City Council Keeps Alive Condominium Proposal
Developers Promise Court Challenge
Despite a threatened lawsuit, five city councilors voted in a special session last night to keep a bill controlling conversion of Cambridge apartments to condominiums alive.
Bill Walsh, a lawyer for Harlow Properties, a major condominium developer, hand-delivered a letter to each of the city councilors claiming that the bill was illegal because it went beyond state enabling laws. He concluded with a warning: "It is the intention of my client to bring the necessary legal action against any councilor who votes for the legislation.
Walsh said a legal opinion from city solicitor Russell Higley dated March 30 explicitly spelled out the illegality of the vote, but David J. Sullivan, the city council candidate who drafted the bill, disagreed.
"It's a campaign of intimidation of the part of the city's landlords and condominium developers that has now extended to the city council," Sullivan, a lawyer for the Alliance of Cambridge Tenants, charged.
He said Higley's legal opinion was invalid because it concerned different pieces of legislation, and added that his bill could be upheld in court.
Councilors would not be liable to suit if they voted in favor of the legislation, Sullivan added.
The bill, supported by five of the nine city councilors, would require a permit before major renovations could be made to apartments in the city. Cambridge's rent control board would grant the permits, and the legislation instructs them to bear in mind Cambridge's "housing emergency" in their decisions.
Sullivan said the bill in an attempt to "get a reign on" condominium conversion in the city. Nearly 2000 Cambridge apartments have been turned into condominiums in recent years.
If the bill passes, a legal challenge is expected. Sullivan predicted when he wrote the legislation that the court battle could take three years, slowing condominium conversion during that period.
The council vote passed the bill to a second reading. A public hearing before the Board of Ordinance, and another vote will probably delay passage until shortly before the November election. Walsh said.
He termed the legislation an electioneering stunt by Sullivan. Sullivan forced the other liberals to prove that they are liberals by supporting it, but they are liable to suit and he isn't, Walsh said.
"With all due respect to Mr. Walsh, the co-sponsoring councilors were very supportive of the bill," Sullivan said.
The council also sent a bill to the state legislature that would prohibit evictions of persons 62 years of age or older for condominium conversion.
The bill, sponsored by councilor Saundra Graham, is designed to help the elderly because "they have been hardest hit by the whole process," Graham said.
Councilor Kevin Crane '72 voted against the bill, calling it "purely political." He was joined in his opposition by Walter J. Sullivan and Mayor Thomas W, Danehy. Lawrence Frisoli, a first-term member of the council, was on vacation in Europe.
City manager James L. Sullivan, also on vacation in Europe, was the target of much criticism from Danehy, who said the $52,000 a year employee "has little respect for elected city officials. He should be here to answer questions," Danehy said.