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Cambridge City Council Votes Down Mixed Housing Development Amendment

Cambridge City Hall
Mayor Marc C. McGovern's office is located in Cambridge City Hall.

Amidst ongoing citywide debate over how to best combat the affordable housing crisis, participants in Monday’s Cambridge City Council meeting disagreed over a controversial petition that would amend existing zoning plans on New Street to add affordable housing units.

The proposed amendment would have facilitated the construction of a mixed-use development, with affordable housing in the front of the proposed building and a commercial storage facility in the rear.

Vice Mayor Jan Devereux spoke against the petition, arguing that, under current negotiations with Boston-based development firm SSG Development, the proposed design plans would not be the best use of space.

“We could get a housing developer to buy this site and develop it as housing and produce as many affordable units. And we wouldn’t have to be negotiating uncertain terms and basically funding them,” Devereaux said.

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Craig Nicholson, a member of non-profit housing agency Just-A-Start, defended the petition against criticism that the development would not benefit the community.

“I've been up here multiple times talking about a staunch commitment to working with SSG to ensure that the affordable housing that is designed and built is up to Just-A-Start standards,” Nicholson said.

The council ultimately voted down the petition in a 7-2 vote. Mayor Marc C. McGovern, Vice Mayor Devereux, and Councilors Dennis Carlone, Craig Kelley, Alanna M. Mallon, Sumbul Siddiqui, and Quinton Zondervan voted against, while Councilors Timothy J. Toomey Jr. and E. Denise Simmons voted in favor.

In addition to the debate over the mixed-use development, several city residents stated their disappointment that the annual Cambridge Carnival had been cancelled this year due to safety concerns following gun violence near Boston’s Caribbean Carnival.

“If we can allow Boston Marathon to go forward after the events that took place there, we need to find some solution this year to having another means to do at least some kind of carnival event,” said Suzanne P. Blier, a Harvard professor and member of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association Steering Committee.

Several other city residents also spoke in support of the current version of the Cannabis Business Permitting Ordinance, which dictates the sale of recreational marijuana in Cambridge. If enacted, the proposed law would establish a two-year moratorium, during which only cannabis businesses that make certifiable contributions towards social equity or economic empowerment would be granted permits in the city.

Joseph Gilmore, a member of the Massachusetts Recreational Consumer Council, argued that the two-year exclusivity period would be necessary for local businesses to fairly compete in the market.

“Would you like to be remembered as a council that supported local business owners who have experienced hardships of the war on drugs, or these large corporations that are owned by the same owners as Bank of America and Goldman Sachs?” he asked the council.

The Ordinance Committee plans to ensue discussion on the recreational marijuana law on Wednesday morning at 11 am.

— Katelyn X. Li can be reached at katelyn.li@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @KatelynLi2.

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