Silver Maple Forest update: Oct. 28 Committee Hearing and Policy Order

Silver_Maple_Forest_Belmont_Police.jpgTime appears to be running out for the Silver Maple Forest, a unique "urban wild" located on the border of Cambridge and Belmont between Acorn Park Drive and the Alewife Reservation.

Despite pleas from climate advocates, a developer plans to cut the trees and build a sprawling housing complex on the site. The ideal solution would be a negotiated agreement to purchase the forest for conservation, but unfortunately, the developer has been unwilling to deal, and officials have resisted efforts to leverage public funds on multiple occasions.

Right now, advocates are sounding the alarm and taking action to defend the trees. I want to commend three Cambridge residents — Ellen Mass, Joanna Herlihy, and Susan Ringler — as well as two Lesley Students  who committed an act of Civil Disobedience earlier this week.

Moving forward, a number of things are happening:

1) I have been working with my colleagues to schedule a meeting of the council's Health and Environment Committee to discuss the impact of this development on the flood plain. That meeting is now scheduled for Tuesday, October 28, at 3 pm, in the basement conference room, 831 Massachusetts Avenue. Thank you to Councillor Cheung for chairing this meeting.

2) I am also co-sponsoring an order on Monday's city council agenda to ensure that no "drainage pipes" are placed on the 2.7 acres of the forest that lie within our municipal borders. I am confident that this order will be approved, and I want to express my appreciation to Councillor McGovern in drafting the order.

3) Right now, we are awaiting word from a Middlesex Superior Court judge who will rule on a temporary injunction to stay the removal of the trees. Yesterday, the developer's attorney suggested that concerned residents ought to be "sanctioned" for questioning the legality of the project. That's just wrong.

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Update: Planning + Development News in the City of Cambridge

As we continue on the path toward a new citywide Master Plan, I want to let you know about two recent editorials that reflect on the latest efforts to inject a greater sense of accountability and collaboration into the city's special permit process.

First, DigBoston News Editor Chris Faraone writes about the Carlone petition, the Sullivan Courthouse debate, and the movement to get big money out of local politics. His column hits newsstands and kiosks on Wednesday, but you can read it online right now: http://digboston.com/boston-news-opinions/2014/09/veto-power-developers-run-somerville-and-cambridge-and-theres-nothing-anyone-can-do-about-it/

Next, Cambridge Day Editor Marc Levy goes even more in-depth on these topics, dissecting some of the statements that were made in opposition to my plan to give the city council additional authority over the Sullivan Courthouse and other troubling projects in the Fresh Pond Alewife flood plain area; read Marc's piece online, here: http://www.cambridgeday.com/2014/09/28/five-head-scratch-inducing-statements-from-the-battle-over-big-development/

Residents who are concerned about these issues will have two important opportunities to continue the discussion, tomorrow, September 30th.

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Keeping Track of Incentive Zoning "Linkage Fees" for the Affordable Housing Trust

Screen_shot_2014-09-13_at_6.13.51_PM.pngEarlier this year, I introduced a policy order calling for action on an update to the Incentive Zoning Ordinance "Linkage Fees" that help support the city's affordable housing programs.

"Linkage" refers to the connection between new commercial real estate development and the local housing market. In 1988, the Incentive Zoning Ordinance was established to require non-residential developers who are seeking a special permit for an increase in density to mitigate the housing-market impact of their commercial development through a Housing Contribution (i.e. "Linkage Fee") to the Affordable Housing Trust.

According to Section 11.203.1 of the Zoning Ordinance, "the amount of the Housing Contribution shall be subject to review and recalculation...every three (3) years...by the Cambridge City Council based on a consideration of current economic trends including but not limited to development activity, commercial rents per square foot, employment growth, and housing trends measured in terms of, but not limited to, vacancy rates, production statistics, and prices for dwelling units."

Despite this mandate for periodic updates, the council hasn't recalculated the linkage fee for many years. In 2002, the city commissioned a "nexus study" to determine an updated linkage rate — but subsequent recommendations by noted economist Barry Bluestone were never implemented.

Ultimately, the council voted to refer my order to committee — but not without agreeing to have the city perform an audit of "how much money for affordable housing would have been obtained had the City Council implemented the 2002 recommendations."

As a result, the Community Development Department published an accounting of the lost funds in a memo dated July 8.

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Councillor Carlone Looks to Expand Protections for Cambridge Bicyclists

IMG_1110.jpgCambridge City Councillor Dennis Carlone has introduced a policy order that looks to expand upon the city's pilot program of installing protective "side guards" on various city-owned trucks.

"Just this week, Cambridge Police reported an accident involving a bicyclist and garbage truck in mid-Cambridge," Councillor Carlone said. "Fortunately, the cyclist's injuries were non-life-threatening, but the data shows that accidents involving trucks are quite serious, often fatal, and protective side guards can help make our roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians alike."

According to bicycle advocacy groups, truck side guards "prevent pedestrians, cyclists and smaller motor vehicles from rolling or falling underneath the body of the truck." In the United Kingdom, legislation requiring side guards has already been credited with saving lives, and right now, the City of Boston is looking to enact legislation of its own.

To be sure, biking gets safer all the time in the City of Cambridge. As the city's Bicycle Safety Report shows, the more folks take to the streets on two-wheels, the fewer accidents are reported per miles traveled.

Nevertheless, accidents involving trucks seem to be the most likely to cause fatalities — at least according to recent data from the City of Boston. And like Boston, the City of Cambridge has also been exploring the idea of installing side guards on city-owned trucks — and with this order, Councillor Carlone is hoping side guards will be considered "more broadly across all city trucks."

Residents wishing to speak on this topic are welcome to attend Monday's city council meeting, which is being held at 5:30 pm in the CRLS Attles Meeting Room, 459 Broadway. You may sign up for public comment by calling the council office between 9 am and 3 pm on Monday — or just show up at CRLS and add your name to the list between 5:30 and 6 pm. Be sure to mention Policy Order #11. You may also email the entire city council at council@cambridgema.gov (and be sure to copy the City Clerk, dlopez@cambridgema.gov, too).

For the full text of Policy Order #11, please see below...

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Council Votes to End Debate on Project Review Special Permit Petition

Dennis_Carlone_headshot.pngI am sorry to report that on Monday evening, the city council voted to halt further debate on the Carlone, et al. petition for additional review of certain large projects for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

The vote came on a motion to "pass to a second reading," a technical step that allows for additional public notice and continued debate on a zoning amendment proposal. Going back to the 1990's, similar motions have carried 99% of the time – even in cases where the petition ultimately failed.

Councillors Nadeem Mazen and Denise Simmons joined me in voting in favor of a second reading, but Councillors Kelley, McGovern, Toomey, Vice Mayor Benzan, and Mayor Maher all opposed.

By a similar 3-5 vote, the council also rejected a compromise proposal to further limit the scope of the petition to areas such as Fresh Pond, Alewife, and the Sullivan Courthouse – places where current zoning is in need of an update and troubling projects are moving forward via special permit.

Prior to the meeting, the Neighborhood Association of East Cambridge issued a statement in support of the petition. "The planning and permitting process in Cambridge is in dire need of fixing, and the Carlone petition provides an interim mechanism to oversee the process until it is fixed," they wrote. The petition would have given the city council the final say on the Section 19.20 Project Review Special Permit for the controversial plan to redevelop the Sullivan Courthouse as a 20-story commercial office tower.

There is good coverage of Monday’s meeting in Cambridge Day as well as in the Cambridge Chronicle. Also, check out the video of the meeting on City Webcast. Discussion on the petition starts at approximately 2:42:00.

I want to highlight the fact that Monday’s vote was preceded by another excellent round of public comment – by my count, testimony ran 15-to-0 in support of the petition. This is in addition to strong support at meetings earlier this summer before the Planning Board and the Ordinance Committee.

Thank you to everyone who got engaged on this issue. This year has seen many big conversations on the future of our city, and these conversation will surely continue.

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Dennis Carlone, et al. petition featured in today's Boston Globe

Today's Boston Globe features an op-ed on the Dennis Carlone, et al. petition to enable the city council to provide oversight on large development projects for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

According to columnist Paul McMorrow, "Carlone has created broad support for a more holistic approach to development in Cambridge — one that doesn’t just create individual buildings, but builds communities."

The column, titled "Cambridge Needs New Approach to Development," goes on to say, in part:

Surprisingly, Carlone’s critique of the way development works in Cambridge has resonated with people who oppose the specific fix he’s proposing. It has instigated a unique citywide conversation about the failings of development in Cambridge.
 
Carlone is no anti-development zealot. He’s been an architect and urban planner for four decades. He helped shape the redevelopment of East Cambridge. He says he advanced his bid to neutralize the Planning Board to stave off a push by residents to implement a development moratorium. But he is deeply critical of the type of development Cambridge’s Planning Board has approved in recent years.
 
Carlone and a vocal ally on the City Council, Nadeem Mazen, argue that Cambridge’s Planning Board has been greenlighting development projects without a broader perspective. The result is a pile of pieces that don’t add up to anything. The area around Alewife and Fresh Pond is a warren of subdivisions that feel more like Burlington or Waltham than Cambridge. The projects don’t have much to do with one another, or with the city as a whole. The developers check the boxes on the Planning Board’s narrow zoning checklist, but don’t offer a broader vision of where Cambridge, as a city, is heading.

“What are we creating?” Carlone asks. “The quality of development, and the quality of thinking, has to step up beyond the property lines.”

Mazen believes Carlone’s critique of Cambridge’s development process has struck a chord. The debate has drawn out a surprisingly broad group of people who have come to see Cambridge as wracked by inadequate zoning, weak planning, inattention to quality-of-life issues, and a development process that frustrates residents rather than engaging them.

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Planning Board discussion of City Council Project Review petition

photo_(9).JPGI want to say thank you to everyone who filled the room for this week's Planning Board hearing on the Carlone, et al. petition for City Council review of large projects for the duration of the Citywide Master Plan process.

The biggest takeaway from this week's meeting was that City Staff confirmed that if the petition is adopted, then the City Council will get to have final say on Project Review Special Permits for the Sullivan Courthouse redevelopment in East Cambridge, as well as on the 75 New Street and 88 CambridgePark Drive proposals that have been a source of concern in the Fresh Pond / Alewife Brook floodplain area.

The Project Review Special Permit was established in 2001 to ensure that large developments are consistent with the city's Urban Design objectives and do not impose adverse impacts on city traffic. In other words, this permit addresses the many of the key issues with the Courthouse redevelopment and with recent projects in the Fresh Pond / Alewife area. However, the Planning Board has never voted to deny an application for a Project Review Special Permit.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Planning Board expressed its opinion at this week's meeting that Project Review Special Permit granting authority should remain with the Board -- but it must be emphasized that the fate of the Carlone, et al. petition is entirely in the hands of the City Council. The council's Ordinance Committee will resume discussion of the matter on Wednesday, August 27, at 5:30 pm in the CRLS/Attles meeting room, 459 Broadway. You may RSVP or learn more about this meeting by clicking on this link.

With the opening round of hearings now complete, it's probably wise to take stock of what supporters and opponents of the petition both tend to agree on...

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News from a very big week

photo-30.JPGIt has been a momentous week of civic activity in the City of Cambridge. Thank you to everyone who participated in meetings that were held on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and thanks as well to everyone who has followed along online and via email.

On Monday, the council met for six-and-a-half hours for our annual "midsummer meeting." I brought forward an ambitious policy order to help fund the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest, but unfortunately, some of my colleagues were not quite as willing to act on the issue. In the end, we passed a compromise order that asks the City Manager to work with Belmont, Arlington, and the Commonwealth to explore potential sources of funding to save the forest, and we also passed a second order that asks DCR to hold off on one of the final-remaining approvals for the project. 

There's been tremendous coverage of the Silver Maple Forest issue all week - on WGBH's Greater Boston television program, in Cambridge Day, in the Cambridge Chronicle, and also on my blog.
 
Other big events happened on Monday as well - the council voted to create an advisory committee to improve the process at the Planning Board, we voted to jumpstart the effort to preserve the Whittemore Ave. Community Garden, and we received the first update on the Citywide Master Plan process. On top of all that, we also adopted a Building Energy Use and Disclosure Ordinance, an early product of the Net Zero Task Force.

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City Manager to reach out to Belmont, Arlington to discuss Silver Maple Forest

Late last night, the City Council adopted an amended version of Councillor Dennis Carlone's ambitious policy order in support of the Silver Maple Forest. 

Five hours into a six-and-a-half hour meeting, Councillor Carlone moved to advance Order #4 to the floor for discussion with the City Manager, explaining that many fear the developer may be very close to cutting the precious trees. 

After some debate about Cambridge's role in the matter, Councillor McGovern offered a substitute motion, striking out at least a few parts of the original order, but nevertheless calling on the City Manager to hold discussions with fellow administrators in Belmont and Arlington and report back to the council. The vote passed, 8 to 0, with Councillor Carlone voting present.

The meeting opened with two and a half hours of generally superb public testimony, much of which was focused on the value and potential of the Silver Maple Forest, with many speakers making reference to heavy rains and flooding that occurred earlier in day. Cambridge resident Mike Nakagawa brought in color-coded maps to highlight the number of recent large projects in the Alewife Brook floodplain, and others noted the potential for STEAM-related programming at the forest.

After the meeting, Councillor Carlone expressed gratitude for the efforts that many have made to preserve the forest. "I am very proud of the thoughtful and well-conceived comments that we heard from local advocates this evening," Carlone said. "Cambridge is fortunate to have so many caring, forward-thinking residents," he added.

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Important Events This Week in the City of Cambridge

Dennis_Carlone_headshot.pngThere's a lot at stake in the City of Cambridge this week, with critical meetings taking place tonight, tomorrow night, and Wednesday afternoon. I invite you to join us at any and all of these important events.

Tonight, Monday, July 28, at 5:30 pm, the City Council will hold its annual midsummer meeting in a special location - the Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at CRLS, 459 Broadway.

I have placed two items on the agenda for tonight's meeting -- Policy Order #2, which asks the council to support residents who want to rebuild the Whittemore Ave. Community Garden in North Cambridge -- and Policy Order #4, which asks the council to help fund the preservation of the Silver Maple Forest.

You can read more about the Whittemore Ave. Community Garden on this Change.org page, and you can read more about the Silver Maple Forest here on my blog. Also, last night, the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance did this blog post in support of both policy orders.

Members of the public wishing to testify in support of either order should arrive at the Attles Meeting Room and add their names to the public comment list prior to 6 pm. Public comment starts at 5:30 pm, but the sign up list is closed promptly at six. People who are not able to attend may also express their opinions by emailing the entire city council: council@cambridgema.gov and be sure to copy the City Clerk at dlopez@cambridgema.gov to have your comments added to the record.

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