The signatures of two University officials topped a petition presented to the Cambridge City Council Monday night opposing a proposal that requires real estate developers to build low- and moderate-income housing.
Harvard Financial Vice President
Thomas O'Brien and Radcliffe Treasurer Louis R. Morrell okayed a Chamber of Commerce petition protesting the controversial zoning amendments. The proposed changes would require builders to provide low cost housing in return for the strain their developments put on the tight Cambridge housing market.
"The universities are finally out of the closet and are admitting that they are in the development business," William Cavellini, a proponent of one of the bills, said at Monday's council meeting.
"The University is not unalterably opposed to the public policy vehicle of inclusionary zoning for the construction of low- and moderate- income housing," Jacqueline O'Neill, assistant vice president for state and community affairs, said yesterday," but what has been proposed is very rigid, stringent and not well thought out."
The University and other private developers have called the amendments--which would require a special permit for any new development--illegal. The state constitution requires cities that require special permits to grant incentives to developers in the form of zoning relief or the relaxation of other building restrictions. The Cambridge proposals do not contain such incentives.
Ordinarily, changes in the zoning law would pass with six councilors' votes. But under city law, if landowners of 20 percent of the impacted land sign a petition opposing the changes, the ball requires a seventh vote, something even proponents say may be impossible to get.
The proposals must come to a vote before March 4 or else they die. Both supporters and opponents agree that the ammendments face an uphill battle before passage. In addition to the universities, private developers have mobilized opposition to the bills and last night officials from two city agencies submitted reports citing major flaws in the current drafts. A report from the City Solicitor echoed Harvard's claim that the proposals were illegal and the Community Development Department said that the bills would greatly increase building costs in the city and chill development.