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CCLN Files Suit Over Garage

Citizens' Group Charges Violation of Clean Air Act

By Michael P. Mann

Residents of Linden Park in East Cambridge weren't happy when a new neighbor started to move in last summer, bringing noise, polllution and traffic to their community.

And now, with that occupant firmly established, they're angrier than ever.

The "neighbor," the 1530-car Binney St. Garage recently completed next to the One Kendall Square retail complex, has prompted area residents to file suit against the city, state and federal governments.

In a complaint filed November 3, members of the community group Cambridge Citizens for Liveable Neighborhoods (CCLN) are charging that the garage was built in violation of the provisions of the 1975 Federal Clean Air Act. The act severely restricts the development of commercial parking spaces in the Boston metropolitan area.

"It is in violation of the commercial parking freeze," said Debra McManus, co-chair of CCLN. "The exemption was incorrect and should be revoked."

When the law went into effect in 1975, Cambridge had a total of 3500 commercial parking spaces, but the city was allowed to add an additional 10 percent because it eliminated some on-street parking, McManus said. Now, however, the city has approximately 13,000 spaces, well in excess of the allowable limit, she added.

"The parking freeze has been in effect for 15 years, and the state has not done its proper enforcement in all of that time," McManus said.

But the city argues that the before the 1975 act went into effect, state and federal governments were conducting negotiations that gave Cambridge an exemption from the law's provisions.

Donald A. Drisdell, deputy city solicitor, said last night that the law initially applied only to a part of Cambridge. In exchange for voluntarily placing the whole city under the regulation, the act was amended to allow Cambridge to add one commercial parking space for every two spaces that it eliminated on the street.

Because the city eliminated 20,000 on-street spaces, it was able to construct 10,000 commercial parking spaces, Drisdell said.

But McManus said the city was allowed to convert only 10 percent of such spaces, an interpretation that Drisdell said was inconsistent with what the city negotiated.

"The bottom line is that the plaintiffs are saying that the 10 percent cap should apply in Cambridge, and it is the city's position that it does not apply," Drisdell said.

The current lawsuit is the second filed by CCLN members against construction of the garage. Last October, the organization initiated legal action against the city and the Athenaeum Group, the project's local developer, charging that construction began without proper licensing.

But former City Councillor David Clem, a partner with the group, said yesterday that the project is not in violation of any legislation.

"The Athenaeum has complied with all the rules and regulations that we have been told to comply with," he said. "It is completed and has a valid occupational permit."

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