City Council Debates Proposal About Building Signs

The Cambridge City Council debated at yesterday’s meeting whether to pass a proposal that would allow certain companies to post signs on the exterior of their buildings with the permission of the city.

The General Waiver of Sign Limitations proposal permits companies that hold at least 25 percent of the building’s leasable space to post city-approved signs on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buildings are allowed at most two signs, and companies are allowed at most one.

While introduced as a measure that would increase residents’ quality of life, the proposal—which was introduced last May, according to Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr.—faced great opposition by the public.

Carol O’Hare, a Cambridegport resident, recommended that the City Council revise the proposal to better reflect the proposal’s intent to prevent “eyesore signs.”

Residents were also concerned about the size of the signs, which were limited to 60 to 90 feet in height.

Cambridge resident Kevin P. Crane said the signs may create an atmosphere that was atypical of Cambridge, adding that he opposed allowing lights on “large, high signs.”

“I thought Cambridge wanted to be green,” Crane said. “Doesn’t this contradict it?”

But several City Council members said yesterday that they believed the proposal could improve the quality of life in Cambridge.

Toomey argued that the signs would not create a “Las Vegas type of atmosphere,” and his colleague, councillor Marjorie C. Decker, added that they would contribute to the “funkiness” of the city.

“We’re trying to tighten the regulations,” Councillor Leland L. Cheung said, opposing the view that neon lights and billboards will be pervasive.

Other Council members such as Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis urged that the City Council move soon to vote on the issue, which had been discussed in seven public hearings.

“I have received more e-mails on this than any other issue,” Decker said in agreement. “There are more pressing issues that affect the environment, the quality of life, and the city. I’d be glad to vote on this and move on.”

Both Council members and residents agreed that the proposal in its current form had several gaps, including how long signs can stay up. Cambridge Mayor David P. Maher recommended a specific time be set for the owner to remove the sign.

Others including Councillor Craig A. Kelley and resident Marcucella agreed that the proposal is being rushed and that it is important to communicate with the public the impact the proposed Zoning amendments might have.

While seven public hearings had been held on the topic, Marcucella found “the summertime meetings and proceedings to be antithetical to the education of an informed public.”

—Staff writer Rediet T. Abebe can be reached at rtesfaye@college.harvard.edu.

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