City Requests State End Exemption

The Cambridge City Council voted unanimously on Monday to challenge Harvard's exemption from city zoning ordinances by requesting from the Massachusetts legislature the power to control University expansion.

The council sent the legislature a home-rule petition asking it to revoke the exemption it granted Harvard from a city ordinance last year. The House counsel decided in that case that special provisions in the state constitution prevented the city from regulating Harvard.

"This has a dual purpose. We would like to force a court decision laying out just how much protection Harvard has under the state constitution," councilor David Sullivan, who drafted the measure, said Monday.

If the state Supreme Court decides the state constitution protects the University, Sullivan added, state legislators will quickly begin the second stage by attempting to repeal that section of the constitution.

Harvard officials announced before the vote that they would not oppose the effort at the city council level. Louis Armistead, acting assistant vice-president for Government and Community Affairs, refused to rule out the possibility that Harvard might lobby against the bill on Beacon Hill, however.


All other city institutions will come under Cambridge zoning regulations on density and use of institutionally-owned land that will go into effect later this winter.

"Recent history has demonstrated that Harvard College poses the most severe threat to the interests of the city," Sullivan said.

If Harvard's exemption is overturned, Cambridge could move to block University expansion into surrounding neighborhoods.

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