City Council Minutes
July 28, 2003
The City Council met in regular session on Monday, July 28, 2003 Council Chambers. A quorum being present, Mayor Cleveland L. Rippons called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. Those Commissioners in attendance were Commissioners Bohlen, Watkins, Weldon, Atkinson and Travers.
Ed Kinnamon led in the Lord's Prayer. Commissioner Atkinson led in the Pledge of Allegiance. Commissioner Watkins made a motion to approve the minutes of the July 14, 2003 Council meeting as distributed. Commissioner Bohlen seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Historic Preservation Commission-Commissioner Bohlen reported that the HPC met on July 17, 2003 and heard the following cases:
- 113 Glenburn Avenue-The Commission approved the application for one-over-one replacement windows.
- 612 Locust Street-The Commission approved the application by Zion Methodist Church to construct an elevator tower on the back side of the church and erect an enclosure around the new chillers for the air conditioner system.
- 5 Choptank Avenue-The Commission approved the application to replace all double-hung windows.
- 101 Choptank Avenue-The Commission approved the application to replace the current front entrance door, new louvered shutters, replace the existing fence and erect a shed in the rear yard.
- 112 High Street-The Commission approved the application for a shed.
Text Amendment To Reduce the Lot Width in R1 from 90 to 80 Feet-Rob Collison said the request was made by the developers of the Dudley Parcel which is along Jenkins Creek. The public hearing was advertised in the Daily Banner on July 11 and July 18, 2003. This is a proposed amendment to Section 2-78 of the zoning code. They are requesting an amendment to reduce the minimum lot width in the R1 (single-family detached district) from 90 feet to 80 feet. This would not, in any way, reduce the minimum square foot size of the lots; they would remain at 10,000 sq.ft. The basis of the developers' request is that it would allow for a deeper lot. It is their experience in their market analysis that generally the side yard is not usable and people want a much deeper and usable back yard.
Lynn Thomas reported that the Planning and Zoning Commission considered this item at their July meeting. By a vote of 4:2 they did not recommend in favor of this text amendment. The reason that was expressed was that in today's housing market, when you placed a house that you can expect on the 10,000 sq.ft. lot, they would be building the entire buildable area so basically you would be left with the setbacks for the side yard and they didn't think that was adequate. Mr. Thomas said he tends to side with the developers in this particular instance in that he thinks the rear yard is typically the usable yard where you have your picnics and outdoor activities. The side yard is basically for landscaping, if anything. Subsequent to the Planning Commission's meeting, he has surveyed nearby communities to see those that have 10,000 sq.ft. lots as a zoning district and what the minimum lot width in those communities is. He contacted Easton, Salisbury, Denton, Chestertown and Centreville. Salisbury requires 85 ft on a corner lot and 70 ft on interior lots. Easton has it at 70 ft, Denton and Centreville are at 80 ft, and Chestertown is at 75 ft. In every instance except for the corner lot in Salisbury, they have either what we are proposing or something even narrower.
Commissioner Bohlen said we just spent a lot of time and money on a consultant who redid the entire zoning and part of it was the lot widths. He asked how Redman Johnston came up 90 feet, when everyone else in somewhere in the neighborhood of 80, or 70, or 75? Commissioner Weldon said if he remembers correctly, the R1 was recommended to downsize the lot. It was either a result of the consultant's recommendation or it came as a text amendment request. The lot size was requested to become smaller in an R1 to maximize the efficiency of land use. They ended up not changing it in favor of maintaining the 10,000 sq.ft. lot. Rob Collison said he believes it was 90 ft in the old code. Lynn Thomas said some of the late discussion in the public hearing leading up to Council's adoption of the zoning ordinance, there was briefly a discussion on eliminating the R1 and just having R2.
Ed Kinnamon read a letter from Sean Callahan, Lane Engineering, in support of the 80‑ft minimum lot width in the R1 zoning district. This amendment would allow a village style lot depth as is now customary in the design industry which allows more usable rear yard for use by families, etc. as opposed to side yards which are not typically used under the existing R1 and allows builders to invest more money in the house and less money in expensive road and utility costs per house lot.
Marge Hull said it seems like a repeating record. The last time something like this was asked she said the City spent thousands of dollars for several years of study and the 90 ft came out of that and was approved. She certainly commends Lynn Thomas for having looked to all the other areas and how they have smaller frontages. She wonders why the developers are just coming here and people are coming here. Maybe we are just a little different from the other communities that seem to get overly developed and closer houses and where you refer to a village, we have a village. She doesn't know that we need compressed villages in the R1 because the R1 is not the majority of the zoning code property that has been approved. The R1 is special for the single family home developer. It is just crowding them more together and making it more citified for all of us. She would hope the City would honor the zoning code that was approved several months ago and try to at least think about the people who live here and not the developers who seem to be just completely invading our area. Many of them have very good projects but she doesn't believe that shrinking the frontage and jamming them all together is a benefit to the City of Cambridge. She doesn't think we need to change to be just like everybody else.
Jane Devlin asked why this isn't being addressed through a variance. Rob Collison said the variance would have to come in on a lot-by-lot basis. Lynn Thomas said it would be at the approval of the subdivision. He thinks the genesis of pursuing this alternative was when the annexation request was forwarded to Council, it was suggested that an alternative to R2 zoning was R1 zoning and seeing if the Council would be amenable to amending the minimum lot width. Mayor Rippons said that was the big argument because they originally asked to have that development zoned R2 and the City would not entertain that. Given the history of some of the other projects, they asked if the City would entertain it. That is why the City is holding the public hearing. Ms. Devlin requested that the City do this through a variance to allow them the 80‑ft lot and keep the 90-ft as the professionals have recommended for the City.
Rob Collison said actually the consultants recommended that in R1 the unit be lower than 10,000. They were suggesting 6,000 or 7,000 based on what the trends are in today's municipalities. The Council elected to veto that and keep the 10,000 but he doesn't think they ever addressed looking at an option for square footage.
Rob Collison said Council has an option of taking a vote this evening or they may defer it to consider the comments made this evening and vote on August 11, 2003.
Commissioner Weldon made a motion to adopt the change to the 80 feet. Commissioner Atkinson seconded the motion. Commissioner Weldon said the reason he doesn't feel it is a harmful situation is that it doesn't affect the lot size so the density overall would remain the same. The 90-ft lot width was probably determined at a time when most homes had a garage and driveway in the rear. Most houses are designed now with attached garages which would require less side yard width. He thinks the issue of the cost of running utilities is very valid that if we're going to have affordable new homes constructed, they need to be built in an affordable fashion and the extra 10 ft of utilities spread out over a development of 300 or 400 homes is a very expensive proposition for the builder and also for the City to maintain later. He feels we need to look at utilizing our land as efficiently as possible. He feels this is a good step forward to make that happen. Nobody else asked to speak on the issue. The motion passed 4:1 with Commissioner Bohlen opposed.
Open Bids on Furnishing, Delivering and Installing One New 10,000‑lb Boat Lift at the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin-Ed Kinnamon received one bid from Whittington Marine Construction of Cambridge for $6,375. Commissioner Travers made a motion to refer the bid to the Department of Public Works for their review and recommendation. Commissioner Watkins seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Dick Wright to Discuss Condition of Property at the Corner of Willis Street and Hambrooks-Mr. Wright, 103 Willis Street, inquired about the Sheets property. The property is across from him and all he sees is piles of trash, weeds, tall grass, rats and snakes. The greenhouse is a sad sight. He doesn't understand how this can go on. It devalues all the property around it. David Pritchett said in 1996 he personally took this case to the Board of Appeals following an order that was given to them mostly regarding the greenhouse at that time. The City won in the Board of Appeals and it was forwarded to court. The City lost in court due to the fact that it was not of the dollar amount of which we were claiming for demolition. The City took it to court 2 months ago. They have written just about everything on the property except demolition. On that one, the City won a $500 judgment against them but the City is having trouble collecting it. Now there are two $500 outstanding fines that are pending in court and a demolition notice was issued 3 weeks ago on the greenhouse. He can assure them it will prevail this time. Rob Collison said they are still within the period that they can appeal. If they do not meet the time for appealing the notice, DPW will request permission from Council to go to bid for demolition. That should be within a matter of a month. David Pritchett said they have not received any opposition from the property owner. Mr. Wright said every week people from out of town inquire about the property. When asked about demolition of the houses, David Pritchett said it has to be in excess of 50 percent of the value of the homes. As deplorable as they are, it does not reach the amount of money it would take to demolish the homes. There are approximately 30 violations. Mayor Rippons said beginning in 5 days the City is looking at 30 times $100 or $3,000 a day in fines. David Pritchett said before this is resolved, you have to wait for a court date which would be 2 or 3 months. Rob Collison said the City can work to amend the tax sale code. Right now it's a 2 year period before you can go for a tax sale. Once the demolition and other fines are in place, if they are not paid in 2 years, you could then put these properties on the tax sale notice. Talbot County only allows 1 year. Mr. Wright said he would appreciate the City getting to work on it.
Sean Elliott, Dorchester County YMCA, to Request Resolution to Approve a Capital Project (Dept. of Housing and Community Development - Neighborhood Partnership Program)-Sean Elliott said the Dorchester County YMCA is planning a capital campaign to kick-off in January 2004 for a new facility that will replace the current facility located at 201 Talbot Avenue. The project goal is $1.5 million. The new facility will be about 18,000 to 20,000 sq.ft. and will serve child care, after school care, teens and wellness services. They have secured over $200,000 of matching money so far through various community foundations. Through the State Neighborhood Partnership Program they are requesting $50,000 in tax credits. The program allows them to go to local businesses and offer them additional tax credits to be part of the campaign. They raised over $30,000 from local businesses last year in their annual support campaign. They will give more if the YMCA gets approval for the additional tax credits. Ed Kinnamon read the resolution. Commissioner Weldon made a motion to approve the resolution to support the capital project of the Dorchester County YMCA. Commissioner Watkins seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Representative from Cambridge Police Department to Request a Variance from the Noise Ordinance for National Night Out on August 5th from 5:00 pm Until 9:00 pm-Chief Malik said the National Night Out will be held at the Dorchester County pool. Commissioner Watkins made a motion to approve the request. Commissioner Travers seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Discuss Billing of Property Owners for Improvements on Glasgow Street-Mayor Rippons said the improvements went into effect earlier this year and the City is ready to bill the property owners. There was a consideration that the City forego any interest if the bills are paid within a specified period. The City is allowed by legislation to charge up to 12 percent interest. Commissioner Atkinson said he likes the suggestion of zero interest during the first 6 months. Commissioner Bohlen agreed. Commissioner Weldon asked if there was something in the resolution that spread it out over a couple of years. Rob Collison said there was some discussion of phasing it in. Commissioner Atkinson made a motion to have the first 6 months at 0 percent interest, the next 6 months at 6 percent, and then 12 percent after a year. Commissioner Travers seconded the motion. Mayor Rippons asked if anyone in the audience wished to speak. Nobody spoke. The motion passed 4:1 with Commissioner Weldon opposed.
Request To Go To Bid for a Commercial Grass Cutter-David Pritchett said this was a budgeted item to replace a 15-year-old grass cutter. Commissioner Atkinson made a motion to approve the request to go to bid. Commissioner Travers seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Main Street Promotional Marketing Committee to Request a Variance from the Noise Ordinance for Saturday, August 9th from 5:00 pm Until 8:00 pm for the "Second Saturday" Event to be Held in the Pedestrian Mall on Race Street-Commissioner Weldon made a motion to approve this request. Commissioner Bohlen seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Request To Install Pedestrian Crosswalk on Glasgow Street-Commissioner Atkinson made a motion to refer this request to the Traffic and Safety Committee for their review. He would like to work with the committee on this issue. Commissioner Weldon seconded the motion and asked that it be amended to also include consider consideration of crosswalks along Water Street near Long Wharf down at the other end of Mill Street. Commissioner Atkinson accepted the amendment. The motion was passed unanimously.
Approve Financial Statement for June 2003-Commissioner Travers made a motion to approve the financial statement for June 2003. Commissioner Weldon seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Approve New Job Descriptions for Municipal Utilities Commission-Commissioner Weldon made a motion to approve two job descriptions (Financial Specialist and Senior Plant Operator). Commissioner Watkins seconded the motion. The motion was passed unanimously.
Mayor Rippons said he received a letter from Mr. Tom Carolan, the developer of Cattail Crossing, saying he had no knowledge that the City was going to begin assessing impact fees. He has executed documents for contracts without the contemplation of having the impact fee. This would cause his company a financial hardship. He is requesting some kind of consideration of the Council at this time. Mr. Carolan said he is a big supporter of this area and has made a commitment for 180+ houses. In good faith he sold 30+ houses and he did not know about the impact fees until he went to get a new permit. He was told that the impact fee was going to be assessed when you get your U&O. That is an extreme hardship. He has increased the price of his houses to compensate for the impact fee. If the impact fee is going to be assessed at the U&O, he has no way to recoup it because he has already written 30+ contracts. He has never seen where they assess an impact fee at the end. Mayor Rippons said the contemplation is at the time of permit or at the U&O if it has already reached that stage. Rob Collison said it should be when the application is made for the building permit. If for some reason it was not, they could collect it at the U&O. Mr. Carolan said as a gentleman's agreement, he will not raise the price to a person if they made a lot hold. They have 10 days to write a contract.
Rob Collison said the City went through the proper procedures for adopting the impact fee based on the solid recommendation by the consultants. If would be at Council's discretion if they wished to waive the fee. Commissioner Atkinson said the fees went into effect on July 14, 2003. He asked Mr. Carolan how many contracts he had executed prior to that date. Mr. Carolan said approximately 30 and he has given Mayor Rippons copies of them. He wasn't sure if the houses he already had permits for would be subject to this fee. Commissioner Weldon said once the permit is obtained, he is off to the races. Mr. Carolan said half his problem gone. Rob Collison said one problem they have is the impact fees that apply to out-of-City properties where they do not issue the building permits. The impact fees will apply because they use the City's water and/or sewer system and the fee would be paid at the time of connection. Mr. Carolan said he doesn't have anything in his contracts about contemplation of escalating building fees. Rob Collison suggested making a decision during the next Council meeting. Mr. Carolan said all the construction on the 15 houses in question will begin within 90 days. Commissioner Weldon asked for some more detailed information as far as the numbers that were talked about tonight. Commissioner Atkinson said he would be interested in seeing a chart of when he plans to start construction. Mayor Rippons asked what Council plans to do if other local developers asked for the same latitude.
Lynn Thomas said Community Legacy grant applications are due early in September so the City will need to have a public hearing by August 25.
Commissioner Atkinson said the Council received a report from Governors Hall on their financial status. Again they have shown a profit for this quarter and he would appreciate it if the press would give some publicity to it. If you recall, before the current operators took over for the City, it was costing the City and the County many thousands of dollars a year just to keep it going and now it is not costing us anything and they are showing a profit in addition to capital improvements. He thinks the citizens whose taxpayer dollars were going into the operation of this facility should be glad to know that it is not costing them anything now. Mayor Rippons said there are copies for the media if they would like to see the correspondence to the Council.
Commissioner Weldon said he attended the boat races last weekend which was a tremendous good time. There was a lot of traffic going in and out of the grass areas of the park and he spoke to some of the folks involved with the races who said they would be in touch with David Pritchett. David Pritchett said they are working very well with DPW.
Commissioner Weldon said Friday night was the movie night to benefit the Parade Committee. It was sparsely attended. They are planning to do it again on August 22, 2003.
Commissioner Weldon said he is getting very concerned about the Empowerment Center. The Council turned over the keys in April and under the grant from the State, the facility is supposed to provide services for 365 people in the first year. Nothing visible has happened. The Pine Street Committee provided an operating plan in December of 2000. If the City doesn't fulfill its obligations, the $350,000 will have to go back to the State. The City needs to start providing services to the people that the center is targeted to. He is doubly concerned because he sees that the New Beginnings Youth Center has blossomed and is providing services to that community. He sees services being provided by Sojourner Douglass College that are beyond their original mission. He sees services provided by other organizations and he is not seeing any services being provided by the Pine Street Committee. He would like to get a report from the Committee to tell him when they are going to start providing services to the community. He thinks it would be appropriate to have a private meeting with the Committee.
Commissioner Watkins attended the affair at the Housing Authority this morning honoring the children who participated in the youth program. It was a fine program with a fine speaker. As a token of appreciation they sent a certificate to the City of Cambridge.
Commissioner Bohlen said he is continuing to work with Rob Collison on some revisions to the nuisance ordinances concerning property conditions. He had a meeting a few weeks ago with residents on West End Avenue concerning some of those properties.
Rob Collison announced that the Council met in closed executive session at 6:30 pm to obtain legal advice and also discuss acquisition of real property. He also announced that the Council will meet with the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, July 29, 2003 at 7:00 pm.
Alisa Pinder, Robbins Street, said her family would like to have a party on Saturday, August 2, 2003 from 8:00 pm until 11:00 pm. They aren't going to have a DJ or any amplified music but she wanted to make sure she was doing it the right way. Chief Malik said if they receive calls, they have to respond and the music will have to be turned down.
Tony Thomas, Race Street, said he has been asking for parking signs for downtown for 8 years. He also inquired about the lights for downtown. Commissioner Bohlen said he has discussed lighting with Lynn Thomas on several occasions as part of the Community Legacy Grant particularly for the pedestrian mall. That is partially in the works. Commissioner Weldon said some of the parking signs are up. The State signs should be installed by September. Mr. Thomas asked if they could put "Welcome to Cambridge" banners up if the merchants paid for them. Mayor Rippons said if they lease the lights, they would have to go through the owner to put anything on them and they are very adverse to it. If the City owns them and they have the arms, they will have the latitude to do what they want. Commissioner Bohlen will check on this.
With no further business, Mayor Rippons adjourned this portion of the meeting at 8:25 p.m. I hereby certify that the foregoing is a true and accurate account of the Council meeting Monday, July 28, 2003, insofar as I personally am aware.
Edwin C. Kinnamon, Clerk & Treasurer