Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Human Services agencies are likely candidates to take over 5 Western Ave., Cambridge’s former police headquarters.

Human Services agencies are likely candidates to take over 5 Western Ave., Cambridge’s former police headquarters.

Central Square was central to Monday’s meeting of the City Council, with developments in businesses and the arts, a use for the old police station, public safety, cleanliness and growth in the homeless population all getting a going-over.

Along with acknowledgement of new eateries such as the Dosa Factory by Councillor Henrietta Davis, and Vice Mayor Sam Seidel saying the square “really has become the arts center of the city,” there were discussions of the downside of life there — everything from persistent gum on the sidewalk (given a surprisingly thorough hearing by Councillor Ken Reeves during questioning of City Manager Robert W. Healy) to the presence of homeless people.

The city’s homeless population has risen to about 650 from 480, Davis said, apparently citing the annual January census from this and last year and suggesting the numbers may have risen yet further in the past 10 months. “Life’s just going to get tougher,” she said, suggesting a new gathering of a commission on homelessness was needed to look at the issue

Central Square, where the streets already hold a significant population of homeless and people with mental or emotional disorders, could draw more with a likely reuse of 5 Western Ave., which served as the city’s police headquarters until the department moved in December to 125 Sixth St., near Kendall Square. The empty building could host the city’s Housing Authority and offices for the Multi Service Center and the Community Learning Center, both part of the Human Services Department. The city manager is working on a financial analysis to see whether one of those agencies can take the lead as de factor owner and landlord of the property, and how much it would cost to get the building — short on parking and not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act — up to standards.

The possibility of the agencies moving in was talked about at length, with Davis especially pleased, and some councillors became concerned the community wouldn’t get the chance to give their views.

“There will be plenty of opportunity for discussion,” Healy assured them. He expected his analysis to be complete by the new year, allowing a public comment process to begin in January.

One conversational road that didn’t lead to Central Square was Fulkerson Street, where homeowner Bob Taylor Sr. said he was at the breaking point over truck traffic — driven to use his residential road as passage between Somerville, Medford and Boston when Cardinal Medeiros Avenue became a no-trucking zone five years ago.

The result, he told the council, was cracks in his foundation, a cement stairwell that’s separating from his house, nerve-rattling noise and a flickering television set. The truck traffic goes from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, he said, joining the cars that already used the road — and, by one morning count done by Taylor, resulting in about 1,500 vehicles per hour speeding over already-potholed asphalt.

He’s been complaining for years to a variety of city agencies, including police and Public Works, without getting a response, he said, and is trying one last time to get attention. If a letter to Healy and City Solicitor Donald A. Drisdell doesn’t result in action, he said he will gather up names on a petition of similarly aggrieved homeowners and sue. “I’m putting a claim in for damage to my house,” he said.

In other council action: Councillor Marjorie Decker announced there will be a Nov. 10 meeting with the condo developer accused of going beyond allowed improvements to the Blessed Sacrament Church project at 173 Pearl St.; and the council moved toward action and increased education on a growing bedbug problem, about which Councillor Craig Kelley said “This is one we’ve been horrendously asleep at the wheel on.” Then, possibly before he realized what he was saying, “It’s going to come back and bite us.”