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.

I'll have more to say on all of this in the not too distant future. For now, let's remember that many good ideas have been advanced over the past two-and-a-half months. The city council voted to create a Planning Board Advisory Committee, the City Manager issued a call for new Planning Board members; and even the Boston Globe picked up on the story – acknowledging that “the area around Alewife and Fresh Pond is a warren of subdivisions that feel more like Burlington or Waltham than Cambridge” because “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.”

In addition, we have pushed for the use of independent consultants and 3D models at the Planning Board – suggestions that have been warmly received. And all over the city, residents are coming forward to offer promising ideas of their own.

With this week's outcome, we on the council might not be able to exercise the full extent of our oversight authority on certain special permits, but nevertheless, we will continue working together to strive for development that knits the community together and contributes to the public realm.

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