The pro-AHO website that is working with the developer-funded political PAC "A Better Cambridge AF", that has been gunning for CCC - and whose illegal and dishonest posters were plastered all around Central Square, MIT and Harvard Square last weekend - has come out with another CCC attack over the AHO handout published on our site. CCC has responded to each of their critiques, in some cases, redrawing our handouts to make sure they were correct and clear. And we have notified this group of these changes and have thanked them for pointing out factual errors if they exist. This group has recently posted another attack piece, in what is looking increasingly like an open season of tit-for-tat. It all seems silly, except for the fact that their most recent poster is so dishonest. So at the risk of engaging long after the issue has concluded, let's take a look at their recent critique. The CCC image in question is shown below. The image went through 5-7 reviews by professionals on our end and we stand by its accuracy.
What is this group (that calls itself Affordable Housing Overlay-Reality or AHOR) saying about the above CCC hand out image ? Is there any reason for correction?
AHOR: The latest updates to the “Yes to Affordable Housing” flyer... once again introduce new visuals that, like previous images published by CCC, do not accurately represent the heights of buildings that would be allowed under the Overlay. It also includes other inaccuracies and misleading language; and the v4 version of the flyer introduced on 2019-08-23, reincluded the most false claim that CCC has made to date. If you see anyone sharing this flyer, I recommend you link them to this page."
CCC: On roof decks as the most false CCC claim to date? Hyperbole aside, if AHOR had attended the recent Ordinance Committee meetings or had listened to them, they would have heard that roof decks on new AHO projects received 100% support from the full Council attending the meeting, whereas many other things received split decisions at best. So if the AHO passes, it will clearly allow roof decks on new AHO developments. And, because roof decks likely will constitute at least part of the required open space, they will likely be sizable, because this would mean that even more of current open spaces (green spaces) could be removed from the ground area, shifting this requirement to the top of the buildings, to allow even greater density. We stand by our architectural rendering.
AHOR: The two-and-a-half story house is used as a reference point. 2.5 story houses in Cambridge have a median height of ~35 feet. Extrapolating from that, the building immediately to the right, which has some kind of projected roof deck, is 63 feet tall, not 45 feet tall, as the flyer claims. The flyer claims that this building would be allowed citywide, in all residential areas, but that is not true. In neighborhoods where the base zoning allows heights of 40 feet or less, buildings can be no taller than 45 feet, unless the first floor is being used for non-residential purposes. In that case, the building can be 50 feet tall. On 80 percent of Cambridge’s non-institutional land, buildings of more than 50 feet will not be permitted.
CCC: This CCC handout includes an artistic rendering showing relative (comparative) heights of buildings. As with all architectural or artist renderings, the image is intended to give a perception of the relative heights and massing, Perceptions of height will naturally change depending on the location of a viewer. In this case CCC chose to draw on the relationship between the floor/window heights of the shorter building in relationship with the floor/windows of the reference to the adjacent “new” AHO structure in making this visual comparative. As noted above this is a rendering (a visual reference) not a photograph of two actual buildings.
AHOR: The buildings pictured have gained prominent enclosed roof deck features above the allowed height of the buildings; these would not be allowed (unlike mechanicals, enclosed features like this are counted in the building's height for the purposes of zoning). The building immediately to the right also appears to feature garden-level apartment space (ie, half-windows that would typically be used for apartments, not for storage). Apartments like this are not allowed under the currently amended version of the proposed ordinance.
CCC: Again, this architectural rendering (not photograph) is being employed to convey the sense of massing and scale. From the ground level (or from a neighbor's residence) perceptions will change. The type of secure wall/fencing surrounding a roof deck for protection, would be considerable so thatall residents would be able to enjoy this space without security hazard. This wall would add even greater height and perception of height to the building, as would the nearly full-floor height "head-houses" that will be necessary for stairs and an elevator to reach this roof top open space. As to the windows at the ground level, please note: nowhere on this image is there any indication that these are apartments (residences) – they more likely would be community spaces, pre-school class rooms or spaces used for other similar uses.
AHOR: The building on the far right is 90 feet tall, not 80 feet tall, as the flyer claims. It also claims that they would be allowed “on corridors.” That is, at best, misleading. Portions of Massachusetts Avenue would allow 80-foot buildings where base zoning does not allow that height. However, other stretches would not allow this. Along Massachusetts Avenue, from Harvard Square to the Arlington border, with the exception of the area immediately around Porter Square, heights cannot exceed 65 feet, and they must not be more than six stories. Those numbers also apply to Cambridge Street. A bullet point below the images makes the same erroneous claim that 80-foot buildings are allowed wherever the base zoning allows 45-foot buildings; this is not accurate in the current amended version of the proposed ordinance.
CCC: Where is this 90’ tall AHOR claim coming from? Certainly NOT from the CCC handout. The image of this building is referencing visually a 7 story (80’ high building, similar to those to be allowed on the corridors. The language of the AHO, should it pass, indicates that 7 story structures would be allowed on major corridors which is stated here. Note that 5.2.1b of the Overlay language specifies “Where the District Dimensional Standards allow a maximum building height of more than 40 feet, an AHO Project shall contain no more than seven Stories Above Grade and shall have a maximum height of 80 feet, as measured from existing Grade, except as further limited below.” It would be nice if for profit and non-profit Affordable Housing Developers would produce lower buildings to match differences in scale with adjacent buildings and neighborhoods but the AHO specifically does NOT include that. And the final decision will be up to the developer and the staff of the unelected City Manager.
AHOR: Below the image is an exclamation that “this could happen in every neighborhood!” At a glance, a passing observer might believe that not only the 63-foot building could be built in every neighborhood, but also the 90-foot building. This would not be the case: most neighborhoods do not have any area that would allow 90 foot tall buildings as visually depicted.
CCC: The language “in every neighborhood” references the two districts being created in the AHO – namely corridors and the residential areas, and in both cases the language written on the above visual is correct.
AHOR: An intermediate form of this flyer (which was not reviewed for this site, as it contained no new false representations) removed the previously-mentioned claim of 350' tall buildings. However, in the flyer published on 2019-08-23, this bullet point was re-added to the flyer. This error was brought to CCC’s attention, and they removed it from a downloadable PDF, but they did not make the correction to the their blog post on the topic, which still claims this is true after being corrected on this point by this website. Given that CCC has made this false claim before, has been alerted, made the requested change, but did nothing to correct this misinformation in their published content and reincluded this point in a flyer they distributed via their website suggests, at best, carelessness. This was corrected only after once again publicly calling out the CCC for redistributing these false claims; at no point has the CCC corrected the ongoing misinformation included in their blog on this topic, on the basis of which they have attacked the credibility of this website.
CCC: The earlier blog post has been corrected (and the 350 feet removed). As noted in that same blog post, the 350’ figure was based on a map furnished by CDD for the AHO. They later clarified what would be allowed in the AHO, indicating that the 350’ would not in fact be allowed except by special permit.
AHOR: I rate this latest flyer 3 Pinocchios on the basis of the prominent, newly introduced roof deck features which are in violation of allowed zoning; and believe that CCC's continued carelessness in sharing information continues to put their credibility of any newly introduced materials in serious question.
CCC: The city (CDD) has frequently changed its writing on the AHO. CCC is willing to address any mistakes or changes and correct them. However, as has been shown over the last few months, AHOR and their affiliates A Better Cambridge and A Better Cambridge AF have not only been irresponsible in their social media attacks of opponents to the AHO (including candidates for City Council), but also stunningly dishonest. See: http://www.cccoalition.org/blog/wantedreward-political-postering-on-the-aho
Today (August 29, 2019) the the creator of the AHOR website and the Communications Director of ABC have chosen to further the discussion.
A point of clarification: Mr. Schmidt writes “I also support the work of pro-housing organizations in Cambridge (ABC + ABC AF) – but this opinion is entirely my own, not that of ABC. It is formed not out of the sense of disagreement I have with their positions (which is profound), but rather their willingness to misinform."
Fair enough, but Mr.Schmidt goes on to state that: “In full disclosure: the CCC has personally attacked me in their blog several times for pointing out their intentional falsehoods; I also run the @ahoreality website my self that attempts to discredit their falsehoods."
Patently False. CCC is NOT attempting to "misinform" anyone. Nor, has CCC "personally attacked" Mr. Schmidt . Indeed, we have thanked Mr. Schmidt for pointing out factual problems. Here are places on CCC where Mr. Schmidt has been mentioned:
One post reads "Thanks :Dan Eisner and Christopher Schmidt for corrections."
Another post reads "A new website has emerged on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) proposal, created by Christopher Schmidt, and under the name of 'Affordable Housing Overlay Reality.' Schmidt has frequently spoken out in favor of the AHO at City Council, Planning Board, and other meetings."
A third reads: "Christopher Schmidt, who created the Affordably Housing Overlay Reality (AHOR) website was notified of this change." We do NOT see how these references can be construed as personal attacks in any framing of the term.
The image below of references to Mr. Schmidt on the CCC makes this clear:
Nothing in these three posts refers to Mr. Schmidt in any way that resembles an attack - personal or otherwise. Indeed both he and Mr. Eisner are thanked in one of them, and the statement on Mr. Schmidt's public statements are fact based and accurate.
On imagery: Mr. Schmidt is concerned that the CCC image of AHO impacts posted near the top of this blog is inaccurate, despite the fact that we have repeatedly said it is intended to give a sense of the height and massing visual impacts and unlike a photograph is not based on an actual Cambridge setting. Alas, no structures in Cambridge have been built using AHO guidelines which removes Planning Board design oversight, as well as current setbacks and height regulations. It is also important to point out that building photographs posted on the AHOR website and in the illegal flier that was mounted last weekend in public spaces in Central Square, MIT, and Harvard Square is based on false examples. Like the image on the left from the AHOR facebook page, NONE of these buildings wee created using the new system. The top image on the left is much shorter than those allowed in the proposed AHO - and has more green space. None of these show the massive seven story heights that will be allowed on the main corridors. And the image in the poster on the right includes two historic Cambridge homes that have been reused for new affordable housing efforts, the AHO is NOT INTENDED to be used for this kind of reuse, but instead was written to encourage the building of large new structures that will be far cheaper to build - and would be done "as-of-right" removing current citizen's ability to appeal.
But there is More: Mr. Eisner has taken up in social media a Nextdoor statement today by a CCC Director, to the effect that 7 story buildings would be allowed on Huron Avenue. This CCC Director has made a correction to this statement on this site, adding "We are not talking about a "single story addition to Huron Village". On corridors, such as where Sarah's, Formaggio, Hi Rise, Armando's, and Fresh Pond Market now stand, up to 5 stories would be allowed, assuming an active ground floor. Obviously, those businesses would relocate or disappear if their buildings were affected. On side streets, the damage would in many cases be 2 additional stories with dramatically reduced front yards, back yards and setbacks from neighbors next door. In general, we're looking at 2-4X the height, up to 10X the density of existing structures." To reiterate, under the AHO Huron Avenue now a neighborhood center with many small local businesses, could become an area of 4 story structures (5 stories if there is an active ground floor use) replacing current one and two story structures. This would be "as-of-right" without the current citizen ability to appeal. This four or five story height increase IS a significant change, and the Director's point on Nextdoor on the loss of local businesses - this too is very valid - here and elsewhere in the city, since no business can go under for 1-2 years while their building is being razed and reconstructed. Moreover, this Nextdoor post was NOT an attempt at misinformation, but rather reflects the many months of changes occurring as the CDD unfolded the AHO plan. 7 story (80' buildings) would be allowed "as-of-right" on the "major corridors" - Mass Ave and Cambridge Street for example - in some areas replacing one and two story structures and causing the closure of local businesses. Moreover to state, as Mr. Schmidt does, that "The average height of current buildings in residential zones is 34’" implying that there will be few impacts of a four, five or seven story building (50' to 80') on a local neighborhood is simply wrong. Context is key and in a neighborhoods with one or two story buildings the AHO changes would dramatically alter a neighborhood, particularly one with historic buildings.
Mr. Schmidt adds: "What I did not expect at the time is that 'one of their own directors' would be sharing this misinformation, months later, after writing thousands of words attempting to correct this misinformation over multiple platforms. This is further evidence of the CCC’s willingness to mislead."
Here we must also push back, in the same way that Mr. Schmidt insists that he is speaking for himself, not ABC or his employer, Google, the Director was NOT speaking for CCC. Moreover, as noted above, he has gone back to the site to correct the information. It is to be hoped that AHOR and ABC/ABC AF will correct their misinformation on the AHO in their imagery and texts on the Overlay as well.
Finally, we need to end the kind of vitriol: When ABC's communication director writes that “The Cambridge Citizens Coalition is doing their best to prove that the internet was a mistake" and that "Cambridge Citizens Coalition is embarrassing itself with its disinformation campaign. Their endless stream of false and misleading claims proves they are an illegitimate organization that should be treated as such." The AHOR site creator endorsed this view: "With this in mind, I strongly endorse Dan’s position: The CCC’s constant efforts to mislead are pure fearmongering. It is an illegitimate organization, and should be treated as such."
All we can say is that we strenuously disagree! CCC has not been promoting a disinformation campaign. Furthermore we insist that ABC/ABC AF and others who support them, stop the vitriol. CCC will continue to address not just the current flawed and deeply problematic AHO until it dies in committee. We also will be active in the election and beyond , focusing in the years ahead on issues of good government in a variety or areas.
Why this attack on CCC is happening now seems very clear. Just a few weeks ago Mr. Eisner posted "Cambridge Citizens Coalition has been the most vocal and best-organized group opposing the Affordable Housing Overlay in #CambMA."
It would seem that our very success in addressing these issues is part of the reason for the attacks now!
Whatever the reason for the current attacks and critique it is important as CCC move forward in our effort and both shine light on and push back on the kind of vitriol that these posters have espoused.