Lawrence Lessig testifies before the City Council; Normandy proposal advances

Last night, the Ordinance Committee voted, 6-3, to forward the Normandy Twining zoning amendment petition on the full city council with a positive recommendation — but not before hearing from Lawrence Lessig on the issue of money in politics.

Speaking during public comment, Lessig, who serves as the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and is also a professor of law at Harvard Law School, drew a connection between the council's recent vote to reject a study of publicly funded elections and the City's "ad-hoc planning process."

Click here to read Lessig's testimony.

The meeting focused on Normandy's Mass + Main proposal, which would add some 232 units of new housing to Central Square — but 80% of these units would be luxury/market rate — and the project has raised concerns about a planning effort (the "C2 Study") that was unexpectedly sidelined last year.

In Lessig's words:

The purpose of the C2 study was to frame the requirements of the development process in a balanced, and forward looking way — to represent all of the interests of all of the citizens and residents of Cambridge, rich, and poor and middle class alike. The next logical step was to translate this study into a comprehensive zoning and implementation scheme.

It is undisputed that Cambridge has now sidelined that ordinary policy review process. In its place, the council is considering ad-hoc zoning decisions affecting the interests of incredibly wealthy investors and real estate developers.

Later in the meeting, Councillor Carlone presented an alternative concept for the area in question, showing how a public/private partnership — based on principles of the C2 Study — could dramatically increase affordable housing, while consolidating parking and creating a new community green.


In making his presentation, Councillor Carlone also pointed to a letter, signed by 23 city councilors from New York City, stating that the "80/20" approach to affordable housing has been "ineffective" and advocating for 50% affordable housing in new developments.

Although the committee voted to advance the Normandy proposal last night, Councillor Carlone intends to continue pushing for urban design and zoning/implementation strategies to dramatically increase affordable housing, open space, and other public amenities in Central Square and across the city — and he continues to support the efforts of campaign finance reform advocates as well.

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