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Monday, June 24, 2024

Cambridge city councillor Dennis Carlone in 2016. (Photo: Ceilidh Yurenka)

City councillor Dennis Carlone has decided against running for a sixth term in office, he said in a letter to the community published Wednesday.

“I have been honored to serve Cambridge and all its residents for the past 10 years, using a commonsense business point of view integrated with knowledge gained as a publicly focused architect and urban design consultant,” he said in the letter. “I have very mixed feelings when I say that I will not be running for a sixth term.”

Carlone noted that he was 76 years old and felt it was time for a next phase of life that would focus more on “family, writing and perhaps consulting,” though he planned to stay active in the community.

His departure means at least two seats on the nine-member council will be open when Nov. 7 elections arrive, after vice mayor Alanna Mallon said June 1 that she too had decided against running for reelection. There is so far one official challenger to take one of the emptying seats: Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, who served on the council 2020-2021. There have been murmurings – or filings of organizational papers – from at least five others in the community.

Carlone joined the council in 2014 and has served as Finance Committee co-chair and chair of the Neighborhood & Long-Term Planning and Ordinance committee.

He’d intended to serve no more than 10 years, Carlone said Wednesday by phone.

“It was 10 years, max – and originally I didn’t think I was going to go 10 years. I assumed in three terms I could make the difference I wanted to make. That did not prove to be true,” Carlone said. “But I also promised my family 10 years.”

Focus on planning

He arrived as a first-time candidate in 2013, a Harvard-educated longtime resident in private practice as a planner, architect and urban design consultant since 1978 with a client list including Boston, Chelsea and Lawrence and the towns of Plymouth and Winchester, as well as private and public institutions. Most important for that run and subsequent terms, the client list also included Cambridge, where his projects included the nationally recognized East Cambridge Riverfront Project and original NorthPoint Urban Design and Broad Canal & Environs plans. Those helped guide the transformation of more than 40 acres of formerly underutilized industrial land on the Charles River, now a neighborhood with admired parks and the retail and restaurants of the Cambridge Crossing development.

He was an early advocate for sustainable planning and design, he told voters, and his urban housing background included creating 500 units of affordable housing.

The key thing he will leave undone: “I wanted the city to have a true master plan,” Carlone said. “That became known as Envision Cambridge, and we’re not there yet. I said there should be planning and an urban design plan for the city – and the city responded saying it would do urban design for Massachusetts Avenue and Cambridge Street. I added the Alewife Quadrangle. Well, we never fully got urban design for the Alewife Quadrangle. But it’s a start.”

Prekindergarten and affordable housing

In addition, he’s disappointed that the universal prekindergarten plans being implemented don’t extend to 2-year-olds – his thesis in architecture school was on prekindergarten for underserved children, he said – and “we’re still lacking dramatically in open space. Every opportunity should be reviewed for that, especially in neighborhoods like The Port that have literally 20 percent of the national average of open space.”

Carlone’s professional background underlay much of his work on the council – and his references to that background when prefacing remarks were legendary – and more recently have led to clashes over the best path forward for the Affordable Housing Overlay. That zoning has proposed changes that he said will build towers too high for cost-efficiency, the good of the city or their residents.

He opposed an affordable-housing project at 2072 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, proposed in 2020 that he called “too tall” at nine stories. Amendments might allow all-affordable buildings to rise to 12 stories along the city’s main corridors and to 15 stories in the squares.

Carlone presented an alternate plan to build six- or seven-story buildings on city land, with municipal uses such as schools or libraries at their base, and by using eminent domain to buy single-story properties and convert them, but it got little traction among other councillors.

“The council is too focused on the short term, for obvious reasons – a two-year election cycle,” Carlone said. “We don’t look at facts, we look at what gets public support.”

Wrong direction for beloved city

Zoning is going in the wrong direction, he said, and “crazy zoning impacts people much more dramatically than the council realizes. They’ll take umbrage to that comment, I get it. But they’ve recognized that zoning is the greatest power they have, and they use it very loosely. Quite frankly, Community Development – and I love them as people – do not speak up enough” to discourage it.

Most of that results from previous city managers telling staff “to be quiet” and not discourage commercial development, but every such upzoning made it harder for Cantabrigians to find reasonably priced homes or rents, Carlone sad. “We have too much commercial development already. We need the whole focus to be residential, with active ground floors.”

Though Carlone leaves with frustrations that he knows won’t be satisfied by the end of this final term, he said he loves where he lives and worries that staying in Cambridge won’t be sustainable for long for his family.

“I already know our rent is going up,” Carlone said. “My son and his wife and child are in Cambridge and in the same situation. We want to stay here, but we’ll see. I hope we can stay.”