ABC News, August 2021: Candidate forum, multiple mid-rise proposals in danger, and more

(Sent August 27th, 2021.)

A Better Cambridge has just released the responses from an extensive City Council candidate questionnaire, completed by nearly the entire field. ABC’s public candidate forum will be streamed live on Sunday, September 19 at 4:00 pm. Please keep an eye on our Election 2021 page for more details and election news.


  • Cambridge continues to inch its way toward eliminating 1&2-family-only zoning districts. Last week, a joint meeting [video] of the Housing and Neighborhood & Long-Term Planning Committees began with a thorough staff presentation, but ended up unclear on what can and cannot be done by zoning law. Participating Councillors are still divided on whether they should move quickly to address inequitable zoning issues or hold out to try and find a way to get some income-restricted affordable housing out of their reforms. A rare joint Council/Planning Board meeting may be the next step in this extended journey. 
  • A powerful op-ed piece reviewing the remarkable momentum of the Affordable Housing Overlay in its first 10 months was recently published. Over 350 new homes at 4 locations are now working their way through the design and permitting process. ABC volunteers should be justifiably proud of the results of their long-running advocacy efforts.

[CORRECTION - we would like to correct the description of the Housing Navigator included in yesterday's newsletter. It is not a MassHousing project, but a Cambridge-based independent 501(c)(3) organization that has raised funding from over 30 sources. The Housing Navigator provides a valuable service to folks looking for housing -- in fact, Cambridge has already generated an incredible number of searches for homes through the Navigator (second only to Boston). Clearly our community is in need of more affordable housing! Please read more about the Housing Navigator on its website and consider a donation to their efforts.

MassHousing is an independent, quasi-public agency that has provided more than $27 billion for affordable housing since 1966.]

  On the other hand...

  • Despite a supermajority of City Councillors in support (4 even writing an op-ed), opposition from the Board of Zoning Appeal has led to the withdrawal of 48 proposed units of affordable housing at 2072 Mass Ave. Hopefully, the City Council will move soon to allow this site to be developed to its fullest potential in the near future.
  • A plan to add 42 units of housing atop the Crimson Galleria in Harvard Square (57 JFK Street) encountered headwinds at a recent Historical Commission meeting.   Q: In what way did the Commission feel this proposal would endanger the historic character of the existing 1971 building? A: The 4 additional stepped-back stories are “too tall”.  The Commission continued this case to their September 2 meeting at 6pm. Written comments can be sent to [email protected].  
  • The Planning Board also kicked a can into the future on a proposal to add 46 new homes, including 9 below-market rentals, at 600 Mass Ave in Central Square (above Sleepy’s, next to Chipotle). Two board members, likely enough to deny a special permit, strenuously objected to the lack of onsite parking (although there’s a subway entrance directly in front of the building) and the lack of a “contiguous street wall” (although that’s principally due to zoning FAR limits). The next hearing on this proposal has not yet been scheduled.
  • And this Tuesday (Aug 31), the Planning Board will consider the proposed addition of 29 small apartments (404-529 sq ft) above an existing 3-story building at 544-550 Mass Ave (Teddy’s Shoes), also in Central. These logical-but-controversial “micro-units” are likely to draw considerable public comment in opposition. You can sign up for the meeting here or submit letters referencing “PB381” to [email protected].