Budget developments please, while NorthPoint concerns
With development at NorthPoint beginning to move again after years of legal paralysis, city officials’ expectations are on the rise as well.
Looking at the newest plans for a relocated Lechmere T stop during Monday’s meeting of the City Council, councillor Tim Toomey called the proposed station “a monstrosity” along the lines of the old Charles Street station.
Plans were grandiose when the 45 acres of wasteland — mostly in Cambridge but overlapping Somerville and Boston — began development in 2000. When the original developers began battling, the state took over the project and pared back the station’s design, but now the project should be back in the hands of private developers.
Asked by Toomey what leverage the city has to make sure developers keep their word, City Manager Robert W. Healy said the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority and state Department of Transportation representatives were ultimately responsible, but that the council could be involved in the development process.
As a project with the potential to inject more life into the area, the station “must respond to the community’s needs,” councillor Leland Cheung said.
Councillor Ken Reeves agreed that there needed to be more focus on NorthPoint and its evolution and raised a concern of his own: That the area not be overrun by students, as student-focused housing doesn’t lead to long-term community development.
After a legal hiatus of some five years, the tumultuous NorthPoint project got back on track in late August, according to Thomas N. O’Brien, a former Boston Redevelopment Authority official who is also managing director of HYM Investment Group, one of three firms working on the project. Atlas Capital Group of New York and former Los Angeles Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s financial group, the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, are also involved.
Budget votes keep tax rate low
In budget proceedings Monday, Healy explained that about 52 percent of city taxpayers would see a reduction, no increase or an increase of less than $100 in next year’s tax bills.
Councillors gave 14 approvals to budget measures — including transfers totaling some $23 million to lower the tax rate and levy and add to the general fund — to make it so. The levy increased 5.7 percent, lower than the 6.3 percent predicted in May, thanks to nonproperty tax revenue such as $2.4 million from free cash and a half-million from parking funds and fees and despite a calendar anomaly adding a 53rd week of city employees’ pay.
“Using an increased amount of nonproperty-tax revenues and reserves to lower property taxes will not jeopardize our long-term fiscal health,” Healy wrote in a budget summary to the council, although using too much at once would have only short-term effects and could damage the city’s credit rating.
In a meeting kept mercifully short after a two-and-a-half-hour special hearing on the Gates arrest report, Cheung also brought his fellow councillors up to date on the Bixi Bike Program, a bike share program the city hopes to be a part of in the near future. The program was slated to begin in Boston this past summer, but was pushed back due to funding delays. According to Cheung, this past July, the federal government awarded Boston $3 million to institute a bike share program. This was in addition to $2 million in previously pledged funds. Cambridge hopes to institute the program shortly after Boston.x