City Manager brings changes to Cambridge Council meetings

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CAMBRIDGE — The Cambridge City Council meeting on Dec. 14 was the last public meeting of the year but nonetheless, new procedural changes were implemented in the City Council chambers.
The regular session on Monday night, the first public meeting since the hiring of City Manager Sandra Tripp Jones, began with a slimmed down, trimmed down, more efficient way of dealing with appointments. These are the requests from individuals, businesses and groups seeking permits and noise variances. They would line up with their programs and take a few minutes to explain … a family reunion, a scout project, a group of dancers, a fest, feast, or festival. Now, with a “consent calendar,” the Commissioners either approve or disapprove the requests that have been already examined and recommended for approval.

This more efficient system will have done the job, and only a vote will be needed. But what about the parade of personalities who came before the Commissioners to plead for their projects in public places? The bashful kids and their fundraisers and marches, the tentative young adults making their first appearance in a governmental setting, the old hands with new traditions who come to claim a piece of attention for their projects? I will miss the community portrait, but the new structure is faster and more efficient.

The first request under the new system did not require Keith Graffius of Crabi Gras to explain why he needed a noise variance for his annual Crawfish Boil and Muskrat Stew Fest in Cannery Way on Feb. 28. He had already been vetted and the recommendation had been determined.
The main menu of the Council session dealt with fine-tuning Land Use Code amendments. The Planning Commission’s work to update sections of the Unified Development Code dealing with small warehousing, parking in a specified section of downtown, and Land Use tables needing reorganizing for housekeeping purposes (Ordinances 1056-1060) were approved. In addition, the Council heard the fist reading on a day care ordinance (Ordinance 1062) to eliminate the requirement that the property owner of a day care be resident there but keep the requirement for the manager of the day care. Commissioners also discussed the ordinance that deals with siting a medical marijuana facility. It requires a 1,000 foot setback from a school or rehab facility.

The pressing matter of the Hearn Building came up as new business, although it is a two-month disaster for Mr. Tolley, who believes the Hearn Building could collapse further and destroy his property. The process of stabilizing the Hearn building is taking time and money, affecting traffic and businesses in the area. A progress report was read to the Commissioners. A final draft of the engineers’ stabilization design is pending with a Dec. 31 deadline. If all the pieces fall in line, if the planets align, the building should be stabilized by mid-February.

Mr. Tolley fears that the only things falling in line are additional tumbling bricks that can damage his building. Different entities are involved in the problem: the Historical Preservation Commission has made a decision, the City of Cambridge literally feels the impact, and Dorchester County owns the building. The Historical Preservation Committee has decided the Hearn Building is worthy of rescue, and some people agree. They recall the building in its heyday, the tubes used for paying, the elegance and the historic facade. They want to see the restoration; still, others say that public safety and health trump historic preservation.

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