Questions on advisory group has payoff: Hint of Central Square design finish line
As building proposals in Cambridge go, Ten Essex Street isn’t that big a deal, but it had officials and concerned citizens in a minor uproar Monday.
It even elicited a vague timeline for the Central Square zoning guidelines, which have been missing in action since at least July.
“I daresay I doubt that I will get the opportunity before I exit here” to see the guidelines, said Ken Reeves, a 24-year city councillor who led a Central Square redesign process before losing a reelection bid Nov. 5. “But I really was hopeful we would be able to quote something that existed in a concrete form.”
That prodded the assistant city manager for Community Development, Brian Murphy, into saying Reeves would have a copy of the guidelines “before you leave” – that is, sometime this month.
Murphy promised at least to get Reeves an unofficial copy, suggesting the actual assembled guidelines are to be presented to the new council next year. But the Community Development Department has made such suggestions before: In March, Iram Farooq, a planner with the department, told councillors they could see the document before their sole summer meeting, held July 29. That date came and went, and on July 30 the council’s Neighborhood & Long Term Planning Committee was still hosting a meeting on “non-zoning recommendations and potential options to make the neighborhood safer and more family-friendly.”
Projects keep coming
Closure on the so-called C2 process for the future of Central Square will be of special significance to Reeves, the self-proclaimed “father of the C2 process.” He launched the Mayor’s Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square in August 2010 and transitioned its work to use by the 21-member Central Square Advisory Committee and Goody Clancy, a consultant hired in April 2011 for $350,000 to focus the futures of Central and Kendall squares – the so-called K2C2 process.
The guidelines for Kendall Square will come after those for Central Square, city officials have said.
Meanwhile, developers pitch projects for those squares that are assessed by elected and appointed officials based in part on the Goody Clancy design guidelines, so far unapproved by those officials.
The Ten Essex proposal from 3MJ Associates is for a six-story, 46-unit apartment building with underground parking and ground-floor retail that would replace a parking lot in Central Square – much of which follow Goody Clancy suggestions. (Seven units in the building will be reserved for low-income tenants.) The official five-member Central Square Advisory Committee, unrelated to the other panel of the same name, met Monday to look over specs for the project at the same time as a City Council meeting, as well as at the same time the city has sent out a call for two new members of the committee, which is meant to “undertake all large project reviews” such as Ten Essex and other issues relating to the square.
Councillors asked the obvious questions.
“I’m just curious about the timing,” councillor Minka vanBeuzekom said. “Why now, before you get the new members on board?”
“Five is really three”
Murphy said the members met as necessary, and that Ten Essex was their first call to gather in a while. But he acknowledged that expanding the membership to seven was concurrent with an expansion of the advisory committee’s role to include nonzoning aspects of the K2C2 proposals. The advertised expansion of the advisory committee from five – Carl Barron, the businessman who is unofficial “mayor of Central Square”; Robert Freed; Wendy Landman; Gus Rancatore, of Toscanini’s Ice Cream; and Robert Winters, a math instructor and local politics watcher who runs the online Cambridge Civic Journal – also comes with a charge to meet at least every two months.
“It would been better if you hadn’t been able to get the current membership,” Reeves said, laughing. “At least two of those people never attending meetings anymore, one due to health and another one just never attends meetings. That means that what is five is really three … I would encourage you toward a larger rather than a smaller number due to non-participation. And I would encourage you to also find neighborhood representation that is also representative.”
“The Central Square Advisory Committee model is not good enough to look after what must be done in Central Square,” Reeves said. “It certainly didn’t in any sense engage deeply with the Red Ribbon, nor the C2, and so why that model and the remnant of that would be driving the bus is a little curious to me.”
A bigger panel
He seemed to nudge Murphy in the direction of members of the separate, 21-member Central Square Advisory Committee formed in 2011 to advise on the K2C2 study. “The C2 Committee was a very serious committee with very good, committed people on it who worked very, very, very hard. And they are hopeful that their work will not have been in vain and that the nonzoning parts and zoning parts of the recommendation will have strict attention paid to them … Central Square is going to need the follow-through commitment of some dedicated, smart people who have been a part of the process over the last four to six years. And those people exist, and they’re well-trained and they understand the myriad of issues that we are facing,” Reeves said. “We have a great pool. Let’s broaden our reach.”
With councillor Leland Cheung also asking questions about the size and balance of the committee, Murphy went from describing it as “smaller and more nimble” to promising a reassessment of the model – specifically that “we’ll certainly take that back and discuss that to make sure it works.”
“I understand exactly what you’re saying,” Murphy told Reeves and Cheung.
The Ten Essex project drew the attention and ire of Saul Tannenbaum, a member of the “smart growth” residents development group A Better Cambridge who blogs for Cambridge Community Television. The height and size of the project inspired criticism from Tannenbaum for “the failure of our elected representatives and city staff to respond more quickly to the crises Cambridge faces, a failure that leaves the property owner little choice but to build far more modestly than the situation requires.”