Cambridge City Council Discusses Harvard Square Zoning Proposal at Special Meeting


The Cambridge City Council Ordinance Committee convened a special meeting Tuesday to push forward a zoning amendment that attempts to support and increase the number of local businesses in Harvard Square.

The amendment grants exemptions for small businesses who develop retail spaces that are less than 1,500 feet, imposes building height restrictions, and enacts less parking requirements.

The Ordinance Committee called the meeting to vote on whether or not the petition should move ahead to a second reading — a step necessary for the amendment to eventually be put into law by the Council. The amendment passed in a unanimous vote.

Cambridge resident Patrick W. Barrett III wrote the petition discussed at the meeting. Barrett worked alongside the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, the Harvard Square Business Association and Harvard University to craft the proposal.


“In Central Square I did something very similar a couple of years ago where I changed some of the zoning to mitigate some of the more archaic pieces of zoning that we have here. [It was] not nearly enough to fix [it] and this isn't either,” Barrett said. “This is more like a better foundation for what they could build off of if they decided to.”

The petition comes after businesses like Black Ink, Flat Patties, and Crema Cafe have all closed their doors amid rising rents. Barrett said if the petition passed the Council, it would deter the opening of two banks in the Square — businesses which he said reduced foot traffic and occupied a “large portion” of space in “prominent” buildings.

“The bank facades eat up a large portion of some of the more prominent buildings, and what it has the effect of doing is killing those areas for foot traffic, especially at nighttime uses as well,” said Mr. Barnett.

The special meeting was convened to ensure the petition could be considered before its expiration March 10.

In an interview after the meeting, former Cambridge mayor and current City Councilor Denise E. Simmons said today’s vote will give the councilors time to evaluate changes to the petition. She said the Council will discuss the petition at their weekly meeting Monday.

“By voting it to a second reading, we are just making sure it stays on track for ordination and it also gives us an opportunity to do what I think my colleagues want to do, which is to look at the new proposed language,” Simmons said.

“Now we have four days to read through, and we’re going to discuss it on Monday,” she added.

Barrett said he has worked to ensure that the petition will pass with minimal opposition.

“I bring groups together and spend a lot of time with them, so that we don't run into these kinds of problems when we get to play on board, wardens committee, or Council with everyone sort of losing their mind and screaming and yelling at each other because no one really reacts very well to that,” Barrett said. “So, opponents — I would say none.”

—Staff writer Julia A. Kendall can be reached at