Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 131-132: April 19, 2016

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 131 (Part 1)

Episode 131 – Cambridge InsideOut. This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 5:30pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]


Cambridge InsideOut Episode 132 (Part 2)

Episode 132 – Cambridge InsideOut (Part 2). This episode was broadcast on April 19, 2016 at 6:00pm. Patrick Barrett was the guest and Robert Winters is the host. In tonight’s episodes we spoke about the recently released Inclusionary Housing Study, several housing-related bills before the state legislature, and good old Central Square. [On YouTube]

December 9, 2015

Cambridge InsideOut – Episodes 95 and 96 with Patrick Barrett

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:00 am

Cambridge InsideOut this week featured a conversation with Patrick Barrett.

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 95 (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 8, 2015 at 5:30pm. Topics included current zoning petitions in Kendall Square and the municipal streamlining bill introduced by Governor Baker. Patrick Barrett is the guest. The host is Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 96 (Part 2)

This episode was broadcast on Dec 8, 2015 at 6:00pm. The main topics were the Barrett Petition and Central Square. Patrick Barrett is the guest. The host is Robert Winters. [On YouTube]

August 21, 2015

City of Cambridge Selects Utile Architecture + Planning team for Citywide Plan

Filed under: Cambridge,planning — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 4:40 pm

City of Cambridge Selects Consultant for Citywide Plan
Utile Architecture + Planning team selected to run multiyear process

Cambridge NeighborhoodsAug 21, 2015 – Today, Cambridge Officials announced that an interdisciplinary team led by Utile Architecture + Planning (Utile) has been selected for the Cambridge citywide planning project. “The City is looking forward to embarking on this important citywide process with Utile,” said Richard C. Rossi, City Manager. “This multiyear effort is a major investment that the City is making in the future of our community. Residents, business employers and employees, property owners and developers, institutions, non-profit organizations, and many other stakeholders will be active participants in this process and a key component to ensuring that the citywide plan reflects the values of our community. I want to thank the other highly qualified and respected firms that participated in our selection process.”

The other finalists in the City’s selection process were Sasaki, and Perkins + Will.

On July 27, 2015, the finalists made presentations to and answered questions from the public in an event held in the Sullivan Chambers in City Hall. Following the public presentations, the City’s Selection Committee conducted a multi-day evaluation process that resulted in City Manager Richard C. Rossi accepting the recommendation to hire Utile. Over the next few weeks the City will be working with Utile to finalize a contract, including financial arrangements, for the public process that will begin this fall.

“The Utile team brings a deep understanding of local planning issues and a fresh, creative approach to public engagement,” said Lisa Peterson, Chair of the Selection Committee. “Using a rigorous, data-driven process, the Utile team will complement and augment the capacity of City staff to develop a strategic framework to address a broad range of issues including mobility, housing, land use, urban design, environment, social equity, economic development, and open space.”

The planning process that will be kicked off this fall will span multiple years and will include a robust community engagement process.

“Cambridge’s citywide plan will create a shared vision for the city, develop policy and design goals and actionable recommendations to guide future changes in the city,” said Iram Farooq, Acting Assistant City Manager for Community Development. “The end result of this process will be a shared vision on how Cambridge can remain livable, sustainable, and equitable not just for the current generation, but also for generations to come.”

The citywide planning process aims to integrate and build upon the City’s existing policies, programs, and initiatives through an inclusive, wide-reaching process that looks beyond traditional planning efforts to guide future change in Cambridge. During the multi-year process, early action items and pilot projects may be identified and launched. [Read Utile Proposal (22.6MB PDF)]

The planning process will examine a broad range of issues, including mobility, housing, land use, urban design, environment, social equity, economic development, and open space. Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks about the public process that will begin this fall!

For more information, please visit the project page on the Community Development Department’s website, or email CambridgeConversations@CambridgeMA.gov.

Utile is a 40-person, Boston-based planning and design firm. Built like a think tank, the firm thrives on solving complex problems in intelligent and pragmatic ways. From theoretical issues that frame policy to the practical implementation of architectural commissions, Utile develops a rigorous research-based approach for finding the best solutions. Utile specializes in unique regulatory, political, and design challenges, and is committed to the revitalization of the American city through proactive planning and design that bridges public and private jurisdictional boundaries.

June 15, 2015

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 am

Noteworthy items on the June 15, 2015 Cambridge City Council agenda

City HallThere are some substantial reports from the City Manager and some interesting Council Orders on this week’s agenda.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-97, regarding a report on the MLK School construction compliance with the Cambridge Employment Plan.

Normally I don’t care at all about this sort of bean counting, but I did find interesting the following facts in the Manager’s report:

(1) The Cambridge resident worker hours on the MLK project totaled 3.8% which is less than the required goal of 25%. However, the Cambridge resident population of workers skilled and/or experienced in construction trades has been less than 2% making this requirement virtually impossible to meet. [Perhaps it’s time to revise that goal.]

(2) The minority worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 32.6% which is above the goal of 25%.

(3) The women worker hours on the MLK project as of Apr 30, 2015 totaled 1.0%. U.S. Census data reveals that women in Massachusetts skilled in the trades is less than 2%.

Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to recommendations of the Cambridge Off Leash Working Group regarding off leash dogs in Cambridge.

The discussions about how best to accommodate our canine friends have been going on for a decade. Dog owners actually comprise a pretty effective political lobby in Cambridge.

Manager’s Agenda #20. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation to adopt, with suggested changes, the Carsharing Zoning Petition.

This has generated some concerns recently as well as some alternate proposals on how best to accommodate carsharing, e.g. using some on-street resident parking spaces for this purpose. This zoning petition is specifically about off-street spaces and the Planning Board recommends that off-street lots should maintain at least 75% of their spaces for privately owned vehicles and that only lots with a minimum of 4 spaces may accommodate carsharing vehicles. However, the Planning Board also recommends that these limits can be waived via a Special Permit on a case-by-case basis. The theory here is that by making carsharing more easily available the number of privately owned vehicles should decrease thereby relieving some of the demand for on-street spaces.

Manager’s Agenda #21. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to appropriate zoning language for recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions, as requested in Council Order Number 6 of May 18, 2015.

As the report states, "The intent of these proposed changes is to implement changes recommended by the recently completed Incentive Zoning Nexus Study." Specific changes include:

• Removing the current special permit trigger so that housing contributions would be made by all projects with 30,000 or more square feet of uses subject to the Incentive Zoning provisions;

• Expanding the definition of an incentive project to add seven new uses for which housing contributions would be required (in addition to the current uses of office, lab and retail): hotel/motel, radio/TV studios, institutional, health care, social services, light industry/wholesale, and heavy industry;

• Increasing the contribution rate to $12 per square foot [from the current $4.58], with an annual rate increase of $1 per year over the next three years;

• Making automatic the annual adjustment of the contribution rate based on changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI);

• Requiring that the City initiate a periodic reevaluation of the housing contribution by initiating an updated nexus study after three years;

• Eliminating the current deduction of the first 2,500 square feet from the calculation of the contribution;

• Establishing a definition of a “Middle Income Household” and adding language to make clear that the Affordable Housing Trust can use resources generated to assist Middle Income Households.

Order #1. Zoning Amendments to the Zoning Map and Ordinance for the area along Walden Street near the intersection of Garden Street and extending through the intersection of Sherman Street currently zoned Business A be rezoned to a newly created zoning district entitled Business A-4 and add a new Business A-4 line to Section 5.33.   Councillor Cheung

If eventually ordained, this new zoning designation will respond to some of the issues raised by a proposed residential development at the former Masse’s Hardware site(s). It’s interesting that the proposed maximum residential density would actually be higher than is currently the case, though there would now be minimum front and side setbacks that do not exist under the present zoning. I have been told that the affected parties are agreeable to this new zoning.

Order #4. That the City Council meeting scheduled for Mon, June 29, 2015 be and hereby is cancelled after consultation with the City Manager so that a joint public hearing between the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee be held at 6:00pm in the Sullivan Chamber to discuss the zoning petition to amend Section 13.10 to change the development controls in the Planned Unit Development at Kendall Square (PUD-KS) Overlay District; said majority of the area of the PUD-KS is occupied by the Volpe Transportation Systems Research Center operated by the US Department of Transportation.   Mayor Maher
[Petition text] [Summary of major proposed changes] [All currently proposed zoning amendments]

The process for this zoning amendment is uniquely different than just about every other petition due to the many constraints associated with this being a federally-owned property. There are time constraints based on the current presidential term as well as financial constraints inherent in the federal law that allows this arrangement in which revenue generated from the rest of the site must cover any costs associated with constructing a new building for the Volpe Transportation Center on the site. This may also impose some limitations on the lofty goals expressed by some regarding the percentage of affordable units to be mandated as part of any residential construction. One variable that could relieve some of those constraints is the allowance of greater height and, not surprisingly, this has some people bent out of shape about the possibility that the tallest building in Cambridge might grow from this zoning. The unusual procedure of having a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Board (rather than completely separate parallel processes) is also not setting well with the same people, but in this unique situation it seems warranted.

Order #5. That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with suggested changes to Cambridge’s policy regarding advertising revenue that could help support the continuation and expansion of Hubway in the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

People may not like the advertising, but there are indications that Hubway may not be economically sustainable without it.

Order #6. That the City Council go on the record condemning Harvard Towers Corporation for neglecting to reach out to the City of Cambridge to determine if there are ways to mitigate the negative repercussions on the City’s housing market stemming from the mass eviction of tenants of 295 Harvard Street.   Councillor Simmons and Councillor McGovern

This building (built in 1962) contains 111 apartments, and tenants were given very little warning that they all have to be gone by Aug 31, 2015. The building is just a block away from where I live and nobody in my neighborhood seems to even know what is ultimately planned for the building.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of permitting cyclists to advance simultaneously with the pedestrian "walk" signal and to to confer with the appropriate departments to determine the feasibility of piloting bicycle-specific signal faces at the Cambridge-Hampshire St intersection.   Councillor Mazen

Many cyclists already do start moving with the walk light (not me), but I have to say that this is really more about convenience than about safety. When motor vehicles and bicycles are both stopped at a traffic light, all parties are aware of each other and there’s little or no conflict when the light changes. The greater hazard is from moving vehicles turning in front of moving cyclists and from cyclists positioning themselves in the roadway in ways that are fundamentally unsafe, i.e. passing a potentially turning vehicle on the right.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff or the appropriate departments on the feasibility of legally requiring supermarkets and other food seller and resellers to donate leftover food to donation centers in order to cut down on food waste.   Councillor Mazen

Many, if not most, food markets already do this to some degree. Facilitating food donations and composting programs would be more helpful than simply mandating that it be done. This means addressing the need for adequate transportation, scheduling, and other logistics.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with total amount of funds currently in and total expected to be in the Community Benefits Funds account as well as the origins of the funds and any expenditures to date.   Councillor Toomey

Charter Right #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appropriation of $88,430 from Free Cash to the General Fund Executive Other Ordinary Maintenance account to be used for consulting fees to conduct a community wide needs assessment relative to our Community Benefits plan. The requested amount is two-thirds of the total cost of the needs assessment ($132,430 total). With a vested interest in the outcome, the Cambridge Community Foundation has made a substantial financial commitment of $44,000 to cover one-third of the total cost (see Agenda Item Number 15). This is the first step regarding the further development of a plan to distribute funds earmarked for Community Benefits. [Charter Right exercised by Councillor Toomey on City Manager Agenda Number Fourteen of June 1, 2015.]

This matter has been stewing for a number of years and it’s about time that the City Council moved things in the direction of a resolution and a system for handling these funds and putting them toward productive use. – Robert Winters


The Upshot (the morning after): On Manager’s Agenda #1, most of the councillors chimed in about their disappointment that the dreams of past Councils regarding apprenticeships in the trades have not been realized. Chalk it up, perhaps, to the changing demographics of Cambridge or maybe to the fact that many young residents don’t understand that well-paying careers in construction, law enforcement, and other areas are actually available to them (Benzan).

There was some public comment on the Carsharing Zoning Petition (Manager’s Agenda #20) – mostly concerns about the possibility of disruptive activity associated with this commercial activity taking place in residential neighborhoods. One deficiency in the petition is that it doesn’t address the possibility that a resident with off-street parking might choose to park on the street in order to derive income by leasing their off-street space to a carsharing company. If that were to happen, there really should be a complaint-driven revocation process written into the regulations.

The recommended changes to the Incentive Zoning provisions that were the subject of Manager’s Agenda #21 are now a zoning petition that will be scheduled for Ordinance Committee and Planning Board hearings.

The Council spent far too much time discussing the propriety of cancelling their June 29 meeting in favor of a Joint Special Meeting with the Planning Board (not a Roundtable, so there will be no fixed time limit and public comment will be permitted) to discuss the Volpe zoning petition. The Special Meeting was eventually unanimously approved with the possibility that a brief Regular Meeting might also be scheduled in the event that there is any pressing regular business.

The Council voted 8-1 (Mazen voted No) on Order #8 to open the possibility of advertising on Hubway bikes as a means of ensuring the economic viability of the program.

The Council expressed their condemnation of the actions of the owners/managers of Harvard Towers (295 Harvard St.) in evicting all residents (111 apartments) with very short notice and no information on their future plans for the building.

April 13, 2015

Taking a Look at the April 13, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Taking a Look at the April 13, 2015 Cambridge City Council Agenda

Founding FathersHere are a few items that might prove interesting:

Reconsideration #1. Councillor Toomey notified the City Clerk of his intention to file reconsideration of the vote taken on Mar 30, 2015 to refer to the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee City Manager Agenda #18 and Calendar #8 as amended regarding the Pearl Street Reconstruction Project.

It’s anyone’s guess where this will end up, but it did seem odd that this Order would be referred at the last meeting to a committee whose Chair will likely be hostile to it. There really is a need to review some of the boneheaded projects that have been trotted out under the "Complete Streets" banner, but it’s doubtful that committee action will lead to anything other than politicizing this. A better term would be "Dysfunctional Streets" to describe road designs that provide no actual additional bicycle safety while rendering streets dysfunctional, e.g. Vassar Street where trucks have no other option than to park on sidewalks, a stopped vehicle brings all traffic to a standstill, and where the safety of any cyclist choosing to ride in the road is greatly compromised. While driving on the newly-choked Western Avenue the other day I got to witness first hand how even the simple act of parking a car can turn Western Ave. into a one-lane, highly congested road.

Manager’s Agenda #1. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommend on the reappointment of Christopher Bator to the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority for a 3-year term, effective Apr 13, 2015.

This is not controversial – just an opportunity to once again marvel at how the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority has pivoted over the last few years from being nearly irrelevant to becoming the vehicle of choice for some really important initiatives.

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate departments to determine what types of traffic, parking, and other citations the city has legal jurisdiction over and to confer with the appropriate city departments to institute a day-fine policy in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen

This is a ridiculous proposal. A day-fine is "a fine tied to an individual’s daily income". This proposal suggests that people whose reported income is low should pay less for parking violations or speeding tickets. The Order notes that "License suspensions and legal fees resulting from unpaid citations have been shown to have a disproportionately negative effect on low income individuals and households." There’s an even simpler solution – don’t park illegally or drive at excessive speeds that endanger others.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council at the next regular meeting with an update on the Citywide planning process (Master Plan) including next steps and a timeline.   Councillor McGovern

My sense is that when this Magical Master Plan is eventually decided (and I really am interested in the requested timeline), there’s a good chance that it won’t fulfill the hopes and dreams of those who have come to believe that all clocks must be stopped until it’s in place.

Order #9. That Article Six of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance entitled "Off Street Parking and Loading Requirements and Nighttime Curfew on Large Commercial Through Trucks" be amended in Section 6.20 entitled "Off Street Parking Regulations" to include information in "Carsharing Provisions." [attachment]   Councillor Cheung, Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Simmons

Order #12. That the City Council refer to the Ordinance Committee and the Planning Board, for hearing and report, an amendment to the Zoning Ordinances in Section 20.300 "Central Square Overlay District" regarding the granting of Special Permits in the Central Square Overlay District.   Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Order #14. That Article 13 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinances entitled "Planned Unit Development Districts" be amended in section 13.53.2 of 13.50 entitled "PUD-4, PUD-4A, PUD-4B and PUD-4C Districts: Development Controls" by striking out the first sentence and substituting in place thereof the following new sentence: The minimum size of the Development Parcel within PUD-4B shall be two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) square feet.   Councillor Simmons, Councillor Cheung and Councillor McGovern

This is a rare thing indeed – three City Council zoning petitions introduced in a single meeting. Almost all zoning petitions tend to originate with either property owners/developers who want to build something or with activists trying to block something from being built. It has become rare for the City Council to initiate the process, and here we hit the trifecta! I’ll wait to hear more explanation of the motivation behind Order #9 and Order #14. As for Order #12, I was at first intrigued at what seemed to be an acknowledgement that providing incentives for new housing in Central Square might be a good direction consistent with some of the C2 recommendations from a couple of years ago. Then I read what Councillor Carlone wrote on his blog. Apparently the primary purpose of the zoning proposal in Order #12 is to remove the argument occasionally heard in regard to the ongoing Normandy/Twining petition that if housing cannot economically be built at Mass & Main (Lafayette Square) then an office or lab building would be the default option.

This chess move by Councillors Carlone and Mazen and their sponsors would affect the entire Central Square Overlay District in regard to any Special Permit application for Additional Height. There may be some merit in this proposal but it’s also quite possible that it will have some unintended consequences. Either way, it’s being introduced at this time apparently as an attempt to derail the Normandy/Twining proposal. Having a broader conversation about delivering new housing in the Central Square area is consistent with the C2 recommendations, but one really has to raise an eyebrow when those now suggesting this are the same people who have squelched that conversation in the past. Besides, as we have heard the naysayers chant time and time again, how can we do anything without first having The Master Plan? [sarcasm intended] – Robert Winters


Update: Order #12 Failed on a 1-7-1 vote (Mazen YES via speakerphone; Carlone ABSENT). I don’t recall it having ever happened that a proposed zoning amendment was defeated when introduced without even being formally referred to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board. This was a stunning rebuke of Councillors Carlone and Mazen (and their supporters). – RW

March 29, 2015

Out Like a Lamb – What’s Happenin’ at the March 30, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Out Like a Lamb – What’s Happenin’ at the March 30, 2015 Cambridge City Council meeting

Out Like a LambAs this brutal winter stumbles to a welcome end, the City Council meets on Monday to do its thing. Here are a few noteworthy items (at least to this Council watcher).:

Manager’s Agenda #9. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a rescission of the remaining amount of the loan order ($1,600,000) authorized by the City Council on Feb 13, 2012 for the renovations to the original police station at Five Western Avenue.

How can you not like it when a project comes in $1.6 million under budget?

Manager’s Agenda #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 15-07, regarding a report on variance requests and application results since January, 2010. [really big attachment]

I’m reminded of the time several summers ago when a City Council request for information from the Police Department yielded a stack of paper several feet high resting on Councillor Kelley’s desk. This is just a PDF file and not nearly as voluminous, but it always reminds me that you shouldn’t ask for information that requires some effort to generate unless you have some notion of what you’d like to do with that information once you get it. This request came from an Order by Councillor Kelley that was adopted on Feb 20, 2015. If the goal is to identify shortcomings in the Zoning Ordinance that routinely lead to many requests for variances, that would be a useful exercise that might warrant some tweaks to the Zoning Ordinance. It’s just as likely that the intention might be to crack down on variances without examining why people seek them in the first place.


Manager’s Agenda #17. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the appointment of members of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Committees for two year terms, effective Apr 1, 2015.

Manager’s Agenda #18. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the status of the Pearl Street reconstruction project.

I occasionally wonder what would happen if someone like me who questions some of the bicycling infrastructure decisions made internally by the City were to apply to be on the Bicycle Committee. My sense is that diversity of opinion is not welcome on that particular committee and that applicants are screened accordingly. Regarding the Pearl Street project, I fear that the plan is to wait out the opposition and proceed with the elimination of curbside parking when the best opportunity arises – regardless of need or the preferences of abutters.


Manager’s Agenda #19. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to the recommendation from the Planning Board to approve 1) the disposition of the leasehold interest in the Foundry Building; and 2) a diminution of the disposition process as it relates to the provision of a traffic study and provision of real estate appraisals of the Foundry Building.

Unfinished Business #12. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to an update on the Foundry Building process, including the City’s plans to collaborate with the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (the "CRA") to redevelop the Foundry building in a way that meets the vision and objectives expressed by the City Council and the community…

It’s good to see some progress on the Foundry matter. I really don’t know what balance will ultimately be struck among the competing interests and financial constraints associated with this building, but at least things are moving forward. It’s great to see how the revitalized Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is playing an active role in this and other initiatives.


Unfinished Business #11. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing held on Dec 19, 2013 to conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.67 entitled relating to Plastic Bag Reduction. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Feb 24, 2014.

Committee Report #3. 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 Mar 12, 2015 to discuss amendments and other related documents associated with the plastic bags ordinance.

It’s likely that this proposed ordinance will be voted at this meeting. The essential elements are that (1) plastic checkout bags would be banned in Cambridge (which won’t affect those of us who shop almost exclusively in Somerville and Everett), (2) a mandatory fee of at least 10¢ will be charged for every paper bag used at checkout (not sure what this means regarding single- vs. double-bagging), and (3) a minimum thickness (3 mils) will be established for what constitutes an approved reusable bag. There are only limited provisions for exemptions.

Personally I use only reusable bags and have done so for years. I imagine most municipal election candidates this year will be distributing reusable bags emblazoned with their names and the usual #1 Vote request. Perhaps I’ll vote for candidates based on who provides the most durable shopping bags. Councillor Toomey was way ahead of everyone last time in this regard.


Unfinished Business #13. That any committee report that has not been signed by the Chair of the committee within seven days after submission of the committee report by the City Clerk be placed on the City Council Agenda unsigned. Order Number Eight of Mar 2, 2015 Referred to Unfinished Business.

It’s interesting how many committee reports have been submitted since this proposal was submitted by Councillor Toomey. Anything that moves things along is welcome. Now if only we can come up with a Rules Change that would prevent significant matters from being endlessly kicked down the road – and I’m definitely thinking of Central Square here which is only now getting some renewed attention years after a broad range of recommendations were presented as part of the K2C2 process. There will be an Ordinance Committee hearing on those recommendations on Wed, April 15 (at 5:30pm in the Sullivan Chamber), but only for the purpose of discussion with no actionable items before the committee.

The Normandy/Twining zoning proposal for the Mass. & Main area of Central Square is also now before the Ordinance Committee. The petitioners recently increased the percentages of permanently and privately subsidized units in their project to 20 percent should the proposed zoning be approved. Their original petition called for 17 percent affordable and middle-income units. They have now doubled the percentage of affordable units (50 to 80% of area median income) from 8.5 percent in the original petition to 17 percent and will maintain 3 percent middle income units (80 to 120% of area median income). The proposal would deliver 40 affordable and 7 middle income housing units for a total of 47 permanently and privately subsidized units out of a total of about 230 units. Enhanced ground floor retail opportunities and neighborhood connectivity are also included in their proposal.

Unfinished Business #14. 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 Mar 3, 2015 to continue discussions on the zoning petition filed by Whitehead Institute to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District: and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after Mar 30, 2015. Planning Board Hearing held Dec 16, 2014. Petition expires Apr 8, 2015.

This zoning petition will likely be ordained at this meeting.

Applications & Petitions #3. A zoning petition has been received from Chestnut Hill Realty, requesting the City Council to amend the Zoning Ordinance in the Basement Housing Overlay District Section 20.600.

I won’t pretend to understand what the intent of these technical amendments are. As was the case when the original zoning was introduced and passed, I’ll just say that it would be a shame if any basement space in buildings that is actually necessary for bicycle storage and other needs of residents is lost just to pack in a few more income-producing units. On either side of my house on Broadway there are buildings that maximized the rentable space by eliminating options for on-premises bike parking and seriously compromising the options for storing and managing waste and recycling.

Resolution #24. Reminder to Cambridge residents that street cleaning will begin the first week of April.   Councillor Toomey

Run for your lives! The sweepers are coming! Don’t get towed!

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with all relative City departments to increase the number of electric charging stations available in the City, to determine the feasibility of making these stations free and to recommend other incentives that may include, but not be limited to, free resident parking stickers and allowing electric cars to park at parking meters free of charge as ways to encourage the purchase and use of electric cars.   Councillor McGovern

Let me see if I got this straight. This proposes to provide free parking and free electric charging to anyone with an electric vehicle. Why stop there? The City should also pay the rent and mortgage costs for these superior beings. But seriously, I would think that driving an energy-efficient vehicle that costs less to operate should be more than enough incentive. I also expect that any lost revenue or added energy costs borne by the City will ultimately lead to increased parking fees for those of us less enlightened beings who still have more conventional engines in our vehicles.

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate city departments to update the City Council as to whether there are any proposed increases to Common Victualer (CV) and Liquor License renewal fees, to determine if there is a liquor license cap in the Central Square area and to the suitability of raising the liquor license cap in and around the Central Square area.   Vice Mayor Benzan

I’m not sure what’s behind this, but my understanding is that there is a cap on the number of liquor licenses that may be sold, but the License Commission has been issuing nontransferable "no value" pouring licenses to restaurants In Central Square and elsewhere in order to help those businesses.

Order #7. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the local business associations, neighborhood groups and city departments to conduct a series of cleanups of our neighborhoods and City Squares, primarily Kendall, Harvard, Central, Alewife, Inman, Huron Village and Porter.   Vice Mayor Benzan

These kinds of events are always best organized by the local business and neighborhood associations and by individuals with whatever assistance the City is able to affordably provide. The City should simply let the organizers know what help they might be able to provide, but let the residents and business owners take the lead.

Order #9. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council with an update on the analysis that has been done to understand the finances of new development in Central Square, including the report by economic consultant Sarah Woodworth.   Councillor Carlone, Councillor Kelley and Councillor Mazen

I am curious about the underlying purpose of this Order. While it’s certainly a good idea to have a firm grasp on the economic realities surrounding development proposals like the one contemplated for Mass. & Main (Normandy/Twining), my suspicion is that this could be an effort to cook up grounds to justify blocking the proposal. We’ll all benefit from an honest discussion of the economics, but hopefully not just as a smokescreen for a separate agenda.

Order #10. That the City Manager is requested to report back to the City Council on the status and next steps for the Beekeeping ordinance.   Councillor Carlone

I wasn’t aware that there was an actual proposed ordinance to allow and perhaps promote beekeeping, but it’s a good idea worth pursuing. On the other hand, it seems a bit ridiculous that this should be over-regulated or banned in the first place.

Order #12. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City personnel to determine and provide an update to the City Council on parking needs and availability in the Central Square area and to confer with the appropriate City personnel to determine, as part of the broader question above, the cost and feasibility of adding additional parking levels to the Green Street Garage, to determine how many additional feet the garage could be expanded to as of right and how many extra parking spaces that would yield, and what changes, if any, would be needed to existing zoning laws in order to build the garage to its maximum capacity.   Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Councillor Carlone

Though I think it would be a good idea to ensure a sufficient supply of parking in and around Central Square, I can’t help but note that if a proposal to add commercial parking was made a decade or two ago it would have been aggressively opposed by some activists. Those were the days when the Parking Freeze was giving way to the current Vehicle Trip Reduction Ordinance. Times have changed, vehicles run much cleaner, and there are now other competing priorities. Perhaps additional parking capacity at the Green Street Garage would replace what might be lost by building on surface parking lots elsewhere in Central Square. Perhaps the idea is to calm the fears of those who see the building of new housing as an existential threat to the well-being of their on-street parking. In any case, it’s a discussion worth having. – Robert Winters

October 20, 2014

Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council — Tags: , , , , — Robert Winters @ 12:34 pm

Preview of the Oct 20, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting

Here are a few items on this week’s Agenda that seem interesting and worthy of comment.

Manager’s Agenda #11. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 14-36, regarding a report on the feasibility of offering residents an online option to complete the City’s annual census.

This is a welcome option that will hopefully streamline the census and save on postage. Ideally, the City could avoid mailing out the form to those residents who have already completed it online.

Applications & Petitions #3. A petition was received from Alvin Helfeld, et al., 417 Concord Avenue, requesting the Fern Street remodeling plan be reevaluated so that parking is allowed on the left side of the street.

Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to consult with City project and traffic planners to see if a compromise can be reached which will allow parking on one side of Fern Street while accomplishing City efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.   Mayor Maher and Councillor McGovern

Fern Street Plan

In addition to complaints about the loss of parking in the planned design for Fern St., City officials also plan to force bicycles off the street and onto the sidewalk. This is apparently a nondebatable issue. It’s one thing to safely accommodate children by allowing sufficient space on sidewalks away from business zones, but narrowing road lanes to force other cyclists off the road is both wrong-headed and hostile. At least in this case there appears to be about 15 ft. of road width that might safely accommodate both a motor vehicle and a bicycle sharing the lane. Otherwise a cyclist has no choice but to be forced onto the sidewalk. We would all like to see an interesting and artistic plan for this street, but the current plan still needs work.

Fern Street cross section

Order #1. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Finance to discuss the feasibility of introducing a Home Rule Petition requesting an increase to the residential exemption.   Councillor Toomey

Somerville has already done this. The standard used to be that the City Council could exempt up to 20% of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home from the local property tax. In 2003 the state legislature amended this to permit up to a 30% exemption, and the City of Cambridge has chosen to do this since then. Since the tax levy is independent of this, the net effect (for owner-occupied homes) is to shift the tax burden onto higher-valued homes. In FY15, the break-even assessed value in Cambridge is approximately $1,282,800. Somerville’s home rule petition was approved and increased the allowable exemption to 35%. It seems certain that a similar petition from Cambridge would also be approved if the City Council chose to pursue this option.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Assistant City Manager of Community Development and the City Solicitor with the intent of producing language for an affordable housing overlay district to be considered by the City Council.   Councillor Toomey, Councillor McGovern, Councillor Cheung and Vice Mayor Benzan

Order #20. The City Manager is requested to determine the feasibility of collaborating with partners like the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA), and/or companies in the private and public sector to achieve the desired development objectives in a manner most cost-effective to the City and that ensures the City will retain a high degree of control over the ultimate outcome of the City-owned Lots 5 and 6.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Carlone

Order #5 doesn’t specify whether this "affordable housing overlay district" would be in one or more specific areas or if it would be city-wide (in which case it would be silly to call it an overlay district since it would a city-wide change to the Zoning Ordinance). Coupled with Order #20, one gets the impression that the intention here may be to simply designate some parts of the city as areas where only families whose combined income is below a certain threshold are welcome. This is the antithesis of the more thoughtful inclusionary zoning that creates an incentive for more economically integrated "affordable" housing units, especially in new higher density housing proximate to transit. The required percentage of inclusionary units can and should be debated and possibly increased, but inclusion beats the alternative of economic segregation. It should also be emphasized that Central Square and environs, in particular, should not be the sole location for such a proposed overlay district.

Order #8. That the City Manager is requested to report back on possible next steps to advance the creation of the Grand Junction Multi Use Path on City and CRA-controlled property identified as Phase 1 in the Grand Junction Feasibility Study.   Councillor Toomey

The timing of this Order follows the recent release of MIT’s study on its share of this corridor.

Order #11. That the City Manager is requested to take all steps to ensure that the owner of the property on the Belmont-owned portion of the Silver Maple Forest is informed of the opposition to the use of Cambridge land is used for this project.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Carlone and Councillor Mazen

Yeah, I’m sure the property owner is completely oblivious to the nearly decade-long series of challenges to the proposed project and the fact that building on the Cambridge portion of this parcel is unwelcome. Did the sponsors of this Order read the following statement from the City Manager in his report last month?: "The project is located within the Little River watershed, which is 8.16 square miles and the larger Mystic River watershed, which is 76 square miles. The project area represents approximately 0.3% of the total Little River watershed and 0.03% of the Mystic River watershed. The project will provide a conservation easement on a total of 7.95 acres, including all of the 2.6 acres in Cambridge."

Order #13. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Affordable Housing Trust to investigate the status of the Tokyo restaurant site on Fresh Pond Parkway and if available, consider acquiring this site and report back to the Council regarding findings.   Councillor McGovern, Councillor Simmons, Vice Mayor Benzan and Mayor Maher

When I read Orders like this one, I am reminded of the efforts over 20 years ago by some city councillors to create a "Land Bank" consisting of every undeveloped City-owned parcel, no matter how small, that might possibly be available for "affordable housing" development. The plan was hatched with absolutely no regard to the sentiments of existing residents. In fact, included in that plan was the possibility of repurposing a building and part of the playground in Corporal Burns Park on Banks St. as affordable housing. Thankfully that plan went down in flames. Building new housing in the Greater Boston area, including "affordable housing," is essential, but we should also be wary of efforts to identify every single available parcel for this single purpose. Large housing developments are perfect for the including of affordable housing units and a good case can be made for increasing the required percentage of inclusionary housing units in those projects. The Tokyo restaurant site may or may not be a good site for the Affordable Housing Trust to acquire (though it’s likely unavailable), but all such proposals have to be considered in the context of their surroundings. It would not be wise to create an atmosphere where residents see the City as an invasion force. In the long term that would likely be counterproductive.

Order #14. That the following amendment to the Zoning Ordinance be referred to the Planning Board and Ordinance Committee for hearing and report: That the areas bounded by Garden, Walden and Sherman Streets and the park currently zoned Business A be rezoned to Residence C-1 to be consistent with the surrounding area.   Councillor Cheung

This is interesting in that the site where Masse’s Hardware and its warehouse existed for many years remains zoned in recognition of its previous commercial use even though the abutting neighborhood, including the site of Paddy’s Lunch across the street, is zoned as Residence C-1. This proposed amendment would uniformize the zoning. The result would be that fewer housing units could be built there by removing the anomalous zoning that now exists which allows for higher densities. This is not a site that’s close to transit, so the case for "smart growth" and higher density housing really is not applicable here. That said, it’s unfortunate that zoning proposals are so often reactive than proactive.

Order #16. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the appropriate City departments to determine the feasibility of hosting a Cambridge Challenge Competition for Transportation that offers a prize to the resident or group of residents that come up with the best viable solution to solve our greatest traffic issues.   Vice Mayor Benzan, Councillor Carlone, Councillor McGovern and Councillor Mazen

This could be an interesting exercise. I especially like seeing some of the "out of the box" thinking that can result from these kinds of exercises. Don’t be too shocked if some of the proposals include monorails, personal flying machines, or quantum tunnelling. This is Cambridge, after all. Among the entries, I’m sure, will be some creative and viable concepts. Hopefully not all of them will be shot down by residents fearful of change. My own fear is that City insiders will use the exercise to justify forcing more cyclists off the roads and onto the sidewalks.

Order #17. That the City Manager is requested to work with the Community Development Department, the Arts Council, the Department of Public Works to determine the feasibility of creating an adult playground in Cambridge.   Councillor Mazen and Councillor Carlone

I though Cambridge was an adult playground. (It is for me.)

Order #18. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the Personnel Director and City Solicitor to determine if a point system similar to the system that awards preferences to Cambridge residents for Affordable Housing units can be used in the hiring process thereby providing a local preference for Cambridge residents when applying for positions within the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Toomey

The potential flaw in proposals like this is that it presumes that anyone wishing to work for the City of Cambridge can afford to live in the City of Cambridge. Thankfully there’s no residency requirement being proposed. We all would like to see more Cambridge residents getting Cambridge jobs, but if every city and town chose to make this too rigid a rule this would create more problems than solutions. A little incentive may good, but not too much.

Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Chair of the Housing Committee for a public hearing held on Sept 30, 2014 with the Community Development Department to provide updates on inclusionary zoning, linkage, the Nexus Study, the three expiring use buildings (Briston Arms, the Close Building and Fresh Pond Apartments) that the City is working to preserve and preferences for affordable housing waitlists.

As many wise people have pointed out, it’s far more cost effective to preserve existing affordable housing than it is to build new affordable housing. The Affordable Housing Trust and the Community Development Department have made the preservation of these expiring-use buildings a high priority. The Nexus Study and possible revisions to the linkage fees from new commercial development are long overdue. The Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance may also need revision, but everyone needs to understand that requiring additional inclusionary units also likely means permitting additional density. That’s most likely a good trade-off. One idea that I hope is explored is the idea of a stepped increase in the percentage of inclusionary units required for larger housing developments. – Robert Winters

August 19, 2014

Cambridge InsideOut Episodes 79 and 80 with Terry Smith

Filed under: Cambridge,Cambridge government,Cambridge InsideOut — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 9:50 pm

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 79 with Terry Smith (Part 1)

This episode was broadcast on Aug 19, 2014 at 5:30pm. Robert Winters was the host (Susana’s on vacation). [On YouTube]

Cambridge InsideOut Episode 80 with Terry Smith (Part 2)

This episode broadcast on Aug 19, 2014 at 6:00pm. Robert Winters was the host (Susana’s on vacation). [On YouTube]

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