Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A North Cambridge neighborhood won the unanimous vote of the City Council on Monday on zoning that holds the line on development around the area’s Linear Park, keeping two projects to a total of 97 apartments and condominiums instead of as many as 133.

The adoption of the citizen-written Bishop petition on Monday means plans at the Cambridge Lumber and Fawcett Oil sites can go forward with transformation from businesses to homes; Cambridge Lumber can adjust its 20 units for new height rules and Fawcett Oil can create designs for up to 77 units, with neighbors hoping that includes five two-family homes to go along with larger apartment buildings — a plan the company wanted to pursue if it got 87 units to build.

“Mostly I’m concerned about Samuel’s safety,” said Jen Feinstein, a Harvey Street resident who cradled baby Samuel in her arms while speaking during the council meeting’s public comment period, explaining fears her son was at risk from additional traffic if developers got all the density they wanted. “When I’m walking my dog now there are situations where I was nervous about my safety. So imagining Samuel running around in a community where it’s over-dense makes me nervous. We already have a lot of crowding.”

Other residents spoke of their small streets being essentially like driveways already, but soon becoming even more like driveways into the the Cambridge Lumber and Fawcett Oil sites.

“I do support smart growth and residential development near transportation hubs,” said Ann McDonald, of Columbus Avenue. “Many people in the neighborhood who we’ve talked to are looking for that smart growth — smart being something that fits with the [surrounding] zoning, more in sync with the density of the surrounding neighborhood. We do think it can be a win for both the developers and the neighborhood.”

The petition asked the council to cut back the number of housing units pitched for construction in the area by 30 percent, formally remove commercial uses and protect the Linear Park from being crowded and towered over by new buildings. Cambridge Lumber faces a redesign because among other rules adopted in the zoning, buildings can be only up to 35 feet high within 50 feet of the Linear Park.

Residents introduced the zoning in August, appearing repeatedly before the council and Planning Board, only to see it expire without action and reintroduce it after the November elections. Councillors had declined to act on it in before the elections so they could keep negotiating directly with developers. Resident Charles Teague noted that all of the nine councillors had been to the area to see the issues firsthand, and some had met repeatedly with area residents.

In general councillors seemed enthusiastic about the zoning Monday, with David Maher thanking the residents “for their tenacity and their work to help make this neighborhood in North Cambridge be a better place for residents” and Kenneth Reeves making it unanimous — the zoning needed seven votes to pass —  despite some skepticism that the Bishop petition did much to address the “incoherence of the neighborhood.”

Still, Maher said it was a change that allowed the neighborhood to “more closely reflect” the residential zoning around it, rather than the anachronistic business uses from the days of the railroad that once ran through it. In presenting the zoning this week, city planners were able to answer councillor’s concerns about needless sections devoted to those business uses, and the city’s Law Department confirmed that the Bishop petition wasn’t “spot zoning.”