Radical Downzoning for Cambridgeport Expected

The City Council last night nixed the city Planning Board's comprehensive downzoning plan for Cambridgeport in favor of an even more comprehensive plan developed by neighborhood residents.

After two hours of election-year rhetoric from councillors and persuasive speeches from citizens, the council voted 6 to 3 to reject a plan that would restrict industrial development on 75 acres of land next to the Charles River and near MIT.

Playing to an unusually large and approving crowd, six councillors spoke and ultimately voted against the plan they said made too many concessions to businesses and institutions. The action paves the way for probably approval next week of the more radical Neighborhood Plan, which provides for two-and-a-half acres of open space and ample housing development.

The citizens packed into City Hall's Sullivan Chamber for the most part indicated overwhelming support for the council's action, carrying signs stating, "Support the Neighborhood Plan" and "Vote No On the Planning Board Plan." A contingent of MIT students supporting the Neighborhood Plan sat in the balcony, although approval of that plan could severely limit MIT's potential for new dorm space.

"People have to live in the isn't just how much we can build, how high we can go," Councillor Jonathan S. Myers said before the vote. "Are we going to look at it from a zoning perspective or are we going to look at it from a quality-of-life perspective?"


Councillor Edward N. Cyr called the Neighborhood Plan "probably one of the best, most creative and in many, many, many ways most exciting petitions I've seen."

However, the City Council's vote--which clearly indicated its commitment to shield Cambridge residents from the kind of developmental threat posed by businesses and institutions like MIT and Harvard--generated some opposition from the private sector.

The Neighborhood Plan would "stifle almost all development in the Cambridgeport area," resident Donald S. Grossman told the council. He added that "the Planning Board proposal was a substantial compromise to begin with."

In addition, MIT, which owns a substantial portion of the affected land, opposes the downzoning.

But according to Nancy B. Woods, one of the authors of the Neighborhood Plan, "serious flaws" in the Planning Board's approach led residents of Cambridgeport into the lengthy process that culminated in the plan the City Council will probably approve next week.

While the Planning Board plan makes the area "mixed-use," meaning that in theory a dormitory could be built next to a private residence and a service station, the Neighborhood Plan contains more stringent developmental restrictions.

"Our plan is to separate the uses out," Woods said in an interview yesterday. The Neighborhood Plan also provides for a large two-and-a-half acre block of open space, while the Planning Board's plan would create various individual parks or playing fields. In addition, Woods said, the neighbors' plan contains stipulations for the construction of more affordable housing than the Planning Board's plan provides for.

The City Council will vote on a slightly amended version of the Neighborhood Plan at its meeting next Monday.

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