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Scenes From a Cambridge Development Fight

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Big hullabaloo in Central Square! Long story short, a group straight outta Star Wars called the Cambridge Residents Alliance has come out vociferously against a pair of proposed buildings by developer Forest City Ratner. Why are the buildings controversial? Why else? Too tall. Or too tall for the area, to be specific: Forest City would build a 95-foot commercial building at 300 Mass. Ave. and a 165-foot residential building at at Sidney and Green streets. Current zoning allows for 80 feet. Cue a fight over zoning, which spilled into the City Council (again) this past Monday night.

We take you there via Marc Levy's excellent reportage in Cambridge Day. We begin after Mayor Henrietta Davis said the council was adding a special meeting on Aug. 6 to deal with the zoning. Action!

Cathy Hoffman, former director of the city’s Peace Commission, took to the lectern during lengthy public comment and rebuked the council for the “tremendous disrespect” it showed the public with the surprise rescheduling. “I have so many questions to ask about this process,” Hoffman said, before announcing she would not be leaving the microphone until she got an answer why the vote was delayed. Others of the rebel alliance then stood in solidarity with Hoffman.

It was unsure which way things would go — a Cambridge Police officer was just outside council chambers, saying he might have been called to be there after Davis announced the vote’s delay — but ultimately councilor Craig Kelley moved to suspend the rules and allow an answer to Hoffman’s demand (while saying he would prefer to clear the chamber if he faced such an insurrection). A two-minute recess was called. But even that sparked a fight within a fight as some City Councilors had had it with the podium grandstanding.

“We have a process here. If we change them for bad behavior, we’re simply going to be in pandemonium,” [Ken] Reeves said. “This is democracy. We’re elected to lead a government run by the rules we set. We can’t just have everybody come grab the mic and suddenly we’re in some new dimension.” In the end, the Aug. 6 meeting stood (there should really be a saying about how you can't fight City Hall...), with Mayor Davis explaining that the council needed the extra week to arm-twist Forest City for more affordable housing. Tune in next Monday night.

· Davis, When Forced, Explains Bid to Save Affordable Housing as Behind Vote Delay (update) [Day]

300 Massachusetts Avenue

300 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA