City Council Agenda Highlights (5/20/19)

The Cambridge City Council will hold a regular meeting on Monday, May 20, 2019, at 5:30pm. The agenda is posted here.

City Manager’s Agenda

#1 Budget Hearings Follow-Up Information: During the budget hearings earlier this month we asked for more information about the amount to be spent in FY20 across all city departments on anti-bias training ($796K), a breakdown of expenses for the Office of Tourism (totaling about $530K), and more detail about how the Multicultural Arts Center uses the $200K it receives annually from the City and the impact of its programs.

#2 Planning Board Decision on Ware St Rezoning: The Planning Board does not recommend that we adopt the proposed zoning to allow a commercial use (described as “innovation space”) in a portion of the Verizon switching station building on Ware St, which is a residential district. Currently the Alley co-working space occupies about 10K s.f. on the ground floor through a two-year variance granted by the BZA last October. Neighbors have not found Verizon to be a good neighbor and are opposed to the zoning change.

#3 Constellation Center (Parcel C) Background: This memo explains the PUD zoning and special permits that spell out what can be built on the vacant lot on Third St that was originally planned to be a non-profit theater for musical performances; funding and plans for the so-called Constellation Center never got off the ground and the site was sold in 2018 for $50M to Biomed Realty, which has owns most of the buildings that surround it. The zoning sets the height for the parcel at 120′ and whatever is built there must provide the arts space (about 95K s.f.) that was in the PUD special permit. Biomed is still in the early stages of determining how to meet the requirements of the zoning.

#4 Traffic Monitoring by CPD at Broadway and Prospect: In response to our concerns about safety at this busy intersection, especially during the morning rush hours when there are many school children and childcare families present, the Police will assign two officers there between 7-9am this month to monitor and enforce crosswalk and red light violations by drivers.

#5 Moped Registration Enforcement: While a license plate is not required for a moped, a registration is and many owners neglect to do this with the state. Often when a moped is stopped for a moving violation there is no registration sticker on it, but an officer cannot stop a moped only for lack of a sticker and it’s nearly impossible to notice that in many cases.. The number of moped violations issued for all reasons in 2018 was 32. Further confusing the issue is that motor scooters (the ones you sit on, not the stand-up electric kick scooters we’ve been talking about all year) do not require a registration and can be hard to distinguish from a moped. Motor scooters may not operate in a bike lane but mopeds may. CPD will do some refresher training with traffic officers and will work with the Traffic Dept on broader education for moped and motor scooter operators.

#11 Leasing Plug-in Hybrid and EV Vehicles for City: We will appropriate $126K toward leasing up to six plug-in hybrid or EVs for municipal use. I’m pleased to see that the manager followed our suggestion to consider leasing rather than purchasing, since EV models are apt to continue their rapid improvements in range.

Applications and Petitions

#1 Grand Junction Pathway Overlay Zoning: Alexandria Real Estate has resubmitted its petition to up-zone (somewhat less dramatically) the former Met Pipe site on Binney and Fulkerson for a new commercial (lab) building with an incentive to complete a key section of the Grand Junction Path. To reduce the impact on the residential neighborhood behind the Met Pipe site, the new petition creates 3 zones with stepped-down heights (maximum closest to Binney would be 105′, with a 60′ transitional zone behind, and adhering to the base zoning height nearest to the residential area). We will refer it to the Ordinance Committee and Planning Board for consideration.

#2 Curb Cut at 199 Pemberton St: It is becoming increasingly clear to me that giving the Council the final decision on curb cut applications is a procedure that should be reconsidered. Here we have a curb cut application on the north side of Pemberton St that has been approved by the staff and all the abutters who responded. Yet the neighborhood association objects for reasons that seem to have less to do with the curb cut itself and more to do with the fact that a developer got a special permit to build a new two-family structure in the rear of the lot and permission to have a new driveway. The objection cites heavy cut-through traffic on Pemberton, which is narrowed by street parking on the south side, and a neighbor’s tall fence blocking site lines at the left turn onto Middlesex St, as reasons to deny a curb cut for the new house. This is a no-win situation — the two families living in the house will likely have cars they will want to park somewhere and many people (both commuters and North Cambridge residents) will continue to use Pemberton both as a cut-through to Rindge and key neighborhood connector.

#3 Webster Bank Sandwich Board Sign in Harvard Sq: During my first term I tried unsuccessfully to pushback on the number of sandwich board signs cluttering our sidewalks. Webster Bank, which is located at One Brattle Square at the bend of Eliot St, wants a sandwich board, and I have to ask why a bank needs sidewalk advertising? Are they offering daily special for mortgages, or promotions for college savings accounts? Will the sign’s content change regularly, or is this just a way to place a small billboard on the sidewalk when the outside of the building is already plastered with the bank’s branding? Don’t get me started on the number of banks in Harvard Square….

Policy Orders

#2 Anti-Bias and Cultural Competency Strategic Plan for City Workforce: This suggestion comes from Councillor Simmons, who has been laser-focused this term in particular on eliminating bias and strengthening cultural competency.

#3 Support for the FUTURE Act: We are asking the Council to go on record in support of a State bill (H.2849/S.1940) that would further efforts to reduce reliance on natural gas, repair gas leaks and promote renewable thermal energy. This legislation is strongly supported by Mothers Out Front.

#4 Freezing Gas Work by Feeney Brothers: Councillor Zondervan is renewing his prior request to explore whether we can prevent Feeney Brothers from working on utility contracts in the City following instances of their negligence that have caused death and property loss ((the gas explosions in Merrimack Valley and the Gore St tree). Feeney Brothers is working for Eversource on the Inman Square project.

Committee Reports

#1-3 Finance Committee: Budget Recommendations. We will vote to adopt the FY20 Budget during this meeting as well as to approve the seven loan orders that were placed on Unfinished Business a few weeks ago.

#4 Housing Committee: Report from the March 28 hearing on the Affordable Housing Overlay. It’s a bit odd that this report is only coming now, since we have already approved the minutes from one of the two subsequent hearing on the AHO (the final one held on April 25). The report on the April 16 hearing has not been received. In any case the AHO is now a formal zoning petition and has been referred to the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee so there will be more public meetings and debate.

Communications for Other City Officers

#1 Arts Task Force: Notes from the May 9 meeting.

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 and cc City Clerk Donna Lopez at 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