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Council Passes Restrictions on Development

By Courtney A. Coursey, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

In a contentious eight-hour meeting that ended early yesterday morning, the City Council voted 7-2 to approve parts of a "downzoning" plan restricting certain aspects of development in Cambridge.

The council voted to approve five of 12 provisions in the so-called Pitkin Petition, named after its author, community activist John R. Pitkin of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association.

The provisions that passed include a 120-foot height limit on new buildings in the city, the creation of new open-space districts in Cambridge and the imposition of new linkage fees, according to Mayor Sheila Doyle Russell. Linkage fees, charged on new developments, are used to fund affordable housing.

The council also increased public notification about zoning changes. Buildings applying for zoning variances now will have notices about zoning hearings posted in front.

Mindful of the biennial citywide elections coming on Nov. 4, the Cambridge City Council also voted at the Monday night meeting to allocate $1.85 million in "free cash" to the operating budget to offset the steep property-tax increase Cantabrigians are facing this year.

The $1.85 million was part of an $11 million package the council voted to allocate Monday night.

The city had $32 million in free cash in 1997, Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55 said in an interview.

The remainder of the free cash was saved to use for financial emergencies and for the five-month gap from June to October, when tax revenues have not come in but the city has to cover other expenditures including salaries, Duehay said.

A combination of higher property assessments and an across-the-board 4 percent tax-rate increase resulted in tax hikes of four to 16 percent for all Cambridge property owners said Vice Mayor Kathleen L. Born at the council meeting.

According to City Manager Robert W. Healy, free cash is the sum of funds coming into the city treasury by June of that year, minus expenditures.

"If you take in more money than you spend, you have a savings account," Healy said Monday night.

Healy said the majority of this year's free cash was a result of delinquent tax payments; higher-than-expected hotel, motel and vehicular tax revenues; unexpectedly large revenues from non-property taxes.

Councillor Katherine Triantafillou said she voted for the package because of the $2.25 million it included for affordable-housing issues and $155,000 to study the toxic-waste issue at the Alewife MBTA station which arose as a result of construction of the T station.

An additional $980,000 was allocated to capitol projects, and $2,628,000 was allocated for projects that have been approved since the budget was passed.

The council has been in a financial position to allocate free cash for most of this decade because of the sturdiness of Cambridge's economy, Duehay said.

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