Saturday, May 18, 2024

These are just some of the municipal meetings and civic events for the coming week. More are on the City Calendar and in the city’s Open Meetings Portal.


The Board of Zoning Appeal hears a chicken-related case this week. (Photo: Board of Zoning Appeal)

Board member pay; parking

City Council, 5:30 p.m. Monday. City staff has a comprehensive report on how to diversify boards and commissions that should see a number of changes implemented over 2023 and 2024, but the change that will be most immediately obvious is the introduction of stipends for Planning Board, Board of Zoning Appeal and Historical Commission members in January – annual pay of $6,000, $3,500 and $2,500 respectively to recognize members’ “substantial volunteer hours as compared to those on other boards and commissions.” For the year starting October 2021, the Planning Board held 38 meetings; the BZA held 23; and the Historical Commission held 14. “Any of these meetings can last for three to five hours and include hours of advance preparation time. By comparison, many other boards and commissions meet for two hours or less approximately 10 times per year,” according to the report from city manager Yi-An Huang. The report also suggests that 10 to 15 years of membership is probably ideal for “fresh leadership and diverse perspectives,” but a need for flexibility recommends against setting term limits.

Councillors have three changes to their own rules to consider, including one simply asking councillors to speak more concisely. This meeting also sees the return of a motion set aside from last week to have city staff assess the interactive effects of a variety of development-focused orders that some felt was daunting in its “magnitude” and would burden an already overworked Community Development Department. Councillor Marc McGovern said he wanted time to ask. This is also the final week for the council to deal with the removal of parking minimums citywide; the petition expires Nov. 1.

The council meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Changes to council rules

Government Operations, Rules & Claims Committee, 10 a.m. Tuesday. This committee run by vice mayor Alanna Mallon looks at potential changes to the rules of the City Council. Monday’s council meeting will see three from a previous committee hearing: that the rules of the council should be reviewed and provisionally adopted toward the beginning of every new term; that all motions should require a second before debate; and that “during debate each councillor will state their comments clearly and concisely with the understanding that other members are waiting to present their comments.” The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Conservation district reply

Neighborhood & Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee, 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday. This committee run by city councillor Dennis Carlone hears a response by the Historical Commission to a bid to change the law around creating neighborhood conservation districts. The idea comes from Loren Crowe, a dedicated opponent of the East Cambridge Neighborhood Conservation District being weighed by a Historical Commission group under the process he hopes to change. The commission response by executive director Charlie Sullivan resists some changes while suggesting taking into more consideration “community goals as may from time to time be expressed by the City Council, including the need to provide additional housing, affordable and otherwise”; changing membership requirements to allow renters; and enlarging study committees to “allow representation of a broader range of views.”

The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Best, worst of the city charter

Charter Review Committee, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The committee, tasked with considering revamps to a governing document largely untouched for 80-plus years, will consider aspects of the charter members find most troubling – or that they applaud. Watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Improvements for tech school

School Committee roundtable, 6 p.m. Tuesday. Members will go in depth on plans to improve the Rindge School of Technical Arts, the city’s vocational high school program. The committee meets in the Dr. Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, 459 Broadway, Mid-Cambridge. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

More space for Broad Institute

Planning Board, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. A lighter agenda than usual as the board considers: a Broad Institute request to make 14,000 square feet of labs and offices out of a 12th-floor mechanical space at its 75 Ames St., Kendall Square, building; rules for developers that require in-person and remote engagement with the community about their projects; and the withdrawal of a Davis Cos. project called Fifteen Wilson. It would combine the addresses of 40 Smith Place and 4555 Wilson Road to build a 280,046-square-foot, four-story office building with ground-floor retail use and a 323-vehicle belowground parking garage in the Alewife Quadrangle area – where there happens to be a moratorium on new office and lab space in place. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Net Zero Action Plan update

Health & Environment Committee, 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesday. This committee run by city councillor Patty Nolan looks at next steps in implementing and updating the city’s Net Zero Action Plan in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions. Watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Restarting the ’linkage’ process

Ordinance Committee, 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday. This committee run by city councillors Marc McGovern and Quinton Zondervan picks up where last week’s meeting of the council left off. That ended a yearlong process to raise “linkage” fees that pay for affordable housing to $33.34 per square foot from $20.10, and now comes the next iteration of that process that starts with the need for a “nexus” study to set the rates. Interest in tweaking the formula means this nexus study will ask and answer more questions than previous versions. The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. Televised and watchable by Zoom video conferencing.

Homes, not Dunkin’; a hen fight

Board of Zoning Appeal, 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday. Six homes – two units each in three four-story buildings – could replace a Dunkin’ Donuts at 8 Winter St., East Cambridge, which is at Monsignor O’Brien Highway across from the funky Cambridge Antique Market building. Base zoning would allow as many as 19 units here, but these are family-sized, says the petitioner. Also on the agenda is a request to allow an autistic 8-year-old to keep the hens he’s raised for the past five years as emotional support animals. Inspectional Services has sent a cease-and-desist letter saying “livestock is not allowed in the city” and threatening court action and fines of $300 a day; the child’s mother has a letter from a licensed clinical psychologist saying loss of the chickens would hurt the child, and offers more accommodations to “reduce impact” at a site that is already bordered on two sides by the Belmont Cemetery. “I chose to be a Cambridge resident and homeowner precisely because of the city’s support and care for children with special needs,” the child’s mother writes. After keeping chickens and bees in Cambridge became issues in 2010 and 2014, the City Council passed zoning amendment about bees in December 2017 and an Urban Agriculture Task Force came up with a guide that was released in June 2019. It addresses bees extensively and chickens barely at all, though. “Officially, keeping chickens is prohibited in Cambridge,” said Khrysti Smyth Barry, a local chicken expert, in 2018. “That said, many people in Cambridge also have chickens [but] have no protections if something comes up.”

The board meets at the Citywide Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.