Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

November 2, 2014

Boarding and Baiting – Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 10:22 pm

Boarding and Baiting – Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Boards & Commission ReceptionThere’s a reception this Wednesday honoring the many volunteer members of Cambridge’s boards & commissions. The City administration, the Mayor and, presumably, all of the city councillors actually appreciate the efforts of these residents who give their time and energy in support of their city – all without compensation. Some board members deserve special thanks and recognition for their willingness to serve on regulatory boards such as the Planning Board which often has to decide controversial cases. Their public service and generosity often puts them in the crosshairs of malcontent activists who thrive on negativity.

The long-awaited appointments of several new Planning Board members are on this week’s agenda. As with every current member of the Planning Board, the new appointees will bring wisdom and a generous spirit to the Planning Board. Unfortunately, the anti-everything activists await them only with slings and arrows. One especially sorry individual even characterized the appointments in a message titled "Healy-Lite locks and loads his ‘Planning’ Board" stating that "Member-for-Life Chairman Hugh Russell and five other real estate and construction industry reps were retained and extended" and "three more connected pro-development insiders added to the team." His unhappiness is apparently tied to his great disappointment that an applicant who has repeatedly been involved in lawsuits against the City was not appointed (shocking!). The appointments by City Manager Richard Rossi are, in fact, excellent choices and his message to the City Council shows just how responsive this City administration has been to feedback from the public.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly.

Nov 3, 2014
To the Honorable, the City Council:

I am pleased to inform you that I have appointed the following citizens to the Planning Board effective Dec 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly. They will be serving on the Board with continuing members Steven Cohen, Tom Sieniewicz, Hugh Russell, and Ahmed Nur (Associate Member).

Let’s extend a hearty welcome to Mary Flynn, Luis Bacci, and Thacher Tiffany who will lend their various talents to the planning of their city. Let’s also extend heartfelt thanks to outgoing members Pam Winters and Steve Winter who have given so much of themselves over the years as members of the Planning Board. As with the newly appointed members, they are our neighbors and friends.

Manager’s Agenda #2. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of members to the Police Review & Advisory Board effective Oct 23, 2014: Mertin Betts, reappointment to a 5-year term; and Beverly C. Sealey, appointment to a 5-year term.

Manager’s Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of Ivria Glass Fried as a member of the Conservation Commission for a term of 3-years effective Nov 1, 2014.

Much attention has been focused on the Planning Board appointments, but there are many City boards – and hundreds of appointments to be made. The Police Review & Advisory Board (PRAB) and the Conservation Commission are two boards that also serve crucial functions within the City of Cambridge requiring special expertise. We’re lucky to have as much available talent in Cambridge as we do.

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation to change the street name "Rumeal Robinson Place" to Norfolk Place.

I have lived long enough in Cambridge to remember that street being renamed in honor of former CRLS basketball star Rumeal Robinson who went on to achieve fame in both college basketball (Univ. of Michigan) and in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and several other teams. After his playing career ended he tried his hand at property development in Jamaica and ended up being arrested and charged with bank fraud, bribery and wire fraud. He was found guilty and served time in jail. His adoptive mother, Helen Ford, was swindled out of her home by one of Robinson’s business associates when Robinson asked her to use it as collateral for a loan. The agenda item contains only the message from the City Engineer: "I have received requests from property owners and residents of Rumeal Robinson Place, formerly known as Norfolk Place, to change the name of the street back to Norfolk Place. I have consulted with both the Historical Commission and the Traffic Department regarding this request and have also met with the residents and property owners of the street. All parties are supportive of the requested change." Considering the background, it’s no surprise that everyone is in agreement that the name of the street should revert back to Norfolk Place. [You can read one account of the story here.]

Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-19, regarding an update on the Concord-Alewife Plan.

The short version is that the Concord-Alewife Plan was well-conceived and the associated zoning was adopted by the City Council in 2006. At the core of the plan was the goal of introducing housing into this previously commercial precinct to transform it to a mixed use district. Now that the recovering economy has led to housing production in this area, some activists have risen up over the last few years to oppose it. The plan will not be reviewed separately but the City expects to "develop recommendations for possibly updating the plan and zoning in the Concord-Alewife area as the early phase of the upcoming Citywide Planning process in the context of the overall city goals and objectives." Next year is shaping up as an interesting battleground between the pro-growth and no-growth forces. Quite a few cans have now been kicked down the road that we’ll now have to travel.

Order #2. The City Manager is requested to confer with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, the Department of Public Works and Boston Properties BXP to determine the financial feasibility of the repair needed to the Galaxy: Earth Sphere sculpture and fountain.   Councillor Mazen

There’s some interesting background (and photos) on this in former Cambridge Redevelopment Authority Associate Director Thad Tercyak’s article "MBTA Role in Cambridge Center Project – Kendall Station Urban Initiatives Project, 1979-1989". The artist’s name, by the way, is Joe Davis.

Order #4. That the City Manager is requested to provide the City Council with a listing of all available land and buildings currently on the market or potentially for sale in order to initiate a discussion about land purchase and subsequent development of 100% mixed-income housing.   Councillor McGovern, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons

I’m sure some developers would also like to get a copy of that listing once it becomes a public record. It will save them a few bucks on research. Two points can here be made. First, it’s not such a good idea to show your cards in potential real estate transactions. Second, consider carefully how neighborhood residents will perceive their City government. Most people tend to want to preserve what now exists – even if this is not in their overall best interest or that of the city and the region. The choice they may end up with is between a developer wanting to build lots of gilded condos or the City wanting to build subsidized housing. It’s likely that neither option will match the ideal of existing residents. – Robert Winters

October 30, 2014

On the Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda – Planning Board appointments

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,planning — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 5:53 pm

On the Nov 3, 2014 Cambridge City Council Agenda:

City Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appointments of the following citizens to the Planning Board effective December 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly.

November 3, 2014
To the Honorable, the City Council:

I am pleased to inform you that I have appointed the following citizens to the Planning Board effective December 1, 2014: Mary T. Flynn, Louis J. Bacci Jr., and Thacher Tiffany (Associate Member), and I have reappointed H. Theodore Cohen, and Catherine Preston Connolly. They will be serving on the Board with continuing members Steven Cohen, Tom Sieniewicz, Hugh Russell, and Ahmed Nur (Associate Member).

As City Manager, one of my most important responsibilities is appointing members to the Planning Board. These choices directly impact the future of our community. In our densely populated city, residents want a smart balance between growth, development, and maintaining neighborhood vitality and overall quality of life.

The paramount goal of the City administration is for Cambridge to remain a highly desirable community to live, work, or raise a family. I want to thank you for your continuing support and guidance on maintaining this critical goal, and I want to recognize the civically engaged citizens across the City for their dedication, hard work, and contributions throughout this process.

Community input has been invaluable to City Staff and me during the selection process and has played a large part in creating a more focused, deliberate, and comprehensive procedure for soliciting and selecting highly qualified candidates. While the process took longer than some may have anticipated, I believe that the selection process has been refined in a way that will continue to benefit us in the future.

The City received 24 Planning Board applications from the public. Each applicant was interviewed, and I selected appointees that will best represent the entire community, including residents and businesses. The composition of the new board provides greater balance and representation in terms of neighborhood distribution, diversity of opinion, community perspective and professional background. Please join my staff and me in thanking the out-going members for their incredible level of dedication and service to our community. Cambridge receives great value from citizens who volunteer their time so generously for a better community. These retiring members of the Planning Board are prime examples of the most dedicated citizens who have served us well for many years and I have offered them the opportunity to consider serving on other board or commission in the future.

Since the law requires Planning Board members to be appointed for five years, staggering the appointment dates of terms is challenging. Because I am strongly committed to creating a representative board, the City will be recruiting additional Planning Board candidates over the coming months. For the duration of this time, one current full member and one associate member will continue serving on the Board in "holdover" status. While future use of "holdover" appointees should be minimized, I feel it necessary to have appointment flexibility at this time to ensure Board diversity.

Shortly after their appointment, new Planning Board members will receive orientation and training. While I believe that Board members are thoughtful in their review and consideration of special permit projects and zoning amendments, I have emphasized to them that it is important to:

1. Be equally considerate, open minded, and fair to all parties with business before them.

2. Follow all City guidelines and be keenly aware of any personal or professional conflicts, both real and potential.

3. Reflect on and consider how projects impact the quality of life in our neighborhoods. During their deliberations and decision making, strongly consider the principles of good urban planning, placemaking, traffic issues, appropriate scale, storm water relief, historical context, and housing needs.

4. Encourage applicants before the Board to proactively engage with neighborhoods and residents, early in the process.

5. Thoroughly review relevant background materials, consult regularly with staff, listen to community concerns, consult with outside consultants, as necessary, utilize site visits, and review relevant reports and studies.

The following biographical descriptions are for the three new appointees:

Mary T. Flynn is a senior manager and strategic planning leader with broad experience in operations management, community development, and planning and zoning process. She is Manager of Facilities Management at Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Key areas of expertise include strategic planning, real estate and facilities management, community development and zoning. Early in her career, Ms. Flynn worked as Deputy Director of the Cambridge Community Development Department, and she led the creation of the 1993 growth policy document, Towards a Sustainable Future. Ms. Flynn holds a bachelor’s degree in Government from Cornell University and an MBA from Boston University. She is a lifelong resident of Cambridge.

Louis J. Bacci Jr. is a lifelong resident of Cambridge. He lives in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood in eastern Cambridge and has had the opportunity to witness the changes that have taken place in the City over the past fifty years. Mr. Bacci has served as a Union Representative/Executive Board member of Laborers Local 151 for over thirty years. He has extensive experience in the construction industry and has hands-on experience of day-to-day construction activities and managing and supervising projects. As an Estimator Project Manager and as owner of a property maintenance company, he focuses on creative problem solving and has worked on projects spanning a range of scales and complexity.

Thacher Tiffany is an urban planner who holds a masters degree in City Planning with a certificate in Urban Design from MIT. Mr. Tiffany is a LEED Accredited Professional and works in the field of affordable housing. He is Director of Acquisitions for the Beacon Communities, where he manages acquisitions of affordable housing properties through public and private partnerships. Mr. Tiffany also serves on the board of Tent City, a resident controlled mixed-income apartment building in the South End. He has lived in the Boston/Cambridge area for most of his life, and for the last three years in mid-Cambridge.

As always, my staff and I look forward to supporting the Planning Board and the important work that they do on behalf of the residents of Cambridge.

Very truly yours,
Richard C. Rossi
City Manager

September 3, 2013

300 Mass. Ave./Forest City project gets final Planning Board approval

Filed under: Cambridge,Central Square,planning — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 11:58 pm

Sept 3, 2013 – The Cambridge Planning Board tonight gave its unanimous final approval to the design of the proposed building at 300 Mass. Ave. that had been the subject of multiple iterations of a zoning petition by Forest City/MIT.

300 Mass. Ave. - Proposed Design
300 Mass. Ave. – Proposed Design (June 2013)
300 Mass. Ave. - Approved Design
300 Mass. Ave. – Approved Design (Sept 2013)

This marks the successful final step of what has been a very long process that began with the initial filing in February 2011 of a zoning petition to extend the Cambridgeport Revitalization Development District (CRDD) to include this Mass. Ave. frontage from MIT’s Random Hall up to Blanche Street (commonly referred to as the "All Asia Block"). In a sense, this story really began several decades ago with the original plans for University Park that included this block but which was subsequently excised due to different property ownership. Only in recent years have those other owners been willing to enter into the arrangement that led to the proposal now finally approved and proceeding toward demolition and construction.

The February 2011 zoning petition was eventually withdrawn but was re-filed in March 2012. That zoning petition spawned a backlash when, at the City’s urging, a slender residential tower at Sydney and Green Streets was included in the plans. Amid complaints over excessive shadows and the loss of a small park, the residential component was removed from the proposal in its Ordinance Committee. In a curious twist, many of the same people who objected to the proposed housing morphed into housing activists as they objected to the proposed commercial building. This zoning petition was then allowed to expire in August 2012. It was re-filed in substantially the same form in December 2012 along with a revised memorandum of understanding that reaffirmed a variety of housing commitments and added the promise of new affordable housing units in the future. That zoning amendment eventually passed unanimously in February 2013.

With the new zoning in hand, there was still the design review process required under the zoning. The architects had an initial review before the Central Square Advisory Committee in June followed by the initial Planning Board hearing on July 9. There were some objections from the Board and unresolved issues with an abutter, so another hearing was scheduled for August 6. Rather than get the go-ahead as expected, there were still a few substantial objections remaining – primarily concerning the significant amount of glass on the Mass. Ave. facade, so yet another hearing was scheduled. At the September 3 hearing the architects presented much more aesthetically pleasing plans and the Planning Board gave an enthusiastic and unanimous vote of approval.

In addition to a very good building, the plans include a cooperative plan with the City to transform Blanche Street between Green Street and Mass. Ave. into a "shared street" or woonerf, a Dutch word that means "living street" where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. Two examples of this kind of treatment are Palmer Street and Winthrop Street in Harvard Square. There will also be a significant row of new small-scale retail along the Mass. Ave. frontage.

It has to be noted that, as has happened before in Cambridge, this development proposal left a political vestige – the opposition group that calls itself the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA). Their primary activities to date include (1) a zoning proposal that would have preserved in perpetuity the surface parking lots in Central Square and harshly capped all building heights and densities in and around Central Square, (2) a proposed citywide moratorium on most large-scale residential or commercial development, (3) an activist core that presents highly disputable claims of "a tsunami of development" and "crush hour on the Red Line", and (4) the inevitable effort to promote anti-development candidates for City Council in the upcoming election. Another group called "A Better Cambridge" (ABC) was formed that generally supports "smart growth" principles and good urban design but remains apolitical.

The ABC group has been largely supportive of the recommendations that grew out of the 2011-2012 Central Square Advisory Committee and its predecessor Mayor’s Red Ribbon Commission. The CRA has been primarily opposed to any of the recommendations that would permit any substantial new construction or redevelopment in Central Square (and elsewhere in Cambridge). So even as the Forest City/MIT plans for 300 Mass. Ave. proceed toward construction, the seeds have been sown for the latest episode in the never-ending competition of visions for the future of Cambridge and Central Square – just in time for this year’s municipal election season. Indeed, a very good case can be made that the current "Net Zero Petition" (introduced by many of the same activists who have been opposing new construction) is a proxy to stop all new large-scale residential and commercial construction. – Robert Winters

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