City Council Agenda Highlights (2/12/18)

The Cambridge City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday, February 12 at 5:30pm at City Hall. The agenda is posted online.  We also will hold a roundtable working meeting to discuss the FY19 school budget with the School Committee on Tuesday, February 13 at 5:30pm in the School Committee Room at CRLS. (That agenda has not been posted as of this writing.) Highlights of Monday’s City Council agenda follow:

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Landmark designation for former Lechmere National Bank building (225-27 Cambridge St.): After over two years of negotiation with the neighborhood and the Historical Commission, the development company that acquired this 1917 building has won support for its plan to preserve the bank building as the linchpin of its design to create a new CVS store. The project site (on the corner of Third St) includes an older wood-frame building at 207-09 Cambridge Street that will not be preserved (despite some people’s feelings that it should be) and a surface parking lot with access from Third St and Gore St. The new CVS store will have its entrance in the former bank building and a one-story addition will span the rest of the street front retaining surface parking at the rear. All parties seem to support this compromise. A prior proposal to create housing above the CVS and other retail was opposed by the neighbors as too dense.

#2 Landmark designation for 40 and 44 Cottage St houses: The CHC’s recommendation to landmark a pair of 1839 Greek Revival “cottages” on the aptly named Cottage St in Cambridgeport is bound to spark controversy because the landmark petition was initiated by the owner of #44 over the strong objections of the owner of #40. Both are longtime owners and there seems to be an unfortunate history of disagreement. The owners of #40 are seeking to make the house more energy efficient and have put forward a number of different plans over the past two years, each opposed by the owner of #44. The CHC approved the most recent renovation plan, which includes an addition at the rear and the demolition of a separate garage structure. This plan would be allowed to go forward if the houses were landmarked. However the owners of #40 feel that landmarking is unnecessarily restrictive. The owner of #44 reportedly intends to sell and move away, so only the future owner of that property would have to live with the landmarking restrictions.

#3 Advocate for victims of domestic violence: This $40K grant would fund a temporary position of civilian advocate to work with victims of domestic violence. This is part of the Police Departments’ trauma-informed training and case management framework.

#4 More compost bins coming: The manager is asking to appropriate $38K toward the purchase of compost bins as part of the roll-out this April of citywide curbside compost collection.

#5 Neighborways: This memo comes in response to a policy order I sponsored last fall to suggest we implement a Neighborways traffic calming and community art program similar to ones Somerville and other cities. The idea is that residents work together to plan public art and other low-cost devices to signal motorists to slow down. Rather than creating and supporting a resident-driven Neighborways program, the staff are more inclined to continue to rely on physical elements like curb extensions and narrowed streets to calm traffic, but are open to including more public art and community building in future traffic calming projects. I’m a bit disappointed in this response because I feel that allowing residents to take the initiative to reclaim their streets and give residents a sense of ownership.

#6 Elevators at Fresh Pond Apartments: In response to an increase in elevator problems this winter, the property manager is undertaking a full review of the equipment and may advance capital plans to replace some of it sooner than anticipated.

#7 What will replace the Sidney St Star Market? As discussed at last month’s community meeting with Forest City, the now-empty space is being actively marketed to grocery and non-grocery tenants. The city has no ability to require Forest City to retain a grocery store in the space, and most acknowledge that its second floor location makes it less desirable for a retail use.

Policy Orders

#2 Update on Urban Agriculture Initiative: We finally passed the beekeeping regulations and zoning at the end of last year, but have heard nothing about the still-pending parts of the Urban Ag Initiative: regulations for keeping hens and food cultivation including soil safety. So I sponsored this order to ask that we resume discussing those zoning and health regs. This work started in 2015 and I really hope it can be wrapped up this year.

#3 Update on Polystyrene Ordinance: I sponsored this order to ask for a report on compliance with the polystyrene ban we imposed in Oct. 2016. The ordinance prohibits the use of this impossible-to-recycle plastic for single-serving take-out food and beverage containers. Dunkin Donuts recently announced it would stop using foam cups in 2020 after trying for years to find a good alternative, and I hope other companies follow.

#4 Cambridge St bike lanes: This order asks for the creation of a new working group (while acknowledging that such a stakeholder group already exists) and asserts that the Cambridge St protected bike lanes have not met safety goals, despite the lack of data to support that claim. It also suggests that all the comments are negative. Also not the case. Coming on the heels of the city’s announcement this week of our Vision Zero Action Plan, which includes the goal of growing our network of protected bike lanes and using data to evaluation outcomes, I feel this order sends a mixed message. The existing group and the staff can continue evaluating and refining the lanes based on more than anecdotal data. The protected lanes are here to stay and this order may suggest to some they are not.

#5 Inman Square Input: This order asks the staff to provide more opportunities for public engagement in the Inman Square redesign. The staff has already promised opportunities for the public to participate in the design of the new open space, but asking to go back over the decision process that yielded the preferred design may suggest to some that the decision itself will be revisited. Personally I am ready to accept that our staff have listened closely and weighed the tradeoffs in putting forth this plan.

#6 Request for Housing Court in Cambridge: I co-sponsored Councillor Carlone’s order to ask the state to hold regular Housing Court sessions in Cambridge. Currently Cambridge tenants facing eviction must travel to Medford, which makes it harder for some to appear before the Court to present their case or access legal services. In January 2017, 30 of the 73 Cambridge tenants facing eviction did not show up, and were served notice to move within 48 hours.

#7 Update on Affordable Internet Access: I co-sponsored Councillor Zondervan’s order to request an update on efforts address the city’s digital divide, which especially affects low-income students and others of modest means, but also contributes to our high cost of living and impedes full participation in the 21st century economy. The city administration has resisted resuming the work of the Broadband Task Force, which had been exploring the creation of a high-speed municipal network. Similar to the debate over offering universal pre-K, the debate over investing in municipal broadband turns on forging an agreement over how to prioritize quality, access and cost.

Committee Report

#1 Harvard Sq Zoning Petition: There is a lengthy report on the Ordinance Committee’s lengthy meeting on the Kroon Petition, which we ultimately decided to leave in committee so that it can be reworked and refiled. The petition’s goals of zoning that encourages an active and diverse streetscape that is not dominated by banks and chain stores are sound. Incentivizing housing creation could bolster the commercial ecosystem.

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. A new online system for signing up for public comment was recently launched, and it goes live on the Friday morning before the Monday meeting. Here is the link. You also may call 617-349-4280 on the Monday of the meeting from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm to sign up to speak, or sign up when you arrive at City Hall by going to the City Council office after 5:00pm and using the public computer terminal on the desk by the door. Regardless of how you sign up you should do so before 6:00 pm on Monday. To submit written comments, please email council@cambridgema.gov and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at dlopez@cambridgema.gov. 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