Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Front Porch Arts Collective performs at Starlight Square on Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo: Luis Cotto)

Residents in Central Square may be able to revel at Starlight Square again. A zoning petition that would allow for the outdoor community entertainment venue was passed from the Ordinance Committee on April 13 to the full City Council, where a final decision on its passage will be made.

Starlight Square was established by the Central Square Business Improvement District during the early phases of the Covid pandemic as a center for community events when people could not gather inside safely. It was slated to shut down after the Board of Zoning Appeal voted March 9 to deny the special permit needed to continue operating. Since then, parallel efforts have been made to amend zoning to permit Starlight Square to continue running as is, and explore the possibility of developing a permanent building on the lot. 

“Since the very height of the pandemic, Starlight has been a safe and cost-free home for many parts of daily life in Central Square,” said Michael Monestime, president of the Central Square BID. “We host and expanded the farmer’s market, offer free cultural programming for all, created an economic development initiative, created a public space in the heart of the city and reflected the square’s values through public art.”

Monestime submitted the petition, which would permit an “Outdoor Entertainment and Recreation Facility” to be in the Central Square Overlay district. The Community Development Department presented an amended version of the petition that clarified some language but left the essence of the petition the same. 

The petition that the department modified was ultimately the one forwarded to the full council by a vote of five councillors that were present at the meeting. Councillors Burhan Azeem, Marc McGovern, Patty Nolan, Quinton Zondervan and E. Denise Simmons voted yes. Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, vice mayor Alanna Mallon and councillors Paul Toner and Dennis Carlone were absent for the vote. 

“This looks great from my perspective. I’m really excited that this is here,” Azeem said. “The only concern is to get this done fast enough so we can resume the Starlight season.”

The Starlight season runs May 1 to Oct. 31.

All public commenters were supportive of Starlight Square, even while acknowledging noise problems that sank the effort in the first place. 

Jonathan King, a 35-year resident of Central Square, said that he was part of an effort to make a similar “market square” when he moved there. 

“It took 30 years, but we believe Starlight is one of the best things to have happened to Central Square and deserves to be made permanent,” King said. “For decades, we heard the drums of the Dance Complex and other Central Square venues – though occasionally annoying, we always understood that the cultural vibrancy of Central Square, indeed the entire city, depended on being able to find space for creative endeavors.” 

Unlike other recent meetings on Starlight Square, nobody who objected to it was present. Abutters who complained about noise emanating from the complex were absent.