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In what one city council member predicted would be the last tough stand defending Cambridge's stringent rent control ordinances, the city council last night refused to allow the removal of apartments on Linnaean St. and Washington Ave. from the housing market.

With only two weeks remaining before city-wide elections, the council by a 5-4 margin denied the request of 26 tenants-turned-condo-owners seeking an exemption from a Cambridge ordinance prohibiting the conversion of rent-controlled apartments to condominiums.

Before refusing the tenants' request, the council debated for more than three hours the issue of condominium conversion which has livided members sharply during the past several years and which has been the most hotly discussed topic in this year's campaign.

"Your recourse ultimately is clearly at the ballot box," councilor David Wylie said to the tenants. "I think the election will bring a much more malleable council in respect to rent control and condominium conversion," he added.

During the past term four councilors--members of the Cambridge Civic Association CCA)--publicly pledged themselves to defending rent control while four others--members of the Independent slate--have consistently voted against rent control and in favor of exemptions such as those requested by the Linnaean and Washington tenants.

Councilor Alfred E. Velluci has acted as the swing vote in rent control debates, and last night he sided--as he has often in the past--with members of the CCA.

While determining that the rent control board, which has held four hearings on the tenants' request for removal permits, should be allowed to render a final decision in November, the CCA councilors also appealed to voters across the city to stand behind rent control.

"If we grant this exemption, there will be exception after exception until the exception swallows the rule and low-and moderate-income people will no longer be protected," councilor David Sullivan, who drafted the anticondo ordinance in 1979, said.

Wylie told the tenants at city hall last night that "you have changed. Two years ago you supported rent control but your circumstances have changed financially," giving the tenants the opportunity of becoming condominium owners.

"But people who make public pledges don't have the option of changing, even if it's two weeks before the election," Wylie added.

Developer David Zussman bought the 106 units at 36-42 Linnaean St. and 4-6 Washington Ave. in July, reportedly for $1.8 million.

Since then 86 tenants have purchased their rental units and another 20 have been sold to investors But at least 28 of the tenants who have purchased their apartments are required by city ordinances to seek removal permits from the Rent Control Board.

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