City Council productive in marathon meeting

Cambridge seal
CAMBRIDGE — The commissioners sailed through the items on the Consent Calendar. That’s the list that the city manager and staff have examined and recommended beforehand, needing only the approval by vote of the council. On Monday night, the list was short with only six items.

First on the list, the commissioners approved a project initiated by a group called New Beginnings Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit group. The project will offer instruction in an art program that includes music, dance, and art projects plus trips. Local artists, crafters, storytellers, historians, and more will present instruction to stimulate creativity and pride. No funds were sought except for tax credits for businesses and individuals who participate. APPROVED.

Next on the list, a resolution to support the installation of enhanced architectural lighting at the Cambridge Lighthouse. Its purpose is to enhance the role of the lighthouse as a shining promoter of development. APPROVED

The third item on the consent calendar is a job description for an investigative technician for the police department. It’s a new civilian job and Police Chief Dan Dvorak elaborated the qualifications, the physical and mental requirements, the work environment for the position as the primary manager of the police evidence room. The position is already in the capital budget. APPROVED

Fireworks on July 16 at the Hyatt, tax credits for the Richardson Museum Youth Program, and accepting $392,950 of Maryland funds for water infrastructure: APPROVED.

Now came the grueling part of the council’s tasks. Under the city manager, staff has undergone a thorough search of the present codes and found provisions that have to be updated or changed. The process requires four steps, Introduction, commissioners’ discussion, public comment and council approval. At step one, Introduction included: Ordinance 1085 (Parking). Ordinance 1086 that addresses urination and defecation on public or private property and in public view. Penalties apply. Ordinance 1087 which concerns standards of tax abatements for vacant commercial property. These ordinances have now had their first reading and will be scheduled for second reading, public input, and adoption on the next council meeting on July 11.

At step two, Second Reading, Public Hearing and Adoption were six ordinances.

Approved was Ordinance 1076, dealing with Off-Street parking in certain districts. I didn’t understand the subtleties of this complicated piece of legislation but if you are affected, you can get further information from the very smart people at City Hall. ADOPTED

Ditto for Ordinance 1077. Another brain challenge. This one amends Section 4.4.5 (standards) of the Unified Development Code to make the form based code standards of the Downtown General District applicable to the Civic Sub-District. ADOPTED

The next ordinance (1078) seeks to add rules governing the new cottage industry of short term rentals that are done on line. In view of the Eagleman and Ironman crowds that arrive in Cambridge, it is controversial. Commissioners want to examine it and avoid a “heavy-handed” approach. Licensed bed and breakfast establishments also want input into the discussion. The ordinance will be revisited on July 11, the date of the next council meeting.

Ordinances 1079, 1080, and 1081 were adopted by the council. They deal with fence standards for commercial lots, freestanding and multi-tenant signs, and alterations to non-conforming properties. On the second reading, they were adopted.

Ordinances and resolutions concerning the budget were next. The difference between an ordinance and a resolution is that the mayor can veto an ordinance, but not a resolution. A resolution to amend the lengthy schedule of fees charged by the city was approved (with one exception.) The increase in the rental registration fee from $40 to $55 was considered too much by one beleaguered landlord who testified that the extra $15 a year was excessive. Council will revisit that question, but all other fees, were approved in the resolution, from docking your boat, driving your cab, connecting a sewer, to reading a palm; it’s a varied and revealing list about how a city functions.

Other very important business was the adoption of the city budget which was approved heartily by council. They praised the staff and city manager for their efforts.

Other items pertaining to primary and general elections were on the agenda: changing the way the election process is handled in Cambridge. “Changing city elections to coincide with federal elections may save a substantial sum,” says City Manager Sandra Tripp Jones. The item was on the evening’s agenda but discussion has been postponed to July 11. Public comment will be open then.

Finally, under the title Old Business, Cannery Park Restoration was brought up to date. Brent Jett and Doug Streaker of Biohabitats presented the council with photos of the degraded stream system in Cannery Park which delivers pollutants to Cambridge Creek and the Choptank River. The city has been awarded 1.8 million dollars from the DNR Trust Fund and the goal is to clean and restore the stream which affects Cambridge Creek and the Choptank River. By reducing sediment, nutrients and garbage, they can optimize the ecological habitat and add it to the park that will be there. The engineers envision berms that people can stroll on and enjoy a stream that right now flows hard and fast in heavy rains, or sits like a stagnant puddle most of the time. A small bridge will allow visitors a wider access to what will be a diverse and attractive ecosystem.

The council meeting was long, wordy, but above all, productive. It’s a measure of the progress in Cambridge, from a lighthouse to a flowing stream, to a sense of accomplishment for the city staff and the commissioners.

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