There are basically two noteworthy items on this week's agenda and both of them relate to Kendall Square. The first is the Ames Street Land Disposition. There's a public hearing at 6:30pm on the proposal by the City of Cambridge to sell a 20-foot wide strip of public land along the eastern edge of Ames Street between Main Street and Broadway in Kendall Square. The land would be sold to a private owner with the condition that it would be combined with adjacent land to enable the construction of a residential building with ground floor retail. The public hearing is being held pursuant to the requirements of Section 2.110.010 of the Cambridge Municipal Code, regarding Disposition of City Property. [text from the call of the meeting]
The Cambridge Revelopment Authority (CRA) supports the plan as does the Planning Board as indicated in:
City Manager's Agenda #3. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a Planning Board recommendation supporting the proposed Ames Street Land Disposition.
Date: Dec 3, 2013
Subject: Ames Street Land Disposition
Recommendation: The Planning Board supports the proposed disposition.
To the Honorable, the City Council,
The Planning Board recommends that the land disposition proceed in accordance with the terms outlined in the City Manager's Nov 18, 2013 report, the attached Request for Proposals and the winning proposal submitted by Boston Properties Limited Partnership.
The Board finds that the report adequately and correctly summarizes all of the considerations with regard to the land disposition. The proposal has many significant benefits to the City, including the addition of new housing to Kendall Square and the activation of the streetscape with ground-floor retail and small open spaces on Ames Street. The financial arrangements will also benefit the City, as the report indicates that the price offered for the Property is within the range of the City’s independent appraisals, that the buyer will also assume responsibility for public roadway improvements associated with the project, and that the project will generate ongoing tax revenue for the City. The report also indicates some potential drawbacks of the proposed project, such as shadow impacts, which will be assessed by the Planning Board as part of its project review requirements.
Taking into account all considerations with regard to this disposition, the Planning Board finds that it is an appropriate action to be taken by the City.
Respectfully submitted for the Planning Board,
Hugh Russell, Chair
Most reasonable people, including most or all of the city councillors, will likely agree with the assessment of the Planning Board. Nonetheless, the hearing is likely to bring out those who continue to object to last year's approval of the downsizing of a rooftop garden in exchange for a greatly extended time during which it will be maintained for public access (an additional 28 years). Some will likely testify that this is some kind of scandalous giveaway to big, bad corporations. Others will argue that the City should somehow try to leverage the delivery of All That Is Good in exchange for this unimportant strip of the public way. This is nothing but bad political theater.
Communication #3. A communication was received from Charles Teague, 23 Edmunds Street transmitting his reply to Cambridge City Council response on Open Meeting Law Complaint dated Nov 5, 2013.
Speaking of bad political theater, the meaningless saga continues of the unhappy activist filing Open Meeting Law complaints when votes don't go his way. This week's agenda brings a tedious 76 page communication from Charles Teague, the new right-hand-man of Councillor-Elect Dennis "Pearl Harbor" Carlone. The thought that this kind of pointless harassment may become the norm for the new City Council is enough to drive away even long-term Council-watchers like me. Is this what civic activism has degenerated into? Will every significant City Council vote now be subject to complaints filed with state agencies?
In baseball, when the 3rd out is registered in the bottom of the 9th, you accept your loss and head for the locker room. You don't file a protest with the Baseball Commissioner. The antics of Teague and company are the civic equivalent of bad sportsmanship, and this may soon become the norm.
You can never predict how an idiotic complaint like this will ultimately turn out, but the incident that was the subject of the complaint is simple to describe:
(a) MIT filed several iterations of a zoning petition for an area in and around Kendall Square where MIT owns a significant amount of property. The petition went through many public hearings before finally coming to a vote on Apr 8, 2013.
(b) During the weeks and months leading up to ordination, MIT representatives met with all of the city councillors and developed a memorandum of understanding that included substantial commitments.
(c) Prior to final ordination on the night of the vote, a series of amendments were proposed by several councillors. Councillor Kelley objected strenuously to the late arrival of the proposed amendments. There were so many opportunities to propose amendments during the months, weeks, and days leading to this vote, that there was no excuse for trying to rush these amendments through.
One such proposed amendment by Councillor vanBeuzekom would have required "net zero" energy standards on any new buildings. This enjoyed a temporary victory on a 5-3-1 vote with Councillors Cheung, Decker, Simmons, vanBeuzekom, and Mayor Davis voting YES; Councillors Kelley, Maher, and Toomey voting NO; and Councillor Reeves voting PRESENT. This led to very clear expressions from MIT representatives that such a requirement would invalidate the commitments to which they had previously agreed. This was communicated to Councillor Maher and through him to Mayor Davis. When informed that this burden could threaten MIT's other commitments, Mayor Davis reluctantly asked to change her vote from YES to PRESENT which defeated the amendment 4-3-2. This was a vote change that Mayor Davis clearly did not relish, but she did it for the greater goal of passing the entire package. All of this took place in full view of the public.
(d) The MIT/Kendall zoning petition was then ordained on a 7-1-1 vote with Councillor vanBeuzekom voting NO (as expected) and Vice Mayor Simmons voting PRESENT. The revised Letter of Commitment from MIT was approved unanimously.
There was NOTHING unusual in what transpired that evening. However, a photograph of MIT representatives explaining their position to Councillor Maher was used to claim that some sort of shenanigans had taken place. This led to a complaint being filed long after the period for such complaints had expired. The City Clerk and City Solicitor drafted a response that was approved by the City Council, and we now get this 76 page followup from the disgruntled political activist.
Many people have noted that the current City Council has at times engaged in pointless interpersonal bickering, and this is fair criticism. However, unless some of the newly elected councillors and the incumbent councillors take some affirmative action early in the 2014-15 term to set a good tone, we may find ourselves looking back longingly toward the relative peace and harmony of the 2012-13 City Council. - Robert Winters