We need your help to protect the fair and impartial administration of zoning law in Cambridge.
A few weeks ago I wrote to you about a petition submitted by one City Councilor that would shift the Special Permit Granting Authority for certain large developments from the Planning Board to the City Council. This is an arcane proposal, but could seriously hurt our ability to create new housing at the scale needed to meet the needs of all Cambridge families.
Please join A Better Cambridge in speaking against this proposal at tomorrow’s City Council Ordinance Committee meeting (PLEASE NOTE that the meeting will be held in the School Committee Meeting room at CRLS due to renovations in City Hall):
Wednesday, July 30th
School Committee Meeting Room (CRLS)
A Better Cambridge is steadfastly opposed to this proposal because:
It politicizes the administration of our law by subjecting applicants for project review special permits to the will of elected officials, rather than to the expert-informed analysis of an appointed administrative planning board;
It favors insider deal-making, rather than good urban planning, by encouraging developers to negotiate the details of projects with individual City Councilors in order to ensure they win the councilor's support and ultimate approval;
It risks Cambridge’s legal obligation to administer the zoning bylaw impartially and consistently, and may open our city up to litigation by applicants who feel they were treated unfairly by the council during the permitting process;
It increases uncertainty in the Cambridge planning process and may encourage developers to go with “safe-bet” large, luxury developments -- rather than engage our community in discussions that lead to the creation higher density developments that can provide affordable housing for all families in our community.
For more information check out this letter from ABC member Seth Zeren, an urban planner with experience working in a local community where the Special Permit Granting Authority is controlled by elected officials.
If you cannot make it to tomorrow’s meeting, I encourage you to send your comments directly to all members of the city council:firstname.lastname@example.org. Please address your comments to the Ordinance Committee co-chairs: Vice-Mayor Benzan and Councilor Carlone, and be sure to note your opposition to the “Carlone petition for City Council Special Permit Granting Authority.”
Note: This letter was written for submission to the Cambridge Chronicle by ABC member Seth Zeren, a City Planner with experience working in a town where Special Permit Granting Authority was administered by elected officials. We reprint it here to help you become better informed about this complicated proposal. Click here to take action against designating the City Council as the exclusive special permit granting authority for Project Review Special Permits.
The City Council is discussing a zoning petition filed by Councilor Dennis Carlone that would take the authority to grant special permits from the Planning Board and give it to the City Council. I understand that some are frustrated with recent decisions made by the Planning Board; with 90 years of hindsight, few in the planning profession would suggest that the typical Planning Board process is perfect. There are many ways that we could improve it—for example, requiring early community meetings before a developer spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on a complete design, or making better use of online forums to expand the number of voices who can weigh in on projects.
I have worked for a municipality where the legislative branch had taken on the power of granting special permits. The system was so problematic that there were active attempts to move away from it. The underlying problems were:
Housing Now! Sign our petition calling on the City Council to act on the Central Square Advisory Committee Recommendations!
A basic tenet of our democracy -- the fair and impartial administration of the law -- is under attack here in Cambridge, and we need your help to protect it.
A petition has been introduced to the City Council which would grant the council exclusive authority to grant project review special permits, and eliminate the Planning Board's role in this process.
This proposal for City Council politicizes the administration of our law. It will subject applicants for special permits to the will of elected officials most accountable to voter turnout never more than two years away, rather than to the expert-informed analysis of an appointed administrative planning board.
Project review guidelines are established in the zoning ordinance which the City Council, if it sees fit has the power to change. But once a bylaw is approved and adopted, the city is legally obligated to administer it impartially and consistently. While all nine City Councilors are honorable people working in the best interest of our City, their ultimate accountability to voters makes it impossible to guarantee an impartial and consistent administration of our laws.
Please join ABC in speaking against this proposal at tonight's City Council meeting (NOTE: tonight's meeting will be held at the School Committee room at CRLS - 459 Broadway). You can call first thing Monday morning (617.349.4280) to get your name earlier in the speaking order. You should also send your thoughts to all the the City Councilors (email@example.com) or to their individual emails that are available at http://www.cambridgema.gov/ccouncil/citycouncilmembers.aspx. Please note that, if you wish your communication to be on the official Council record, you need to cc: City Clerk Donna Lopez (firstname.lastname@example.org) and note that it's for the record, or give the clerk a written copy of your remarks at the meeting.
In 2011, the Cambridge City Council commissioned the Central Square Advisory Committee (C2) to chart the future of Central Square. It spent a year-and-a-half figuring out how to serve the varied needs of working families and independent businesses, while promoting sustainable growth that allows residents the opportunity to live, work, shop, and play in the same community. Its thoughtful, detailed report built to this recommendation: “The most important thing that can be done to preserve the diversity of the square is to increase the supply of housing.”
It’s been three years since the City Council created the C2 committee. It’s been eighteen months since it delivered its final report. And we’re still waiting for action.
With every passing day, more working families get squeezed out of the neighborhood, and more local businesses fall victim to rising rents. We have the results of an extended, consultative, community-driven planning process. We know how to preserve the diversity and vitality of Central Square. But we’re still waiting for action.
That’s why we’re calling on the City Council to implement the vision of the C2 process and pass new zoning that will expand the supply of housing in Central Square. We can’t afford to wait any longer.
We’re asking you to add your name to those of your friends and neighbors who are speaking out in defense of Central Square. Tell the City Council to implement the recommendations it requested. Tell the Council that Central Square needs to make room for cultural, social and economic diversity. Tell the Council that we’re ready for action.
SIGN THE PETITION: http://www.abettercambridge.org/c2_petition
We still need you to take action by tomorrow and tell the City Council you support Policy Order 15, an order by Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, and Councilor McGovern on the issue of a Master Plan in Cambridge.
A Better Cambridge supports strong, community based urban planning that helps us build housing now in Cambridge. We believe that the Maher/Benzan/McGovern policy order is most appropriate because it initiates a planning process facilitated by the professional staff of the Cambridge Community Development Department.
We just learned that two competing policy orders will be submitted at Monday’s City Council meeting calling for the initiation of a master plan in Cambridge. A Better Cambridge supports strong, community-based urban planning that helps build housing now in our city. We welcome all productive contributions to that discussion.
ABC supports the policy order submitted by Mayor Maher, Vice Mayor Benzan, and Councilor McGovern. Their order recognizes the important work of previous community planning studies in Cambridge, as well as the critical role new development plays in expanding the diversity and livability of our community.
We ask you to immediately submit written comments to the City Council stating your support for the Maher/Benzan/McGovern policy order. In addition to stating your support for this order, we hope your comments to the council will include reference to the key ABC talking points elaborated on below.
We must act immediately, and we’re counting on you to help.
A Better Cambridge was founded in 2012, in response to attempts by a small group of residents to turn back the clock on sustainable growth in Cambridge by submitting a zoning change that, among other negative impacts, would have permanently preserved certain parking lots in Central Square.
They're at it again. Now this small but vocal group of residents is fighting a smart, sustainable development in the heart of Central Square that would bring much-needed new housing and jobs to a currently underutilized parking lot just a stone's throw from the Central Square T Station.
Thanks to petition signatures and letters from you and hundreds of your friends and neighbors, A Better Cambridge was able to stop the Central Square downzoning. We need you to take action again to ensure our city remains on the path towards sustainable growth.
Mr. Hugh Russell, Chairman
Cambridge Planning Board
Cambridge, MA 02139
Dear Chairman Russell,
I am writing on behalf of A Better Cambridge to express our support for the 3MJ Associates special permit application for 10 Essex Street. While we see this as a modest proposal that does not fully achieve our vision for sustainable growth in Central Square, we do see it as a positive step in that direction. In recent years, residents and other stakeholders have had the opportunity to help shape the future direction of growth in Central Square through the Central Square Advisory Committee and other public processes. We believe the 3MJ proposal is a step towards a more diverse and livable neighborhood by converting an under-utilized parking lot in the heart of Central Square into more sustainable use that takes advantage of adjacent transit and other non-car transportation options. However, more should be expected from future development in Central Square.
This is it. Tomorrow is election day in Cambridge. Will you make time to cast your ballot for Cambridge’s future?
There are important issues at stake in this election. Will Cambridge adopt policies that allow our city to grow sustainably, creating vibrant neighborhoods near public transportation where all families can afford to live, work, shop, and play?
Or, will Cambridge severely restrict growth ensuring that only the wealthiest people among us can afford to live in this community?
We believe a better Cambridge is one that grows sustainably, taking advantage of proximity to public transportation to expand housing choices for all Cambridge families.
Cambridge, Massachusetts (October 26, 2013) - A Better Cambridge - a group of Cambridge resident group working to build a more diverse and livable city on the path towards sustainable growth -- has released the results of it's 2013 City Council Candidate ratings.
A Better Cambridge looks forward to working with all nine members of the next city council to help build a more diverse and livable city.
The next City Council will make important decisions that could impact the future of growth in Cambridge, and help reduce the high cost of housing for working families, young adults, and retirees in Cambridge.
We believe a better Cambridge is a Cambridge that grows smart and sustainably, taking advantage of Cambridge's proximity to public and alternate transportation to expand housing choices for all Cambridge families and a sustainable future for our community. See the full ABC mission and vision at http://www.abettercambridge.org/our_mission
A Better Cambridge encourages all voters to consider which candidates are best prepared to make smart decisions that strengthen Cambridge’s diverse, vibrant neighborhoods and squares. These ratings, however, are not intended to be an endorsement of any individual or slate of candidates. Furthermore, the questionnaire and analysis is intended to give information about how the various candidate stand on the issues that ABC has focused on, and is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of their stance on every issue currently facing Cambridge.
In low-information elections like this one, ABC knows it's difficult for voters to make the complex decisions about how they will rank candidates on their City Council ballot. To help voters understand where the candidates stand on difficult urban growth issues facing Cambridge, we distributed a 6-question survey to all 25 candidates, as well as conducted extensive third-party research using news articles and other organizations candidate questionnaires to assess their position on 4 key development issues now facing the city.
Remember: In Cambridge we don't just vote for one City Council candidate, we rank multiple candidates in order of preference. The system is called Proportional Representation (you can read more about it here) and the goal is to rank the candidates in order of your preference for seeing them elected to the council. #1 is your top candidate, and so forth -- try to rank at least 4!
For additional information, we encourage voters to view these additional resources: