City Council Agenda Highlights (5/22/17)

The Cambridge City Council will meet on Monday, May 22 at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted online. We will vote to adopt the FY18 Budget, as recommended during the two Finance Committee hearings we held earlier this month. Please note that we will not meet next Monday (May 29) due to the Memorial Day holiday, and that the following Monday (June 5) will be a roundtable meeting to hear an update on the Envision Alewife planning process. Our next regular business meeting will be Monday, June 12.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 HUD HOME Grant of $148K for affordable housing development.

#3 Increases in building permit fees: Raising the fees, which were last set in 2009, is being recommended because changes to the state building code have placed greater demands on the Inspectional Services staff. In most cases the fee will increase from $15 to $20 per thousand of construction cost except that permits for single, 2- and 3-unit buildings will remain $15 per $1000. The detailed schedule for the proposed increases is linked here.

#4 Letter from former Mayor Henrietta Davis to MassDOT regarding the I-90 reconfiguration in Allston: Until our former mayor stepped in as the Cambridge community rep to the project team, the impact on Cambridge of re-routing the turnpike to accommodate Harvard’s redevelopment of the rail yards had been downplayed, perhaps even underestimated, by MassDOT who have focused on the more proximate impact on Allston. While Cambridgeport and Riverside would be the most affected, I urge residents of all areas to read Mayor Davis’s excellent letter to Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. The letter is linked here. There is also a policy order (#1) expressing the Council’s support for this letter.

#5 New member of the Historical Commission: Alternate member Susannah Tobin, a lecturer and assistant dean at Harvard Law, has been promoted to fill a vacancy created by the illness of Shary Berg, and will serve a 3-year term.

#6 Reappointment to Community Preservation Act Committee: Kevin Foster will continue to serve on the CPA Committee for another 5 years. The memo says nothing of Mr. Foster’s area of expertise or profession, but I found a memo from when he was first appointed in 2012 that provides a bit of background. The Committee will hold a public meeting on Wed., June 7 at 5:30pm.


#8 June 12 to be declared “Loving Day” in honor of Mildred and Richard Loving, the inter-racial couple whose legal right to marriage was upheld in a landmark Supreme Court ruling on June 12, 1967.

Policy Orders

#1 Support for Henrietta Davis’s letter on the 1-90 Allston project: See City Manager’s Agenda item #4 above.

#2 Somerville affordable housing debate: This resolution is moot since the Somerville Planning Board has voted against requiring the Assembly Row developer to increase the affordable housing percentage to 20% on a 500-unit building it is constructing in the next phase of this massive mixed-use project. Somerville voted to increase its affordable requirement to 20% last year and housing advocates had sought to deny the developer a waiver from complying with the higher percentage. When we increased our inclusionary requirement to 20% earlier this year, we had the same debate over some 2500 units that were permitted in Northpoint back in 2003. Both developments are “PUDs” — multi-acre planned urban developments that were permitted more than a decade ago. In Assembly Row’s case the Somerville Planning Board allowed the developer to reduce the amount of on-site inclusionary housing from 12.5% to 6% (about 31 units) in exchange for the promise of $10.3M toward the creation of affordable units elsewhere in Somerville. This cash contribution could yield at least 49 additional units through Somerville’s 100 Homes Program, in which the City purchases existing smaller buildings for conversion to affordable housing. While the net number of affordable units may end up about the same, the relatively small number of inclusionary units at Assembly Row will make that project less socio-economically diverse than originally envisioned. The developer (Federal Realty) notes that they have contributed $180M toward infrastructure improvements. But the state has invested $130M in Assembly Row, so we taxpayers have a significant stake in its success, and the debate will likely rage on over whether this deal best serves the public interest. Read the coverage in the Somerville Times.

Committee Reports

#1-3 Finance Committee reports on our budget hearings: We will vote to adopt the FY18 General Fund Budget of $568,246,680, the Water Fund Budget of $13,973,850, and the Public Investment Budget of $19,912,850.

#4 Ordinance Committee report on the Third and Cambridge Street Zoning Petition: We voted to leave petition in committee for further consideration, which was also the recommendation of the Planning Board. The petition would rezone a block of Cambridge Street (only the north side between Second and Third Streets and back to the near side of Gore) to enable the construction of a 4-story building with 45 units, 4 ground floor retail storefronts, and underground parking accessed off Gore Street. The design of the proposed building is attractive and preserves and incorporates the historic bank on the corner, but some questioned its impact on the rest of the block, which includes two small houses and a fire station, and on the traffic circulation. However, the location will be quite near the new Lechmere T station, and what can be developed as of right under the existing zoning could be worse for the abutters. Cambridge Street is one of the arterial corridors that the Envision planners are looking closely at for potential zoning changes, so the additional density of this proposed development could be a template for other sections of the street that are near transit.

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). To submit written comments, please email and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at 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