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It surprised no one when President Bok said earlier this week that he and President Horner had been holding strategy sessions to gear up to fight Cambridge on the Observatory Hill down-zoning petition.
Although Bok declined to say exactly what tack the University would take (I'm just a poor labor lawyer and I really don't think I understand down-zoning legalities enough to explain them to you, he said), he did not exclude the possibility that the University might attempt to take the case to court, if the council should rule in favor of down-zoning in the next few weeks.
The residents of Observatory Hill who originally presented the petition with more than 100 signatures in early September are trying to take advantage of a system which permits small changes in the zoning map with the approval of the council.
Most officials in the City zoning office agree that down-zoning, like spot-zoning, is really not the best way to deal with Harvard. But after spending a summer hassling with Radcliffe in an effort to hammer out a building plan for the proposed athletic complex on Observatory Hill, many residents feel that the only way to take on the University is to enlist the city's help in negotiations.
Most city councilors have said they support the down-zoning petition, and would be willing to vote in favor of the residents' position. Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci said yesterday the City would give Harvard a good fight.
"We are presently suing the University for $1 million for giving us a leaky tunnel a couple of years ago; maybe we can bring both of those cases up in court together," he said.
Vellucci added he thought it was possible that the council might vote on the petition before the November 8 election. But even if it isn't on the agenda by then, there is little doubt that the down-zoning issue will be ignored in the future. If the residents win, Harvard may be left with just a little more than one-seventh of the building space it now has on the hill.
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