City Council Agenda Highlights (2/22/16)

The February 22 City Council agenda is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. It is a long agenda because it includes all the items that were originally scheduled for the February 8 meeting that was canceled due to snow. I have already posted on the items that were on the Feb. 8 agenda and will be carried over, so this post will only highlight some of the new items.

One procedural note: We cannot schedule any committee hearings until the changes to the Council rules and the Committees have been officially approved, an action I hope will happen on Monday.

Zoning Petitions and Curb Cuts

We voted at a prior meeting to schedule an Ordinance Committee hearing on Wednesday, February 24 at 5:30 pm for a first hearing on the Cohen Petition. This is a citizen-filed petition that seeks to create a “garage exclusion zone” on non-conforming lots under certain circumstances. It was prompted by the possibility that a developer could, as of right, locate an above-ground garage on the street front of a very narrow lot (< 50’) on Donnell St next door to the petition’s home. Subsequent to the Cohen Petition being filed the Planning Board approved a plan by the developer with a below-grade garage that would not be in the exclusion zone.

There is a request for a curb cut at 41 Gibson St. (See Applications & Petitions #2) The buck stops at the City Council with regard to curb cuts, which sometimes seed strife among neighbors — as this one has. This property happens to be the former home of Barbara Ackermann, the city’s first female mayor, and I can’t help but wonder how she would have voted if a similar request had been presented when she served on the Council. When Mayor Ackermann occupied the house, which sits on the corner of Gibson and Kenway St, there was a curb cut along Kenway, but it was closed off some time ago. The new owners wish to create a curb cut on Gibson St, right along the side property line, which would put the driveway less than 5’ from the house next door on Gibson St. Some neighbors have suggested that the curb cut on Kenway be restored, which would have the advantage of not taking away an on-street space on Gibson and would be next to the Kenway neighbor’s driveway.

Policy Order #13 seeks to restart the clock on the Alexandrov Petition. This was filed last year by a local couple who wish to use a residentially zoned house on Western Ave for offices for their small business; the petition is due to expire on March 7. The block in question is currently zoned Res C-1 and the petition seeks to extend the adjacent mixed use BA-3 district by one block on the even side of the street to accommodate an office use. There’s no doubt that the current real estate market makes it very difficult for small business owners to compete for existing office space in Cambridge and that we need to find ways to preserve and protect this use, but the both the Planning Board and the BZA felt that this block should remain residential.

City Manager’s Agenda #20 This conveys a communication from the Planning Board, recommending that some parts of the MAPOCO Petition be adopted. This petition, which was heard by the prior term’s Ordinance Committee, was filed by residents opposed to the design of a residential development at 1718-20 Mass Ave in the parking lot between Changsho restaurant and Cambridge Trust. The proposed “stilts” building, whose design aroused a great deal of ire among neighbors, would have its parking at grade beneath the apartment building and would have offered no ground floor retail. The development is on hold while the petition is active; the petition will expire on March 8 unless it is refiled. Then the Ordinance Committee would have meet and vote to pass it to a second reading, possibly with some of the amendments suggested by the Planning Board, before the full Council could vote on it.

Traffic Enforcement Funding

An appropriation of $7,500 public safety grant is requested to “enhance effective pedestrian, bicycle and/or mo-ped-related enforcement efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries.” (See City Manager’s Agenda #24.) The wording suggests that the stepped-up enforcement will be directed at curbing violations by those users. While cyclists especially need to be put on alert that reckless riding endangers others’ safety, enforcement of speed limits and other violations by motorists is also needed. A pedestrian was tragically struck and killed early Wednesday morning near Porter Square at the intersection of Somerville Ave and White St, and the motorist was cited for an illegal turn. Enforcement only goes so far, however; everyone needs to slow down, pay greater attention, and respect other people sharing the roads and sidewalks. I hope this will be a topic at the Bike Safety Forum on Tuesday, February 23 at 6 pm at Suffolk University.

Policy Orders expressing support for solar energy and workers rights:

#8 Cambridge has been aggressively promoting solar energy. Two state-funded incentive programs (SREC credits and net metering), which have helped to double the state’s solar generation capacity since 2013, have recently reached their cap, and there is a battle in the State legislature over how to structure new incentives. This order calls upon State officials to oppose House Bill 3854, which does not go far enough to restore incentives. I recently heard from several residents of Cambridge Cohousing in North Cambridge, whose planned solar installation would become financially unfeasible without the continuation to the current incentives. Read more here.

#14 This order would put the Council on record in support of the unionization movement among Harvard graduate students, teaching fellows and research assistants. They have sought to be recognized as employees and to align with the UAW to bargain collectively for improved benefits. Harvard recently increased both the stipend and the amount of parental leave (to 12 weeks) for grad students, so it seems as if the union movement has gotten the administration’s attention. Read more here. 

Policy Orders related to Central Square’s needs:

#10 Central Square, a designated Cultural District, has successfully hosted the River Festival and the Jazz Fest, but both events are being planned for other locations in 2016 (The River Festival, originally along Memorial Drive, would go to Kendall Square, and the Jazz Fest is seeking to expand in Danehy Park.) Central Square stakeholders are feeling excluded from the decision process and would like to whether other festivals could be planned to replace the lost activity.

#11 This order asks for immediate improvements the sidewalks and lighting at Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square. The plaza is a major pedestrian and transit crossroads on the corner of  Prospect St and Mass Ave.

#12 Last term the Council asked that the city use eminent domain to acquire the blighted Vail Court on Bishop Allen Dr very near City Hall. This order asks for an update and suggests that the site be redeveloped as affordable senior and transitional housing.

Policy Orders related to special events

#9 I sponsored an order to help bring the first “Urban Ultra” marathon race to the banks of the Charles River and Boston Harbor on Sunday, November 6. The 34.4.mile course would highlight the continuous waterfront public park starting in Dorchester and continuing to downtown Boston to Watertown and finishing in East Cambridge.

#15 This order would make Thursday, March 3 “White Ribbon Day” to enlist men in the fight against gender-based violence.

#16 I sponsored this order for Cambridge to publicize the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour” on Saturday, March 19. We would join people around the world people in turning off all non-essential lights from 8:30-9:30 pm local time.

#17 I co-sponsored this order to mark the 10th anniversary of the Green Streets Walk/Ride Day Initiative by closing two lanes of Memorial Drive to cars on Friday, April 29. Regular Sunday closures begin on May 1.

Public Comment and Viewing Meetings:

Public comment begins at 5:30 pm. Each person is allowed to speak for 3 minutes on any agenda item. 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 pm). If you wish to submit written public comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at

City Council meetings are televised on CCTV Channel 22 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