The License Commission needs to better protect residents from the effects of construction noise
The License Commission recently granted the CambridgeSide developers a noise variance for two straight weekends (beginning at 7 p.m. Fridays and “working continuously” until at 5 a.m. Mondays), which starts this week. There is no evidence that the commission adequately considered the adverse impacts on the health, safety and welfare of affected people as it is required to under Chapter 8.16 of city law.
The CambridgeSide redevelopment – set to take up to 10 years – has revved up in full force. Cambridge’s noise regulations allow construction Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays. This noise is not trivial. This is the construction noise from the morning of Oct. 25 at 6:18 a.m.:
Courtesy of the License Commission, residents are now in store for 17 straight days of construction, and the developer has carte blanche to generate noise continuously on weekends. Days of sabbath; 5 a.m. Saturday; 11:30 p.m. Sunday – literally any time.
How were the effects on people considered? What medical doctor did the License Commission consult with to conclude that granting 58 straight hours of construction noise on weekends – a traditional time of rest and rejuvenation – is safe for the well-being of local residents? My public records request, which appears to list every department involved with approving this variance, does not show that the Cambridge Public Health Department was consulted. This academic research concludes that, “Strong noise annoyance was associated with a two-fold higher prevalence of depression and anxiety in the general population.”
Did the commission consider how the lack of sleep and rest will affect children when they go to school on Mondays? Ditto for those of us who have regular jobs; most of us have to show up rested on Monday mornings. Is this in line with the City of Cambridge’s “Mission Vision Values” of allowing “people to live their best lives?”
The stated reason for the noise variance request is the “safety of customers and pedestrians.” The term “public safety” should not be a ticket to “build whenever you want.” Even if it costs a little more, the welfare of Cambridge residents should take precedence over profit.
As a neighbor of the redevelopment, neither I nor many others close by were given a courtesy notification to express our opinions on this matter. Only abutters are required to be notified of noise variance petitions – as if they are the only ones who will bear the brunt of a noise variance decision. The commission should respect the needs and lives of more than just contiguous abutters.
The developer requested a noise variance for 10 weekends and the commission granted two (though 24 more hours each weekend). “At least they didn’t allow 10 weekends” shouldn’t be viewed as a just outcome. The deciding factor should be whether 17 straight construction days coupled with two weekends of 58 hours of continuous noise is safe for the well-being of residents. And if a noise variance is necessary, for every additional hour granted, at least 1.5 hours should be trimmed from regular working hours in a manner that increases the well-being of neighbors (for example, a weekday start time of 9 a.m. instead of 7 a.m.).
The burden of proof for granting a noise variance should be conclusive evidence that public safety cannot be maintained any other way. The welfare of residents should be heavily weighted in consultation with medical professionals, and everyone who will be negatively affected should have an equal opportunity to voice their opinions.
Rafi Mohammed, Rogers Street
Rafi Mohammed is an economist who has lived in East Cambridge for more than 20 years.