Court ruling: Lights must stay off atop Zinc, but apartment owners can ask board anew
East Cambridge residents and neighbors to the Zinc building at 22 Water St. in NorthPoint complained to the city in 2016 when Zinc added three wide stripes of changing color LEDs across the roofline of the 15-story, 392-apartment building near Charlestown and Somerville; the city ordered Zinc to turn off the lights, and Zinc finally sued the city in the Land Court in October.
Oral argument was held Aug. 9 at the Land Court in Boston.
Sarah Turano-Flores, an attorney for Zinc, argued to the court that even though the final development plan filed by the original developers explicitly barred the use of uplighting, Zinc’s current owners, Monogram Residential, were not bound by that single sentence in a 70-page document, even though the special permit for the building incorporated it “by reference.”
Because the special permit required only “substantial conformance” with the final development plan rather than “strict adherence,” a change such as the lighting should be allowed, Turano-Flores said.
Vhay did not agree: “A [Planning Board] runs into trouble using ‘incorporated’ items only if it fails to designate them, without ambiguity, as conditions … Monogram offers no authority for the proposition that a purchaser of an already-permitted development must be given a fresh opportunity to challenge a permit condition before the municipality may enforce it.”
“This seems like the obvious decision to me, and I’m glad that the court agreed,” said Heather Hoffman, an East Cambridge attorney who has been vocal on lighting issues.
Representatives for Monogram did not respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
Vhay also said that although the lighting wasn’t allowed under the permit, Monogram should be allowed to ask the Planning Board to approve an amendment to allow the lighting.
“I think if they did that, there would be so many people there to speak against it,” Hoffman said. “I cannot imagine any reason that the city would want to allow this to happen. So I think that they would get zero votes in favor.”
“It’s a big relief that the court directed Zinc’s Texas owners to keep their huge, rooftop-lighting spectacle turned off,” said Carol O’Hare, a Cambridgeport resident active in lighting and signage issues. “I hope they just take their losses and move on.”
O’Hare wants city staff not to encourage Zinc “to reapply for approval with a less aggressive lighting scheme – perhaps reduced color, intensity, hours of operation, flashing, etc. Why? Because the lesser outrage would still violate the original developer’s commitment for no uplights and set a ‘me-too’ precedent for other showoff lighting.”