Friday, June 14, 2024
The Shell gas station sign on Memorial Drive was given landmark status Monday by the Cambridge City Council. (Photo: Nadya Peek)

The Shell gas station sign on Memorial Drive was given landmark status Monday by the Cambridge City Council. (Photo: Nadya Peek)

The possibility of charging more than $8 a year for resident parking permits was raised Monday at a City Council meeting.

“We’re wildly undervaluing parking at $8 a sticker,” said councillor Craig Kelley, a booster of alternative modes of transportation and an enthusiastic bicyclist. He noted the price has been unchanged since the 1980s, while City Manager Robert W. Healy successfully and recently suggested raising the cost of dog and marriage licenses.

“The city manager may be happy with the current price,” Kelley said, but he was not. “I understand we can’t just keep going to the citizens and raising prices, but it seems an odd thing” on which to hold the line, considering the possibilities for raising money or limiting the number of cars on city streets.

Healy responded that he was not necessarily happy with the price, but councillors Tim Toomey and Larry Ward either opposed a price hike outright or suggested caution in discussing the idea.

“I do think we should be mindful of what this means to everyone and not just raise the cost,” Ward said.

“I’m quite happy seeing it stay at $8,” Toomey said, “and any time people feel like paying more, they can pay more. I know how I’ll vote on it.”

Vice Mayor Sam Seidel noted that a price increase was suggested Saturday at the city’s Climate Congress, indicating the idea will, in fact, come before the council eventually for a vote. Mayor Denise Simmons said that, for all she knew, people would vote to lower the cost.

In other council news:

The council voted unanimously against letting three homes leave the Avon Hill Neighborhood Conservation District, echoing and affirming resistance from the city’s Historical Commission. Homeowners complained construction rules for their so-called Gray Gardens homes were unfairly strict. Eight councillors voted after protracted procedural debate; Henrietta Davis was in Copenhagen at a United Nations climate change conference and could not be at Monday’s meeting.

Simmons accepted a freemasons plaque honoring Prince Hall as a “founding father” of the city, noting his actions in 1777 leading to the abolition of slavery in the state. Massachusetts was the first state with slavery and the first to reject it, a presenter noted, making Hall first among truly African Americans. Simmons said she was honored to accept the plaque, which would be installed in a place of prominence. She began working to honor Hall four years ago, after learning she had a Prince Hall freemason ancestor.

A planned monument to Hall on Cambridge Common features a design by Ted Clausen, a city sculptor.

“Here is a man who walked the streets of Cambridge in the 1700s as a leader, a man who worked for freedom of all men,” Simmons is quoted as saying by the Cambridge Chronicle. “And what he means to Cambridge is what he means to the whole world.”

Kelley and councillor Ken Reeves questioned the use of Everett police officers to work details — warning off traffic on roadside construction sites — instead of Cambridge officers or residents. Reeves said he would prefer to see contractors’ money going to the city’s unemployed than already-employed police officers of another city.

A unanimous vote of eight councillors gave landmark status to the old, towering shell-shaped sign at the Magazine Beach Shell gas station, partially in the hopes of getting the attention of the Shell Oil Co.

“Over the years we have had very positive contacts with Shell, but their staff in this area has dwindled,” said Charles Sullivan, executive director of the city’s Historical Commission. “This is one way to signal to Houston that something is happening in Cambridge.”

Some councillors voted in the hopes of getting the long-darkened sign — a mix of incandescent and neon lights — relit, ideally converting it to LEDs that would cut power costs there in half. The red sign atop the Sheraton Commander hotel in Harvard Square was given by Sullivan as an example of where that has been done.