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Cambridge officials said yesterday that they are close to reaching a temporary resolution of a two-year-old dispute over the number of privately-owned parking spaces that should be allowed in the city.
Under an agreement being negotiated between the municipal government and state and federal environmental agencies, the city would establish "an absolute cap" on the number of new parking spaces, according to Councillor Edward A. Cyr. However, the city would be allowed to grant permits for up to 900 more commercial spaces if it removed an equal number of illegal spaces.
The pact was scheduled to be voted on by the City Council at a meeting last night, but the meeting was postponed to later this month in order to give city and state officials more time to work out the details of the agreement, Cyr said.
In addition to the absolute cap, the proposed plan would provide for a citizens' commission that would approve all future construction of parking spaces. The agreement would also outline specific means by which the restrictions would be enforced. It would remain in effect for a year or two until permanent guidelines were established.
Under the terms of a 1973 state environmental regulation aimed at reducing air pollution, Cambridge was required to freeze expansion of commercial parking facilities. Since then, however, the number of spaces has jumped from 3500 to 18,000--an increase city officials maintained was allowable.
This interpretation was challenged in 1988 when local residents filed a lawsuit which charged that several new developments violated the terms of the freeze.
Some of those activists said yesterday that the proposed agreement does little to address their concerns.
"It's basically a business-as-usual document," said Philip Dowds, who has been among the leaders of the anti-development forces. Activists specificallycited a "loophole" that would allow city officialsto approve further development merely by intiatinglegal action to remove illegal spaces instead offorcing officials to wait until those spaces hadactually been removed.
"In order for the plaintiffs to be satisfied,there must be a physical removal of spaces," saidDebra M. McManus, who is among the residents whohave filed suit. "If this agreement is signed bythe city, the state, and the feds, it will onlystrengthen our case."
But Cyr, who is a former litigant against thecity in the case, said officials hope to forge acompromise that will be acceptable to all parties.
"The commitment to enforcement...is asubstantial change," Cyr said. "Even with newspaces, it could mean a net loss of total spaces,depending on how many spaces were misused." Hesaid that the city is still working on revisionsof the plan.
McManus said the proposed agreement as it nowstands will not affect the controversialCambridgeport Galleria development in EastCambridge, which would include 2200 new parkingspaces. She said she thinks the plan, which wasdrafted' by the City Solicitor's office, is beingpushed through Council as a means of clearing theway for the Galleria's scheduled opening laterthis summer.
"I don't think anyone has the politicalfortitude to vote against a project of thatmagnitude," she said.
Activists said they favor a complete freeze onnew parking spaces as a means of encouragingcommuters to use carpools and publictransportation rather than adding to theautomobile traffic on Cambridge's congestedstreets.
"An acceptable agreement would go back to theoriginal idea [of the 1973 freeze] and make ithard for people to drive to work," Dowds said.
But some local officials have maintained thatsuch a ban would hurt the city economically and donothing to reduce air pollution.
"If the parking freeze only affects Cambridge,I don't see what it's going to save in anenvironmental sense," said Councillor William H.Walsh. "It's a farce unless there's a whole state-or country-enacted law."
However, Walsh praised the proposed agreementas a means of ending the controversy, at least inthe short term.
"It resolves the issues and gives standardsthat both sides can agree to without a gray area,"he said. "It's a step on the road to a permanentsolution.
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