letters | cambridge in transition

Giving councilors more authority would be a mistake

Paul McMorrow’s column “Building tension,” regarding giving special permit approval to the Cambridge City Council, failed to note that the city’s complex, idiosyncratic, and opaque regulations result from council actions in response to past development and citizen petition. The result is a backward-looking code adopted out of fear rather than hope. Giving the council additional authority would be a mistake.

Reforming land-use regulation in Cambridge is necessary. What is needed is a transparent zoning ordinance that is simple to understand, has fewer zoning districts, and allows for a greater variety of uses and density. Such a code should reflect Cambridge as it is and allow for additional growth.


A new code should have a built-in control to limit actions that lead us back to where we are. Today half of the properties in the city do not conform to the code.

The absurdity of the zoning code was made clear when I saw a request on the city’s Board of Zoning Appeal agenda for approval to change the use of a restaurant space from selling crepes to selling Belgian waffles. Any code that requires such regulatory relief is a code that needs to be changed.

Terrence F. Smith


The writer is a city planner and the former director of government affairs for the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

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