City May Move to Block Motor House Development

Moves to Review Ethics Legislation

The City Council, which has spent most of its current term unravelling the work of its predecessor, continued the trend last night, taking the first steps toward blocking destruction of the University-owned Harvard Motor House.

At the request of Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, the council forwarded to city attorneys an order to reverse its decision of January 23, 1989, which cleared the way for the hotel's destruction.

If the measure meets with City Solicitor Russell B. Higley's approval, the council may again take up debate on the sale of a property right--known as an easement--which allowed the city to operate a municipal parking lot on the first floor of the current building.

Last year in an unusually heated council debate, the city agreed to transfer the easement to the site's developer, Carpenter & Co., for the sum of $1 million. At the time, many anti-development, activists criticized the move, saying the city could have held out for more money.

Last night, councillors and members of the community criticized the order, questioning how far back the present council could go in undoing the work of its predecessor.

"The real issue is what power does the City Council have to void the agreements of previous councils," said Councillor William H. Walsh, who voted to sell the easement last year.

"The first lesson in ethics is keeping your word," said John Natale, a co-chair of the Cambridge Small Property Owners Association, refering to the the council's previous discussion of ethics legislation.

But Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55, who along with Edward N. Cyr initially proposed rescinding the sale, stuck by his claims that the decision merited a second look. Duehay argued that the Harvard Square area was already too densely developed, and that new construction should be strictly limited.

"I didn't agree with it then. I don't agree with it now," Duehay said.

Carpenter & Co., which has leased the Motor House site since 1987, plans to tear the hotel down and build a complex of retail shops and office space.

The solicitor's office will decide whether to rescind the easement agreement would constitute a taking of property rights by the city.

Ethics Legislation Considered

In other business, the council considered a new ethics bill initally brought up at last week's meeting. The bill, sponsored by the five council members backed by the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), was sent to the ordinance committee for review.

In its current form, the legislation would establish codes of conduct for city officals and require officials to disclose financial interests in city business.

"City councillors should not vote where there is a financial interest," said CCA backed Councillor Jonathan S. Myers, a proponent of the measure.

"This is drafted at a time when public confidence is at an all time low," said Paul Walker of 236 Brattle St. Walker said that it was "time to boost confidence" in government and that the ethics regulations would accomplish this.

But Toomey expressed some reservations at the form of the proposed ordinance, saying he wanted the council to rewrite sections of it.

"I am not sure this goes far enough," Toomey said. "I am looking forward to a lively discussion of this at the ordinance committee."