This will be the last City Council meeting of the year. Here are a few agenda items worthy of some comment:
On the Table #1 and #2. Sidewalk sandwich board applications (CareWell Urgent Care, Esmeralda) languishing On the Table since being tabled by Councillor Devereux on Apr 25, 2016.
Applications & Petitions #1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Applications and reapplications for sidewalk sandwich boards for Esmeralda, Honeycomb Creamery, Darwin’s Ltd., Marimekko, and Mundo/Lux.
Normally I wouldn’t even bother noting such minor goings-on, but when did the lowly sidewalk sandwich board become such a big deal? This year has been the Year of the Mountainous Molehill with the Cambridge City Council focusing excessively on advertising and identification signs on buildings, and on darkening as many lights as possible. We’ll soon be a city of totally anonymous buildings that will only be identifiable via iPhone apps. Apparently the only signage that’s completely OK is graffiti.
Bunches of Communications supporting the building of 100% affordable housing on the City-owned parking lots on Bishop Allen Drive.
Needless to say, all housing is affordable to someone. So the real question is what mix of household incomes should be represented in any new housing that may be constructed on these sites? Is segregating people by income the best strategy in the long term? The beauty of Inclusionary Zoning is that it integrates people of different income levels within the same buildings. I hope that any housing that may be created on these parking lots at leasts tries to achieve some sort of economic integration. Most of the communications posted in the agenda make no reference to economic integration. In fact, they bear all the signs of an organized effort – nearly identical phrases transcribed in response to an appeal from a single source.
Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Police Department and other relevant city departments to allow Officer Peter Neal to purchase Rumba upon his retirement. Councillor Cheung
This is a very nice gesture, but my understanding is that these police dogs (and I’ve met them all) were trained as bomb-sniffers at some expense and may not yet be eligible for retirement. If Rumba is nearing retirement age, I hope she gets a generous pension of dog bones and biscuits and gets to live happily ever after with Officer Neal.
Order #2. City Council support of asking the Cambridge Historical Commission to initiate a landmark designation study process on the Abbott Building in Harvard Square. Councillor Devereux, Councillor Carlone, Councillor Mazen, Vice Mayor McGovern
We all want to see the bones of Harvard Square kept somewhat intact even as new owners and new businesses replace others, and this building is certainly deserving of landmark status. That said, some alteration could still make for a better project. There is, however, something backwards about landmarking only after plans have been submitted. Wouldn’t it make more sense to identify and landmark buildings (or entire areas) before they are purchased for redevelopment?
During a recent hearing on Harvard Square that was inspired by this development proposal, one public commenter offered an interesting proposal to create a mid-block alley through this property that would extend Palmer Street and serve as an interesting entryway to any businesses in this building. That would certainly disrupt the "historic facade" of the building, but it was an interesting idea that would be consistent with the many other alleyways and connections that are abundant in Harvard Square. Personally, I just hope that any displaced businesses can be accommodated somewhere in the greater Harvard Square area, though we would certainly welcome them in Central Square or another Cambridge location.
Committee Report #3. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Co-Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Dec 1, 2016 to discuss the zoning petition submitted by Nabil Sater, et al to amend the Zoning Ordinances in the Central Square Overlay District, Section 20.300.
This petition – the Central Square Restoration Petition – received unanimous approval by the Planning Board at its initial hearing. It usually takes at least two meetings, so that’s at least one measure of the quality of this petition. Central Square, however, has always been a political football, so I expect that some councillors will try to modify the petition in some ways, hopefully positive ways, in order to get their fingerprints on the football. It’s worth noting that the Planning Board characterized this petition as a good interim measure and made it quite clear that other changes to the zoning in Central Square might be forthcoming as the Envision Cambridge process navigates its way through the next couple of years.