Despite a surge in the number of commercial parking spaces over the past two decades, Cambridge believes itself to be complying with the terms of a 1973 federal parking freeze, top municipal officials told the City Council last night.
While the number of commercial parking spaces in Cambridge has increased from 3500 to 18,000 since 1973, the increase is allowable under the city's interpretation of state regulations, City Manager Robert W. Healy told the council.
"The present dispute over the parking freeze is the result of a misunderstanding," Healy said.
Concern over the number of parking spaces allowed in the city flared up last year when opponents of a garage on Binney St. in East Cambridge charged that development violated the terms of the freeze. Spearheaded by the community group Cambridge Citizens for Liveable Neighborhoods, anti-development forces went on to argue that several projects in the city were similarly illegal.
In an attempt to address this "misunderstanding," city officials are now meeting with the state's Department of Environmental Protection to draw up a new limit on parking spaces, said Healy.
But the city manager said he doubted that the parking freeze would be effective in reducing air pollution even if it was strictly enforced.
"The steps we are taking and have been taking for the past 20 years are as comprehensive as that taken by any community in the Commonwealth," Healy said. "But I don't see how Cambridge as one point of light in the universe can solve the air pollution problems of the whole region."
Healy also said that an absolute cap on the number of parking spaces would have disastrous consequences for the city's economy. Developers might avoid the city entirely if they feel unable to accomodate the parking needs of their potential customers and employees, he argued.
Councillor William H. Walsh said he agreed with Healy's analysis. "I can't see what positive effect this parking freeze can have," Walsh said. "It's more of a lark than anything else. Even if it was strictly enforced it could never have any beneficial effect."
But other city councillors and several citizens said they strongly supported the parking freeze. Councillor Edward A. Cyr, a former litigant against the city for its refusal to comply with the freeze, said that limits on parking would improve the quality of life for Cambridge citizens and would not unduly hinder economic development.
Cyr said that in addition to the increase of 15,000 parking spaces since 1973, the city will likely have to approve 10,000 more spaces to accodate current developments.
"I believe that 25,000 extra parking spaces in a city of 6 and one-half square miles is a serious problem for the residents of this city," Cyr said.
The council plans to consider the parking freeze issue again next week.
In other business, the City Council
. gave a qualified endorsement to a resolution submitted by a subcommittee of the Phillips Brooks House Association, which called for the seven-member Harvard Corporation, the University's chief governing board, to support the construction of affordable housing in Cambridge.
. voted to support the candidacy of David Scondras '67-'68 for the Harvard Board of Overseers. Councillors said that Scondras, a fourth-term Boston city councillor, would be uniquely sensistive to the important town-gown relationship between Harvard and the greater Boston area.
Scondras is backed in the Overseers campaign by the Harvard Radcliffe Alumni Against Apartheid, a dissident slate of candidates seeking to force the University to divest its remaining holdings in South Africa.