Council rejects move to limit city auction

CAMBRIDGE – At a public hearing March 5, the Cambridge City Council unanimously rejected Ordinance 1115, which would have allowed Foxwell’s Auction to operate in the Metro building as a special exception. Owners Shane and Buddy Foxwell had opposed the ordinance in a series of meetings.

The Foxwells questioned why, after 40 years of operation, they would be made to operate as a special exception, which they believed could have put their business in an uncertain situation.

City Planner Pat Escher told the council and audience members that the city had to consider all possible locations zoned commercial where, if the ordinance were not passed, an auction house could be opened. “It’s going to affect the city-wide,” she said, noting that many commercial zones, some very small, are scattered throughout Cambridge.

A Feb. 12 report to the council prepared by Ms. Escher and submitted by Director of Public Works Odie Wheeler recommended that the city adopt the ordinance as a way to control overflow parking affecting the surrounding neighborhood. “Additionally, the Commission was concerned about the potential of outside storage/displays that are generally associated with this kind of use,” the report said.

“We’re not looking at this site, we’re looking at the city as a whole,” which is why the city staff had recommended the special exception, she said.

The meeting was held not in the council’s chambers on Gay Street, but in the larger training room of the Public Safety Building. All seats were occupied and dozens of citizens stood against the walls.

When the floor opened for public comment, a series of citizens spoke in favor of allowing the Foxwells to continue operating as a permitted use. No one spoke in favor of Ordinance 1115.

Lawyer for Foxwell’s Auction questioned the fragmented commercial zones. “Why is it spotty?” he asked, adding that the Foxwells are not responsible for that situation.

“It could be a permitted use with conditions,” Shane Foxwell said. “Send it back to Planning and Zoning and do it the right way. Do the right thing, please.”

Buddy Foxwell said, “For 40 years, it’s been fine, why all of a sudden does it change?”

Ben Doyle spoke on behalf of the Relay for Life, an annual event benefiting the American Cancer Society. The Foxwells have volunteered their skills for an auction associated with the event, helping to raise $100,000 in the last 15 years.

Mr. Doyle told the council, “Please do not say, ‘I don’t care,’ because that’s what you’re doing.”

After the conclusion of public comments, Councilman Steve Rideout said, “I move that we reject and remand the matter back to Planning and Zoning.” Another motion passed unanimously to separate the issue into two ordinances, one for commercial and one for industrial use, leaving industrial as it is now.

Council members voting against the ordinance were Sydnor, Foster, Hansen and Rideout. Councilman Cannon recused himself from the discussion, saying he lived within 100 feet of the site in question.

The ordinance now returns to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further revision. It will be discussed at the commission’s April meeting.

The council also voted unanimously to allow the Foxwells to continue operating for 60 days. This period can be extended.

Editor’s note: Mr. Cannon is also employed by Independent News Media, Inc., which publishes The Dorchester Banner.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.