Carlone Zoning Amendment: A Positive Step

Wheeler St & Concord Ave development

Wheeler St & Concord Ave development

As those on the FPRA’s listserv and others following local development politics know, Councilor Dennis Carlone introduced a zoning amendment that would change the process by which special permit decisions are made while the city is in the midst of a master planning process. If passed, the Carlone Amendment would make the City Council the exclusive special permit granting authority for “Project Review Special Permits” as described in Section 19.20 in the city’s Zoning Ordinance. The change would restore a power that the Council (our elected officials) has had all along, but had delegated to the Planning Board, volunteers appointed by the City Manager. Unlike a moratorium, which many residents have called for to pause large-scale development during the master planning process, this procedural change would not affect smaller proposals or any “by-right” development.

The Carlone Amendment represents a reasonable response to citizens’ concerns that the rapid pace and scale of development, especially around Alewife and Fresh Pond, undermines the citywide planning process, and that special permit decisions during this critical period should be made by the policymakers who are directly accountable to voters.

Quoting the text of the online petition that Councilor Carlone is circulating in advance of the June 30 meeting when the Council will take up the amendment:

As we move forward with a process to create a citywide Master Plan, this procedural change will enable the City Council to impose reasonable conditions on large, new development projects as part of the ongoing planning process.

Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40A, Section 1A, the Cambridge City Council may act a “special permit granting authority” — but as stands, the council has delegated this oversight to the Planning Board, an unelected body.

To be sure, the professionals who volunteer to serve on the Planning Board deserve our gratitude and respect – but when it comes to the big decisions, such as redevelopment of the Sullivan Courthouse, or large-scale development along the Alewife floodplain – we think elected policymakers ought to assume a more meaningful role in the process.

Under Article 19 of the Cambridge Zoning Ordinance, Project Review enables the special permit granting authority to encourage the production of affordable and middle-income housing, mitigate against the impact of added traffic, promote the use of alternative modes of transit, apply strong Urban Design criteria, and more.

Perhaps most importantly, City Council Project Review will create a better system of “checks and balances” — we will continue to draw on the expertise of the Planning Board and the Community Development Department. But with this change, the City Council will also have a say on projects that are likely to have a significant impact on abutting properties and the surrounding urban environment.

Sign the petition in support of the Carlone Amendment.

Residents may also wish to email City Councilors and to attend the June 30 meeting to express their views on this proposed change. The Council meeting will be held in Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at 459 Broadway (where the School Committee usually meets), not the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

View of Wheeler St project from the Trader Joe's parking lot.

View of Wheeler St project from the Trader Joe’s parking lot.

 

Roadblocks to Change in the Transit Sector

A typical afternoon on Fresh Pond Parkway

A typical afternoon on Fresh Pond Parkway

Last week’s transportation committee hearing was a testament to the human capacity for denial and collective paralysis in the face of large systemic problems. Listening to the presentations by city staff, a newcomer (say, someone who arrived from outer space) might have come away believing no transportation crisis exists in the Alewife area, that plans to massively increase housing density around the area won’t aggravate the problems (which, remember, don’t really exist, and to the extent they might exist, are not within our control because they are mostly regional in origin), and that any remaining problems can be remedied by improving bike paths. Continue reading

All Mixed Up

This building will offer 398 units (all 1 & 2 BRs). In the foreground another building will offer 244 units.

160 Cambridge Park Drive. This new, 100% residential building will offer 398 units (all 1 & 2 bedrooms). In the foreground, another already permitted building (165 Cambridge Park Drive) will offer an additional 244 units.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the concerns we have over the large development projects currently in the Alewife pipeline is that they are almost exclusively single-use, 100% residential buildings, when one of the stated goals of the 2005 Concord Alewife rezoning was to promote mixed-use development. The area’s 2005 rezoning was intended to further the planning study’s vision, which emphasized the following: “creating a people oriented sense of place; developing a neighborhood gathering-place for people who live, work, play, and shop in the area; overcoming barriers and creating much needed connections to achieve a walkable neighborhood; and enhancing the environment.” Continue reading

Citywide Summit Calls for New Approach to Planning

"Keep Cambridge Livable" was the summit's theme.

“Keep Cambridge Livable” was the summit’s theme.

The FPRA presented at the Cambridge Neighborhood Summit on June 7 in Central Square. (Our presentation is below.) Organized by the Cambridge Residents Alliance, the first-ever citywide summit brought together residents and activists from all parts of the city for a full afternoon of discussion on “How to Keep Cambridge Livable.” Continue reading