Light display at luxury apartment building illuminates need for proposed ordinance
From Heather Hoffmann and Carol O’Hare, March 31, 2016: The new Zinc Apartment building at 22 Water St., on the edge of NorthPoint, is distinctive. Like it or not, the 150-foot building with maze-patterned walls was considered carefully by the actively participating neighborhood and city agencies, including the Planning Board, and won their approval. The plans presented (including many pages showing the three rooftop mechanical penthouses) were the subject of lengthy discussion at Planning Board hearings starting in 2007. Not mentioned to the neighbors, the Planning Board or the Board of Zoning Appeals during their discussions, meetings, hearings or after the various special permits and variances were issued were any plans to install lighting surrounding the mechanicals.
But, suddenly on Jan. 11, the mechanical penthouse enclosures were ablaze in color-changing, extreme lighting – deep magenta to charged aqua to cadmium yellow to glaring white. This spectacle was visible from at least as far as Kendall Square and Somerville, not to mention nearby East Cambridge.
Neighbors started complaining immediately to city officials, saying they had never been consulted or even notified and would never have supported this display. Within days, Lisa Hemmerle of the city’s Community Development Department came up with the first crucial piece of information – the promise in the developer’s special permit application that “there will be no up lighting or other lighting of the screens or roof of the building.” Assistant City Manager for Community Development Iram Farooq confirmed soon after that “commitments made in the application are part of the special permit.” Building Commissioner Ranjit Singanayagam ordered the lights turned off, and they have stayed off for the succeeding two months.
We are all breathing a sigh of relief and are grateful for these officials’ quick action to deal with this unwanted blight on East Cambridge homes and beyond, overwhelming even the full moon.
After long and dedicated work, the Cambridge Lighting Task Force, facilitated by Hemmerle, is about to wrap up its work and send a proposed ordinance to the City Council for consideration.
Bottom Line: We need to make sure we’ve learned the lesson of Zinc’s lighting by ensuring that the Zinc display stay off and that whatever ordinance is passed prevents such lighting anywhere in the city. Such intrusive and aggressive lighting belongs on the Las Vegas Strip, not in Our Fair City.
Heather Hoffman is a real estate attorney and East Cambridge resident. Carol O’Hare is a retired lawyer who specialized in real estate, as well as being a Cambridgeport resident.