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After a series of last-minute brushes with death, a bill that gives Cambridge the power to regulate Harvard expansion passed the state legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Edward J. King early in July.

The bill, which marks the first time in almost 350 years that Cambridge has been allowed to regulate Harvard's growth and land-use policies, almost disappeared in the yearly rush to adjourn.

Hours before the legislature went out of session, Republican opponents of the measure filed a recall petition to return the measure from the governor's desk to the senate for "further consideration."

But aided by the appeals of local politicians, backers of the bill managed to defeat the petition and keep the bill on the governor's desk, where it was signed at 6:20 a.m., Saturday, July 5, a few hours before it would have been dead.

Harvard had previously been exempt from all city codes except those governing design features, such as a structure's distance from the street.

Now the city will be able to regulate use and placement of buildings. New zoning codes specifically designed for the city's universities are due by the end of this year, and they could prevent future Harvard expansion into areas already filled with many institutional buildings.

Cambridge won the right to regulate all other institutions a year ago, but the state legislature refused to include Harvard in the law, citing an antiquated passage in the state constitution protecting the University.

City politicans said the legislation might begin a new era in relations between Cambridge and the University.

"After many years of only being able to criticize the University, this marks a turning point," City Councilor David Sullivan, who drafted the bill, said. "We now have power," Sullivan added.

"It's a feather in our cap, something we've needed a long time,'" City Councilor Saundra Graham agreed.

But Harvard officials said the new law would make no difference.

Asserting that the University has always followed city zoning, Lewis A. Armistead, assistant vice president for government and community relations, said, "I don't see why this should give the city any more leverage."

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