After wading through a tension-filled three-hour debate, the City Council last night agreed to table a proposed environmental ordinance that would limit the number of new parking spaces in Cambridge.
Members of the business community turned out in force, packing the council chamber and the balcony above to voice their opposition to the interim freeze. Also in attendence were many supporters of the freeze, who argued that it is a necessary measure to protect the environment.
The freeze would allow the city to create only 500 new parking spaces until a final agreement over parking can be negotiated with the state.
Councillor Edward N. Cyr, a vocal advocate of the ordinance, said that a compromise proposal would be worked out before the next meeting. He said the compromise would preserve the core of the interim agreement, while addressing some of the business community's concerns.
"The fundamentals should and would remain intact," said Cyr in an interview after the hearing.
The current proposal was negotiated this summer, when Cambridge signed a memorandum agreeing to abide by the freeze until it could pass a more long-term ordinance.
Cambridge signed the memo to satisfy state and federal environmental protection agencies concerned about air pollution. It also signed the memo to reach an out-of-court settlement with a group of residents who were suing the city because it was allegedly violating a 1973 parking freeze.
But attempts to pass the freeze as an ordinance are meeting with resistance from many Cambridge business groups, as well as Harvard. These groups are asking that student and employee parking, existing lots with space for expansion, and spaces designed to alleviate traffic be exempted from the freeze.
They also are asking that the freeze not be made part of any permanent pollution agreement with the state.
"Recently we have read quotes from city officials and ordinance proponents saying that our proposed amendments to the ordinance are unreasonable and cynical," said David R. Vickery, 46, a developer and leader of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. "We made it clear that we would not stand silently by and have an unreasonable unworkable ordinance rushed through into law."
But City Manager Robert W. Healy defended the agreement, emphasizing its temporary nature.
"It does not take any spaces away," Healy said. "It was a major, major accomplishment. It is not the final product in the state implementation plan."
And supporters of the freeze said it would help reduce pollution, the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion.
"This ordinance is a fair and even-handed way to resolve the parking freeze matter," said Debra McManus, co-chair of the Cambridge Citizens for Livable Neighborhoods and a plaintiff in the suit to enforce the 1973 freeze. "Cars equal pollution. Pollution equals resperatory problems, heart aliments and brain disfunction. Let's leave a legacy of cleaner air for our childern."
Opponents of the freeze organized a brief rally outside city hall. Approximately 15 middle-aged besuited professionals, sporting "melt the freeze" buttons and carrying signs, participated in the demonstration.
"If other people can protest, why can't we? Everyone has the right," said Vickery. "In this economic climate, a parking freeze sends the wrong message at the wrong time. The present freeze is a very simplistic approach. This group is not opposed to clean air or traffic mitigation programs."
Ira E. Stoll contributed to this story.