SAVE OUR SKYLINE DELIVERS MORE THAN 15,000 SIGNATURES ON PETITION
CALLING FOR CAMBRIDGE SIGN AMENDMENT RECONSIDERATION
IF CITY COUNCIL DOES NOT RESCIND AMENDMENT, QUESTION MUST BE PUT BEFORE VOTERS
October 15, 2010 — Cambridge, MA — Sending a resounding message to the Cambridge City Council, the Save Our Skyline coalition has collected substantially more than the number of petition signatures required to force reconsideration of a recently enacted but highly controversial zoning amendment. That amendment, passed last month by the City Council, allows large illuminated signs atop the City’s tallest buildings and gives the Planning Board broad discretion to waive sign limitations below 20 feet throughout the City.
Appearing this morning at the office of the Cambridge Election Commission, Save Our Skyline delivered petitions holding 15,581 signatures. Under the State law governing citizen petitions, signatures of 12% of registered voters in Cambridge (approximately 7,500) must be delivered within 20 days of a law’s passage. Save Our Skyline collected the signatures delivered today in just 16 days.
“Although we have already collected far more signatures than the law requires, we will continue to gather signatures through Sunday to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard,” said Save Our Skyline spokeswoman Karen Schwartzman. “We hope the Councillors will appreciate the depth and breadth of opposition among Cambridge voters.”
The petition seeks to rescind two portions of the amendment: the Building Identification Sign and General Waiver provisions. The Building Identification Sign provision allows illuminated signs at the roofline of large buildings along the Charles River, and in East Cambridge and Alewife. What has drawn little attention is the General Waiver provision, which gives the Planning Board sole discretion to waive zoning limitations on individual signs below 20 feet. Thus the Planning Board, which recommended this amendment to the City Council, could potentially permit neon billboard-sized signs at street level on commercial buildings anywhere in the City – with no opportunity for public challenge.
“Clearly, City officials underestimated the passion that Cambridge residents have for their city. An amendment that was introduced as ‘simple housekeeping’ is now understood to have broad implications for the vistas of Cambridge, particularly along the Charles River, and the public has taken notice,” said Schwartzman. “But make no mistake,” she added. “The level of response reflects concerns that go well beyond corporate sign rights. Cambridge citizens expect their City Councillors to put first and foremost the interests of the people who elected them – and they will let these politicians know loud and clear when their concerns are ignored.”
Prior to the passage of this amendment – which has become known as the “Microsoft Amendment”, a name acknowledging that Company’s interest in erecting a corporate sign atop One Memorial Drive – Cambridge signage regulations were as restrictive as those in abutting cities and towns. Anyone seeking to install a sign that exceeded these limits had to apply for a zoning variance and had to meet a hardship test to justify a departure from the zoning laws – a test that most observers thought Microsoft would have difficulty meeting. The amendment clears a path for Microsoft and other companies to erect signs that “brand” the Cambridge riverfront, visible to anyone looking across the Charles River from Beacon Hill or Back Bay or entering the city over the Longfellow Bridge.
The petition process and the City’s actions in response to it are governed by state law. Once enough signatures have been certified as valid, the City Council is required to reconsider the provisions of the zoning amendment that were targeted in the petition.
The City Councillors may vote to rescind these provisions. If they do not do so, the fate of these amendment provisions will be determined by a question on the ballot in 2011.
In addition to signature gathering, Save Our Skyline representatives registered 529 people to vote, a number that will increase the voter rolls in Cambridge by almost one percent.
The Save Our Skyline coalition consists of Cambridge citizens who came together to educate the public, to advocate against passage of the amendment and, later, to force it to a ballot. They have written letters to City Councillors and Planning Board members, testified at public hearings, made phone calls, sent email messages, sent letters to local newspapers, and collected signatures. Save Our Skyline was founded by Terry Ragon, a 30-year resident of Cambridge, a philanthropist, and the founder and CEO of InterSystems Corporation, a software company that for 22 years has been headquartered at One Memorial Drive.
Save Our Skyline is a group of concerned citizens of Cambridge interested in the repeal of a zoning amendment, recently passed by the Cambridge City Council, which favors large commercial interests over citizens’ interests. The amendment allows big corporations in Cambridge to put up large, externally lit signs to advertise their brand at the roofline of tall buildings, signs that will pollute the skyline and Charles riverfront and negatively impact the aesthetic quality of Cambridge. For more information, visit www.SaveOurSkyline.org.