Tuesday, July 16, 2024

A bid to change city laws concerning business signs expires in a little over two weeks, but there are two City Council meetings and a council Ordinance Committee scheduled before it does. First comes the committee meeting, scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.

The change would make it easier for companies to brand their buildings with large, lit signs in business areas such as Kendall Square. But many residents and others with an interest in the environment don’t want more signs or lights changing the skyline and feel the process is being rushed. Among those opposed are state Rep. Martha “Marty” Walz and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, as well as groups in Boston’s Back Bay and Beacon Hill who prefer to look across the Charles River and see Cambridge’s skyline less illuminated.

Because of the large number of people opposed, residents such as Carol O’Hare of Magazine Street feel that “at a minimum, the process should be slowed down [for more] input from the public.”

But councillors voted 6-2-1 on Sept. 13 to keep a vote on the ordinance in place, saying many opponents were misinformed — and possibly misled — on the impact of, and reasons for, the change in law.

“We are not proposing to turn Cambridge into Las Vegas,” said councillor Leland Cheung, citing the need for updated laws and a more consistent approval process. “We need to better educate the public.”

To do so, the 6:45 p.m. sign hearing will take place after a 5:30 p.m. hearing on raising the cost of a residential parking sticker to $20 from $8 — itself a contentious issue debated by councillors at their last meeting. Tim Toomey alone objected to the increase in a vote, saying the increase would be a burden to working families and was being rushed to a vote. “It’s a shame, and I’m not going to participate in it,” he said.

But councillor Craig Kelley said the vote wouldn’t seem so rushed if Toomey hadn’t used his “charter right” veto to put off discussion of it, and on the next vote of Sept. 13, about the sign ordinance, their positions switched. Although many residents complained of there being few sign-ordinance meetings and of their being scheduled for odd hours during the height of summer vacations, Toomey said, “I will not vote to refile this. This has been a long process with several hearings that have been well-attended by the public.”

This time, it was Kelley, with Henrietta Davis, voting to block the bill from a second reading so it would be refiled and taken up again from the start.