The Cambridge City Council will hold its first meeting of the fall session on Monday, September 17, 2018, starting at 5:30pm. Since we have not held a regular meeting since the end of July, our agenda is longer than usual. In balancing my tendency to be encyclopedic with the realization that most people are not as interested in digging into the weeds of every agenda, I am paring down this summary to the items I think are the most noteworthy. The full agenda is here for any who craves a deeper dive.
City Manager’s Agenda
#1 Community Preservation Act Recommendations: Once again, CPA funds (a total of $12,730,000 in FY19) will be apportioned 80-10-10% to affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space, respectively. The detailed memo lists the specific projects in each category funded in the prior fiscal year and this year.
#6 Planning Board’s comments on adult-use cannabis zoning: The Planning Board would reduce the buffer between retail stores and K-12 schools and playgrounds from 500 to 300 feet, but would leave the buffer between cannabis stores at 1,800 feet. They also suggested clarifying some of the special permit design review guidelines. The zoning will come back to the Ordinance Committee on Oct. 2 for further discussion. There will be an Economic Development Committee meeting on Oct. 3 to continue our discussion about a social equity program for cannabis sales.
#7 Report on Episcopal Divinity School land sale: When EDS put its Brattle Street campus on the market last year, some asked if the residential portion on St John’s Rd could be repurposed for affordable housing. (Lesley University, which was already a co-owner of several of the buildings on the site, acquired most of the historic campus including the Chapel and the Deanery for $25M.) City staff and Just-a-Start independently evaluated the potential of the 6 smaller buildings that had housed EDS students and faculty for redevelopment as affordable housing and ultimately decided against it: “The size and scale of development [at least 40 units] needed to support the value of the property would likely require significant zoning relief, demolition of historically significant structures, and an inordinate amount of City funds [more than $15M] when compared to other opportunities to create affordable housing.” The sale of this portion of the campus has not yet closed, however, and if the price were to be reduced the affordable housing option might be reconsidered.
#12 Report on “Peace and Safety Plan” for The Port and Wellington-Harrington: Following the sharp increase in gun violence last spring, the Council asked the Police Department to form a task force and to redouble its efforts to restore security in those neighborhoods. Following the 11-week task force operation this summer, gun violence decreased significantly. The report is very detailed and opens a window on the range of community policing and law enforcement strategies used.
#13 & #14 Supplemental grants traffic enforcement: A total of about $23K in supplemental grants will boost our traffic enforcement efforts for motor vehicle violations. The total spent with the 2 supplemental grants will be about $40K. One of the grants will purchase laser speed enforcement devices. I will be holding a committee hearing on Sept. 20 at 3pm to discuss reducing the speed limit to 20mph on residential streets.
#19 Grant for clinical and legal services for tenants at risk: This grant will direct about $116K toward contracted service providers assisting tenants at risk of eviction and homelessness.
#22 Family Shelter grant for YWCA: This state grant of $497K will go toward operating the YWCA’s family shelter for 10 women and their children for a 9-month period. The shelter recently reopened in a beautifully renovated house (named “Renae’s Place” in memory of Renae Gray) on the corner of Mass Ave and Clinton St.
#29 Report on addressing housing discrimination complaints by tenants: At a Housing Committee hearing this summer we asked for a fuller explanation of how the City’s Human Rights Commission handles complaints of housing discrimination. The number of complaints brought to the Commission has averaged 10 per year over the past 3-1/2 years and the majority of the complaints were not found to have probable cause. This memo goes into greater detail on how such cases are managed
#1 & #3 Future of the Sancta Maria site?: On the heels of the sudden announcement that the 125-bed Sancta Maria Nursing Facility at 799 Concord Ave will cease operations at the end of this year, we will consider two suggestions for its future: either zone the site as a “senior living overlay” to encourage its use for continuum of care services for the elderly, or acquire it for affordable housing. Both are worthy of consideration. Building affordable housing on such a large site (more than 4.5 times the size of HRI’s Concord Ave site where 100 units are planned) would be expensive to fund, but the location next to a city park/playground and Fresh Pond makes it attractive for a residential use of some type. Maybe mixed-income senior housing with some supportive services.
#4 Enforcing bike lane obstructions: I co-sponsored this order asking for more consistent enforcement of cars and trucks stopped in bike lanes especially on our most congested corridors. “Bike lane obstructions” are among the top complaints on SeeClickFix. I know some will say that there needs to be greater enforcement of people on bikes running red lights etc and I agree, but every urban cyclist quickly loses track of the number of times when a careless driver has stopped and blocked their path riding in a bike lane, often when there are safer, legal places to pull over to the curb nearby.
#6 Business Impact Plan for Inman Square project: This order asks the staff to develop a plan to mitigate the impact of the Inman Square intersection reconstruction on the small businesses in the area.
# 7 Constellation Center sale report: Recently we learned that the long-vacant and increasingly valuable (and tax-exempt) site on Third St in Kendall Square that was to have been the home of the Constellation Center for the performing arts was sold for $50.5M to BioMed. The sale raises questions about the decades of lost tax revenue (was the promise of an arts center merely land-banking?) and about the future use of “Parcel C,” which is zoned to include a substantial arts component.
#9 Parking policy for blocking your own driveway: This order asks to allow property owners to park across the curb cut of their own driveway (but presumably not blocking the sidewalk or preventing emergency personnel from accessing the property in doing so) … People who do this sometimes leave a note on their dashboard to alert the parking officer that it’s “ok” to block the driveway. I don’t know how I feel about making this a “right” or how common a need it is. Does it have to be the resident’s own car or can it be used for a guest? Can a property owner offer this right to a tenant and charge them for parking?
#12 Retail vacancies report follow up: The Economic Development Committee held a hearing on Sept. 12 to discuss strategies to track and reduce retail vacancies. A video of the meeting is posted on the Open Meeting Portal. This order formalizes a request during the hearing to follow up on a number of items discussed. The Retail Strategy Report webpage has other documents.
#15 Leash law enforcement: This order suggests we hold a committee hearing to discuss ways to reduce violations of the leash law though both greater enforcement and outreach to people bringing dogs to public parks. This concern has come before prior councils and will likely evoke strong feelings on both sides. We have thousands of dogs in the city and open space, both public and private, is scarce. See Open Data resources on dogs in Cambridge.
While we did not hold regular meetings over the summer, we did hold quite a few committee hearings. There are 9 reports on the agenda on topics ranging from increasing electric vehicles and the resident parking fee to deterring bike theft and gun violence, cyber-security and surveillance technology, cannabis zoning and social equity of the new industry, and the New St self-storage and flat roof rainwater zoning petitions.
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. There is an online system for signing up for public comment that goes live on the Friday morning before each 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at email@example.com. If received after Thursday at 3pm, your comments will appear on the public record (under “Communications”) at the next subsequent Council meeting.
City Council meetings are televised on Channel 22-CityView and live-streamed on the City’s Open Meeting Portal and on the City’s YouTube site. Recorded versions of all Council meetings may be found on the Open Meeting Portal.
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Jan Devereux City Councillor Cambridge, MA