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...

Everyone seems to agree: 1) the process at the Planning Board could be improved; 2) the zoning ordinance needs to be refined, if not overhauled completely, and 3) the Citywide Master Plan will create a framework for advancing our goals. Along these lines, the City Manager has recently issued a call for new Planning Board members, the City Council received an initial report on the Citywide Master Plan, and the council also voted to create an advisory committee to look at ways of improving the process at the Planning Board. In addition, the Community Development Department announced that a new urban design planner has joined the staff.

Where there has been disagreement is on the need for immediate action. When I look at how the state has brushed aside the concerns of the East Cambridge residents on the Sullivan Courthouse deal, and when I see how development is racing ahead without creating a sense of place in the Fresh Pond / Alewife area, I find myself wanting the City Council to step in and utilize all of the tools at its disposal to ensure the best possible outcome in each of those neighborhoods.

In short, the petition is not some theoretical exercise; it will enable the City Council to address people's immediate concerns with proposals for the Sullivan Courthouse and the Fresh Pond / Alewife Brook floodplain area, and it will provide an additional layer of review for large projects while the Citywide Master Plan is being produced.

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