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Cambridge Exposed... it's not pretty - part 3

Cambridge Exposed... it's not pretty - part 3

Well here we are ... February 2nd, 2009... The rezoning petition of ARE will be voted on by the city council next Monday the 9th, 2009 at 5pm...

Now, let me go back in time... It's early December and the pressure is starting to mount. We (ECPT ARE sub-committee) are finally getting together a minimum list of mitigations ARE would have to provide in order to gain our support: check them out. This was and is a minimum!
Since the city council is going to vote on the rezoning, we decided to make them aware of our position. We arranged for private meetings with each councilors, starting end of December till mid January. In general their response were good. They understood our concerns... am I being too nice here... More correctly they saw their favorite causes in our concerns... be it more housing, more open space, community center, noise polution... even the unions... but most of them still thought we were asking for too much... They thought the petition of ARE was reasonable... ECAPS... sorry what is that... Each of them saw an opportunity to push ARE into giving... but giving to whom...?

The Planing board's final review of the ARE petition was to take place on January 20th...
(check my old blog). ARE had not yet returned to us with their final changes to be reviewed by the Board. We were impatiently waiting to hear from them... but nothing... until 2 days prior to the Planing board review... we had no time to properly review such a complex petition... ARE had left plenty of blanks in the petition making us wonder... what were they up too? So, we decided that the best thing to do was to ask the Planing Board for more time to review the changes ARE had made to the petition... So we did...

January 20th, Planing Board Meeting.
The planing board... what a joke... sorry to go there but I can't help myself. Every time I go, every time it's the same thing... They go through the steps and that is all they do... their review of the matter at hand, their understanding of the impact of the project before them is often simplistic and most of the time superficial. This one guy, Hugh Russell, always give is opinion at the very end and it seems the Board always follows... To give you a better idea of how bad this can get... A few month ago at the first review of the ARE petition, another project was being reviewed prior to ARE. I was sitting there and thought... well this is bad, big building in the middle of Harvard sq... looks really ugly (at least that what I thought)... it's exactly the type of building which changes a neighborhood like Havard sq, locally owned businesses, into an outdoors mall... Well, Mr. Russels, despite resident's concern, motioned to approve the petitioner's request, because he knew the architect (same architect as ARE), loved his buildings, and trusted that what would be build would be good. What the f..., really! The board proceeded to recommend positively the request (if the board approves the council often follows) Are these the criteria used to judge the merit of a zoning change before the board? Well it is... As you might imagine our request to the board were processed in exactly the same fashion... ARE proposed an even bigger up zoning, which included some of the demands of the Board and resident but was far short from the goals... but anyway, Mr Russels, thought it was enough and the petitioner received a positive recommandation from the Board.
We were dismissed... as annoying but unavoidable background noise...

Pressure is mounting... We have 9 days before the next Ordinance committee meeting... 8 days before we have to present our fellow neighbors with our recommandation.
We need to review the zoning language proposed by ARE... none of us are zoning experts... regardless we spend our evenings together to tried to figure it out... what is really being proposed so we could make an educated decision on what our final position should be... It's hard, not everyone is in agreement... the evenings are long... we're all exhausted by the process... Most of us think it's a done deal... ARE will get whatever their asking for independently of our concerns.
The conclusion of our review tell us that we're being pushed aside, ARE has added another 220,000 sqft to their proposal for housing... raising the amount of the up zoning to more than 1 million sqft! Community center has shrunk to 10,000 sqft, noise concerns are not being adequately addressed, traffic and parking concerns have barely been touched upon, building standards are not adequate... It's not looking good.
We decide we need more time! More time to negotiate, more time for the city to review the project's impact, more time to make sure the decision being made is not going to kill our neighborhood.

January 28th, ECPT meeting.
Unfortunately the weather is against us and a good number of people are unable to make it... ARE presents its reviewed petition to the neighborhood, city mayor Simons, councilors Davis, Seidel and Kelly are present. Where is councilor Toomey? no where to be found... how ironic... It was a tumultuous meeting where the neighbors voiced their disappointment and concerns in the the process and the attitude and proposal of ARE. A feeling of having been swindled permeates the atmosphere ... once they become available... hopefully soon, I'll post the minutes of the meeting... At the end, the sub committee presents its hold recommendation to the neighborhood, a vote is taken and ECPT approves the hold recommendation. The hold recommendation means we feel more time is needed, the council should require a refilling by the petitioner.
I left feeling like I had wasted my time, dejected... ARE was going to make a lot of money (now that they had added 220,000 sqft of housing, probably upward of $275 Million, just with the rezoning), our neighborhood was going to suffer greatly. ARE had baited us with a park, we fell for it, we were now paying... The sacrifices we were asked to make were not worth the benefits proposed by ARE.
This petition should be rejected.

January 29th, Ordinance committee meeting.
In brief, monies ($) vs people. For the first time the entire city council is there. A large crowd is present, I don't know who most of them are... a small contingent of East Cantabridgians represents... ARE goes through it's presentation, the same as the night before at ECPT. Mayor Simons, councilors Davis, Reeves, Davis, Seidel relevantly question the proposal... I have a hard time deciphering their position... but I don't feel good... Councilor Toomey is mostly silent... It's public comment time, I'm finally gone know who all those people are... It's start with the 4 or 5 Union representatives... ARE has promised them to use only Unions workers for the construction... They voice their support for the project... some of them with a caveat, if the neighbors concerns have been met... I have to say I'm surprise, no where in the zoning is there language reflecting such a promise, I don't even know that it would be possible to tie such a promise to zoning... If ARE sells its lands, or if it goes under ... how would the Unions be sure to get the work? I don't get it... I'm upset, frustrated... they never came to any of our meeting to listen to us... Do they know what we're asking...? Do they understand our concerns, the impact of the project on our neighborhood, our property values, our lives... anyway... I'm a big supporter of Unions and was disappointed by their stand. Next comes the presidents of Biotech associations... obviously in total support of ARE. Neither of the gentlemen, sorry I don't remember their names, had ever been to ECPT meeting or met with any neighbors... but then again why would they, their main concern is the mighty $. Good job ARE... savy politics... It's late, each speaker promptly leaves after delivering their support... the room empties out. The small contingent of East Cantabridgians and a few others is what remains... none of us have spoken yet... Unions, President of business associations, none of them stayed to listen to us, they just voiced their support and left... wow... talk about respect...
One by one we get up and speak... some of us voicing our deep concerns and the possible solutions, others their opposition. A final meeting is set by the co-chairs Murphy and Maher for Thursday February 5th, 5pm, the meeting is adjourn...It's past 8h00pm ...

Well since then I firmly stand against this rezoning petition. I think the neighborhood is being left hanging and ARE is getting all they want... Very much feels like an ARE bailout by the city.

I have 10 days to get our voices heard, to see if I'm a lonely fish in the pond, or if my neighbors feel like me. Ten days, to make sure that I do everything I can to make everyone aware. So, what can I do: 2 things
1. Blog: keep you informed as objectively as I can, so you, my fellow Cantabridgians, can write your city councilor and make you voice heard.
2. Petition: Yesterday, I started canvasing the neighborhood with a petition against ARE rezoning petition. In less then 1h30min I got 30 signatures.
The petition is also online:
East Cambridge Resident Petition against ARE rezoning petition.
I will keep on canvasing the neighborhood over the next 6 days. I would like to introduce a first set of 150 signatures by Thursday's ordinance committe and 300 signatures by Monday city council meeting during which the councilors will vote on the petition. Anyone interested in helping, please drop me a note... I can forward a pdf copy.

I guess I've covered it all ... now the ball is in your hands... You my fellow Cantabridgian can help change the way our city works... help resident be the prime concern... For or Against make your voice matter, participate.

Over the next week, I'll keep on blogging to update you...

Thx for reading... thx for participating... thx for helping...

PS: if my recollection of events fails to meet your expectations, let me know. If you have any comments, post them. If my writing sucks and my spelling mistakes annoy you, I'll try to do better next time...

Comments

I would like to amend this post with the following letter of recommendation to the City Council by the Planing Board.

January 21, 2009
To the Honorable the City Council:
Subject: Alexandria Petition to amend the zoning map and ordinance in the East Cambridge neighborhood along Binney Street.

Recommendation. The Board appreciates the review process that the Ordinance Committee has undertaken, in concert with Alexandria and East Cambridge neighbors, holding numerous discussions to improve upon the plan for rezoning submitted early last year. Given the progress that has been made, the Board encourages all of the participants to continue this refinement process in the time that is left before the Council must act. The Board understands that many in the community would like more time to study the details. However, there is a very well-articulated proposal before the public, with time for additional fine-tuning before final consideration by the City Council.

Discussion. While the Board itself has not had the time to analyze the technical zoning language in great detail, it is clear that there are many very positive aspects to the current scheme, and it is important that these features remain in the rezoning, should the Council ultimately act favorably upon it.
• At the heart of the scheme is the provision for 2 acres of parkland in two strategic East Cambridge locations that will help mediate between existing residential uses and the new development. The provision of $1 million for park planning and design and the $8.5 million for construction is a major commitment on the part of the developer.
• The attention to activating the ground floors of all new development is in keeping with the thrust of the ECaPS plan, and is essential to making this part of the city work better for people— residents, workers, visitors, students. In particular, the commitment for approximately 30,000 square feet of retail and community space, carefully placed where it will do the most good, is commendable.
• The major difference between this plan and ECaPS is the shift in emphasis from residential use to encouraging biotech development. The Board supports the strengthening of this most important component of our community’s economy, particularly in these challenging times. At the same time, the commitment to include 220,000 square feet of housing, with a significant affordable component, is important to retaining a mixed-use environment.
• Noise impact from biotech development has long been an important neighborhood concern. The Board appreciates that there is a plan in this rezoning for addressing the noise issue more fully.
• The preservation of key historic buildings, as advocated by the Cambridge Historical Commission, is well-addressed.
• Based on plans from the 1960s, Binney Street has been made into a thoroughfare linking Kendall Square to regional traffic patterns, and plays a major role in area-wide traffic flow. While that traffic function will continue, this proposal would transform it from a barrier into a boulevard with a more urbane aspect. It will be lined with significant new buildings having ground floors well-connected to the public ways, and it will lead to the riverfront with a much more attractive
streetscape. The plans for better landscaped setbacks, complemented by on-street parking, will do much to overcome the negative aspects of Binney Street as it currently exists. The Board encourages attention to redesign that would carry these improvements even further, with particular emphasis on reconfiguring the Binney median east of Third Street—it is also clear that
the median does help protect the neighborhood from cut-through traffic west of Third Street, and any changes should be carefully analyzed as to traffic impacts.
• While the Board appreciates the commitment to obtaining LEED Silver ratings for new buildings, we would like to see an even higher level, recognizing the difficulties inherent in biotech construction.

Respectfully submitted for the Planning Board,
William Tibbs, Chair