Sunday, June 16, 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.

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Starlight Square, the outdoor entertainment complex in Cambridge’s Central Square, has a renewal hearing Thursday. (Photo via the Board of Zoning Appeal)

Massachusetts Avenue plans

City Council, 5:30 p.m. Monday. The city is prepared to begin work this spring on crafting the future of North Massachusetts Avenue through zoning and non-zoning recommendations. The priorities of a working group for the stretch from Cambridge Common to Alewife Brook Parkway are suggested by the Envision Cambridge plan from 2019 and city councillors, chief among them adding housing and keeping businesses. With the loss of parking from bike and bus lanes generating so much heat last year, the charge of the working group includes a blandly phrased bullet point to “promote sustainable and safe transportation choices.” The overall cost of the study will be around $400,000, according to staff, of which around $150,000 is being at this meeting and some $250,000 has been saved up,

Several orders this week look at housing and homelessness, including the latest in a series asking the city to look for purchases it can use to provide more affordable housing. “On the market now is a 13-unit building for $7.7 million and a building with six residential units and three retail units for $5.4 million,” the order notes. Another asks for exploration of municipally funded housing vouchers to help residents afford rent in a city where the already outdated Envision Cambridge described needed a household income of $100,000 to rent a one-bedroom apartment, while the city’s median household income was $75,000. Neighboring Somerville is already looking for organizations to run its vouchers, which would help residents at risk of displacement pay rents and “thereby remain in their current homes or to relocate to new housing” affordable with a voucher. A program called Bay-Cash will get cash to unhoused youth, fulfilling a January 2022 recommendation from a city working group; an order asks staff to help the test succeed however it can. There’s also an order remarking on the troubles that follow when buildings over eight floors have failures of their only elevator, and wondering how the city can learn of the problem quickly and “work with management companies to temporarily relocate those with serious health issues, mobility issues or those who are seniors into accessible units or hotel rooms until the elevator service has been restored.” Opponents of a building proposed near Porter Square last year cited its having only one elevator as a problem.

Considering the conflagration that followed the Jan. 4 police shooting of Arif Sayed Faisal in Cambridgeport, and moves toward having unarmed emergency responders, it would seem redundant to have an order calling for funding and a contract for services with the citizen-created Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team, but there is one – asking for action “as soon as possible.” Police, meanwhile, say they have been able to lower calls for service to the affordable LBJ Apartments in East Cambridge. 

The city has again received top marks from the big three credit rating agencies, as it has every year since 1999, and officials are wishing the best to Sam Corda, retiring after 23 years leading the 60-person Water Department. 

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


‘Buildings and landmarks’ law 

Ordinance Committee, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. This committee run by city councillors Marc McGovern and Quinton Zondervan looks at changes to laws around historical buildings and landmarks resulting from controversy over conservation districts, which can protect architecturally significant neighborhoods without being as restrictive as historical districts. Still, some residents felt the laws were a roadblock to developments that could provide more homes, and that district leaders didn’t represent the city’s diversity.  The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. 

Vaccine shift; after-school help

School Committee, 6 p.m. Tuesday. Members move toward ending a student vaccination requirement policy if it’s supported by comparing local Covid data with that from surrounding communities that don’t have vaccine mandates; and want to be sure there are no health hazards for students in the High School Extension Program and Tobin Montessori school using the old Longfellow School building temporarily, including from a leaking roof, mold and asbestos. Air-quality tests were taken Thursday, and the committee expects a report. A policy against hate crimes is being amended to underline that the schools aren’t tolerant of any bias-based behaviors or expressions of hate, even if they’re technically legal.

There’s also an order to explore how to help a roughly $1.5 million Department of Human Services after-school programming expansion that aims to add add full-time teachers and 170 seats by the fall. Classrooms and other school space are being identified by staff for the expansion, existing staff are being recruiting and transportation plans modified, to culminate in a progress report by April 4.

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.


Affordable Housing Overlay

Housing Committee, 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday. This committee run by city councillors E. Denise Simmons returns from a Feb. 8 hearing to discuss potential changes to Affordable Housing Overlay zoning, which is meant to make 100 percent affordable housing easier to build citywide. Changes could include “relaxed dimensional requirements” along certain major streets and in some squares; and “additional height when green area open space is protected or expanded.” Long and impassioned public comment took up much of the previous hearing. The committee meets at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square. 


Permitting for Starlight Square

Board of Zoning Appeal, 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. Thursday. An extension of use is asked for Starlight Square, an outdoor complex for Covid-safe entertainment, shopping and meeting that has served many functions and for many people – but can be a noise nuisance for people living closest to the repurposed city-owned parking lot. Watchable by Zoom video conferencing.