down Fayette Street, and I always looked forward to talking with him. I will really miss seeing him. George’s son and other family members will, no doubt, continue the tradition among the sidewalk ambassadors of Fayette Street.
Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to report back on any progress made in acquiring state funding for design and construction of the portion of the Watertown branch B&M Line railroad property to construct the Watertown-Cambridge Greenway and on the feasibility of a low-cost, temporary paving solution for the Greenway in order to realize the community benefits while the path awaits permanent construction. Councillor Mazen, Councillor Kelley and Councillor McGovern
I don’t believe anyone will object to the intent of this Order. Off-road options for biking and walking, when they become available, are great additions as linear parks and as transportation resources. I don’t know that I agree with temporary solutions as they have a way of becoming semi-permanent. There’s really no down side for Cambridge or our neighboring towns in getting this done. I only wish we had better inter-governmental mechanisms to make these kinds of things happen with fewer bureaucratic delays.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to report back on Policy Order #5 of May 19, 2014 regarding the feasibility of taking the Vail Court lot by eminent domain for the “public good.” Vice Mayor Benzan
This blight has existed for ages and it’s about time something was done. I don’t know what the best use is for this property or whether an eminent domain taking is the best course of action, but there needs to be some pressure applied. When this Order was passed 8 months ago, some explanation was offered by one city councillor who knows the owner and who has used that abandoned property as a parking space for the bus he used during his 2013 campaign,
presumably at no cost even though the in-kind value of that parking must now be in the thousands of dollars dating back to Fall 2013. [Correction: Rent has been paid for this parking space. Suffice to say that all elected officials should take care to avoid the appearance of any conflicts of interest, including a situation where the City Council threatens an eminent domain taking.] – Robert Winters
PS – It will be interesting to see what the City Council does with the following:
LATE ORDER Jan 5, 2015
WHEREAS: The reconstruction of Pearl Street and the subsequent removal of a significant amount of parking spaces to create a bike lane has caused much concern and opposition; and
WHEREAS: Cambridge is dedicated to increasing safe biking opportunities and providing means for alternative transportation; and
WHEREAS: Cambridge also must maintain a balance with residents who have a real need for automobiles as well as a place to park them; now therefore be it
RESOLVED: That the City Council go on record opposing the option of removing parking along the length of Pearl Street to create a bike lane; and be it further
ORDERED: That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to instruct the Community Development Department to abandon the "Complete Street" plan for Pearl Street.
Quick Update on last night’s (Jan 5) City Council meeting:
(1) There were many people there for the Public Comment portion of the meeting addressing the proposed changes to the Smoking Ordinance – specifically the prohibition of smoking in public parks and outdoor patios of restaurants. One definitely gets the sense that any support for those proposed prohibitions is quickly going up in smoke.
(2) Discussion of Reconsideration #1 bordered at times on the ridiculous. It seems that the real issue may simply have been the failure to take a vote to close discussion at the previous meeting before disposing of the underlying matter (Teague Petition – Part 1 passed to 2nd Reading, other parts left in committee for further discussion). Reconsideration failed 3-6 with only Councillors Carlone, Cheung, and Mazen in favor and the vote of the previous meeting stands. Late in the meeting Councillor Mazen brought up Part 1 (uniformizing expiration dates for zoning petitions) and it was ordained unanimously as expected.
(3) There was a good discussion between the City Council and representatives of the Cambridge Police Department that covered a number of topics. Vice Mayor Benzan was prominent in that discussion and spoke of his brother being a Cambridge police officer and of Deputy Superintendent Joseph Wilson having previously been his Assistant Scoutmaster. This was definitely one of those "little town within the big city" moments.
(4) There were several Late Orders at the end of the meeting on which some councillors exercised their Charter Right to delay discussion and consideration until the next regular City Council meeting (Jan 26). Perhaps the most significant was a proposed Late Order from Councillor Toomey that the City Council go on record opposing any plans to remove parking along the length of Pearl Street to create a separated bike lane (as opposed to an ordinary bike lane striped on the road surface) and to instruct the Community Development Department to abandon the "Complete Street" plan for Pearl Street. There will, no doubt, be a lot of public comment on this later this month. – RW