The Cambridge City Council will hold its final meeting of the year and of the 2016-17 term on Monday, December 18 at 5:30pm. In addition to conducting the remaining business at hand we will say good-bye and express our appreciation to three departing councillors: Leland Cheung, David Maher and Nadeem Mazen. My summary of the Dec. 18 agenda follows:
City Manager’s Agenda
#2 Special act to hire retired Cambridge police officers for detail assignments: In response to the growing demand for police details, many of which cannot be filled at all or are filled with officers from other towns, the Police Commissioner and the City Manager are asking the Council to adopt special legislation to allow us to hire retired Cambridge police who are under 70 years of age for paid details. In addition to creating a larger pool of officers to call on for details, it would mean that details here could be filled more often with officers who meet the same high training standards as our regular duty officers. One place where we have been unable to fill traffic details is on Cambridge Park Drive in Alewife during the afternoon rush hour.
#6 Feasibility study for solar power storage at the Kennedy Longfellow School: There’s a new rooftop solar installation at the K-Lo and the manager is requesting we use a small grant ($12.5K) to study installing an energy storage system there.
#8 Funds for affordable housing: About $234K of income received from loan repayments on a HUD Community Development Block Grant would go toward affordable housing development.
#11 Beekeeping regulations from Public Health Department: Now that the health regulations have been promulgated, we can finally adopt the zoning regulations, and people interested in keeping honey bees may begin applying for permits in early 2018. The fee is $50 and a public hearing before a 3-member panel appointed by the health commissioner will be required. Up to two hives is allowed per lot. A warning sign would be required if the hive is within 10′ of the public way, a bike path, a school or a playground.
#12 Update on the Sullivan Courthouse project and its parking needs: The Courthouse redevelopment in East Cambridge has been on hold during a legal challenge to the validity of its special permit, which was granted in 2014 amidst considerable controversy. The legal appeal came to an unsuccessful conclusion in late November, and now the developer (Leggatt McCall Properties) is seeking to resume negotiations over the purchase of 420 spaces in the city garage on First St, which is across the street from the Courthouse. The development needs considerably more parking than the 92 spaces it can provide in a garage on its own site, so Leggatt is looking to strike a deal with the city to lease parking in the municipal garage. The developer also has offered to renovate the ground floor retail space in the garage to create a grocery store. There remain questions about whether this amount of parking is actually available to lease without compromising other public needs, and whether as a matter of principle the city should enable a for-profit developer to meet a parking requirement with a long-term lease of a public asset at any price. As designed (see drawings), the building would remain significantly non-conforming in height and density for the site, but would stand two floors lower than currently. It would be mostly office/lab (420K s.f.) with first floor retail. The project would include 24 apartments, of which 1/3 would be low-income, 1/3 moderate and 1/3 market rate. (This is a correction from what I originally wrote.) This is only the beginning of a process that will likely reignite the controversy over this project. Ultimately it would take a 2/3 vote of the Council to lease the parking.
#1 Beekeeping zoning: This is the last opportunity to adopt this zoning before it expires on Jan. 3, 2018.
#2 Alexandria innovation space zoning: This petition would enable Alexandria to re-designate about 10K s.f. as innovation office space so that it is exempt from the FAR in a historic commercial building the firm is redeveloping as part of its mixed-use planned development along First Street. At least 25% of the space would have to be leased at below-market rents. This zoning is eligible to be voted on at this meeting but does not expire until Feb. 13, 2018.
#1 Holiday and winter banners coming to Central Square: Some may be wondering why Mass Ave is not yet decked out for the holidays, but good news: some two dozen festive banners should go up next week along with lighting in time for the Winter Solstice. The Central Sq tree lighting is 12/21 at 4pm in Lafayette Square.
#6 Retirement of Sandra Albano: Longtime Council Executive Assistant Sandra Albano has announced that she will retire in early January.
#1 Wiping the manager’s slate clean for the next term: At the end of a Council term it is customary to place on file without prejudice any policy orders that remain on the Awaiting Report List or have not been acted on. Proposed amendments to the ordinance would be carried forward until their natural expiration dates. Items sent to committee could be picked up again at the discretion of the next committee chair.
#2 Keeping sidewalks clear of snow for seniors and the disabled: The mayor suggests we try harder to make sure that all sidewalks are adequately cleared for those with limited mobility and disabilities and that we coordinate better with the T and the universities to do their part.
#3 Creation of an Office of Interfaith Initiatives: The mayor would like us to formalize the efforts she has made this term to bring together leaders of various faiths to address community concerns by establishing an Interfaith Office.
Communications from City Officers:
Neighborhood-based Resilience Report: Councillor Kelley formed and led a special committee this term that met monthly to develop strategies for creating more resilient neighborhoods in the face of climate change and other public safety emergencies and social cohesion crises including housing and food insecurity and income inequality. Among the committee’s recommendations are the creation of a new position, Chief Resiliency Officer, and the installations of removable flood barriers to protect Fresh Pond Reservoir. There are a number of worthy suggestions for policy and zoning changes including reducing paved surfaces, incentivizing green roofs and micro grids for power storage and generation, and requiring a flood mitigation, notification and response plan as part of a special permit application. For those interested in the vulnerability of our electric grid, the minutes of the January 2017 meeting include a lengthy discussion with Bill Zamparelli of Eversource.
Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:
Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for up to 3 minutes on any agenda item except for communications from other members of the public. You may call 617-349-4280 on Monday from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign in when you arrive (before 6:00 pm). A new online system for signing up for public comment has just been launched. You still have to wait until Monday at 9am to sign up, though. Here is the link. To submit written comments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at email@example.com. Your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next regular Council meeting.
City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City Council’s website. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the city’s Open Meeting Portal.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA