Starlight Square may see another season
Zoning petition gets support from City Council
The Cambridge City Council is looking to overrule a city board who’s recent ruling threatened to shut down a Central Square gathering that emerged as an oasis during the pandemic.
Councilors on Monday referred a zoning petition to the city’s Planning Board to help revive Starlight Square in the Central Square Business Improvement District.
The petition would allow outdoor retail, entertainment and recreational facilities, like Starlight, to be located within the area by default if such spaces have minimal impact on neighbors.
Showing strong support for the petition, the council expressed urgency for the Planning Board to proceed with a hearing and other necessary as quickly as possible since some events are planned at Starlight as early as May.
“This zoning petition not only would address some of the concerns regarding Starlight,” Councilor Marc McGovern said, “but it would allow for other really exciting arts and opportunities to take place in Central Square.”
Starlight became a point of some controversy after the city Board of Zoning Appeals voted earlier this month not to renew its special permit for a fourth season. Some city officials told the Herald the decision surprised them given how much community support is behind the venue.
Concerns driving the rejection mainly included noise complaints.
The Central Square BID which oversees Starlight, had responded to concerns, Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui told the Herald. It had reduced the number of events and speakers, installed acoustic panels and ended shows earlier, she said.
BID President Michael Monestine put forth the petition in response to the BZA’s rejection.
“We do what we say we are going to do,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “We have been responsive and responsible neighbors, navigating this process while responding to compounding crises throughout the district.”
Resident James Williams attended the BZA meeting and said he thought board members raised “important, legitimate concerns responding to immediate neighbors.”
“It has been a failure of the government in my view,” he said. “We need to find a way to keep Starlight through the rest of the season and in a way that takes seriously the concerns of the immediate neighbors.”
Councilors also approved a motion for the city manager to work with the Central
Square BID in pursuing the establishment of a permanent building for Starlight, so the square could operate for years to come.
The city last year approved using $500,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to study what it would take for Starlight Square to become permanent.
“Starlight has been over the past three years just this beacon of hope and light for our community, especially for our arts community,” Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon said. “We have had so many joyful celebrations there, so many artists there, it’s only proper that we’re continuing to support this effort.”