Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Protesters hold signs against a Central Square development proposal on Monday outside Cambridge’s City Hall. (Photo: Marc Levy)

A vote on a commercial building is put off to a special meeting of the City Council next week, Mayor Henrietta Davis told an unhappy standing-room-only crowd in City Hall on Monday.

There were hisses, cries of “No” and remarks that the council was delaying because it lacks the six votes needed to pass the rezoning for a commercial building near Central Square, prompting Davis to give an incongruous “Thank you very much” — but then warn that she would recess the meeting if people weren’t respectful.

When complaints continued from the crowded audience, including calls of “Don’t vote for them!” Davis warned again she would stop the meeting until people could be respectful. But when Gerry Bergman sat down to the microphone as the first public speaker, it was to reiterate that he suspected the lack of a sixth vote was motivating the delay. At the beginning of the meeting originally announced as including a vote on the rezoning asked by developer Forest City, councillors Denise Simmons and Tim Toomey were missing from the nine-member council. Simmons arrived a little over a half-hour later. Toomey arrived about two hours in.

The special meeting was to take place Monday “to take up the matter much more fully and in depth,” Davis said. In introducing the delay, she told the crowd that she “thought it only fair to tell you what was expected.”

More than an hour into the meeting, Davis noted to the crowd that there were 56 more people signed up to speak at a minimum allowed three minutes each, totaling three more hours of comment, “which is fine for us,” she said of the councillors, “but you might want to help each other out” by taking less than the three minutes or not speaking at all if comments were repetitive.

Foes of the development indicated from their seats they were unlikely to let a chance pass to express their unhappiness. When Susan Yanow, of Norfolk Street, stood to speak, it was to remind that “what makes Cambridge special is civic engagement,” and she was upset “so many people came out to speak their mind and [find] the date changed with no warning.”

“It feels like a big waste of our time,” speaker Kathy Watkins said. “I hope in the future you don’t do that.”

“This is a sad night for the council,” said speaker Nancy Ryan, demanding to know that evening why the date was changed. “There are dozens of us who’ve spent their summers [for this], sacrificing family time and changed vacations for this meeting.”

“Shame on you,” Ryan said to applause from many in the audience.

Although there were supporters of development in the crowd, there were also dozens of opponents of the proposal, some of whom had been in front of City Hall before the meeting began holding signs saying “Central is not for sale,” “No permit for Forest City” and asking “What’s the rush?”

Bergman’s testimony also repeated a popular request among development skeptics: to wait for a $350,000 city consultant, Goody Clancy, to release its report on Central Square before the city decides on projects that might contradict it.

The Forest City plan as presented May 1 to the Planning Board had an apartment tower attached, but that part dropped out when the plan was heard by the council June 11. The proposed commercial building for the Millennium biotech company shrank as well, from 110 feet to 95 feet. Current zoning allows 80. The proposed 246,716-square-foot building at 300 Massachusetts Ave. would also have some 13,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

Monday was to be the full council’s only summer meeting, and Forest City’s zoning petition expires Aug. 13, meaning the council’s Monday meeting could yet bring approval before the developer has to refile.

The meeting is to be held at 7:30 p.m., Aug. 6, in City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.