ABC News, Feb 2023 🏘️ Planning Board vacancies, upcoming hearings, ABC events and more

Applications are open for seats on Cambridge’s extremely powerful Planning Board, through Monday, March 6. Through its role in the special-permit process, the Planning Board has the authority to block most significant homebuilding proposals in the city. It also provides advice to the City Council on all zoning amendments. A background in planning, architecture, or law is advantageous, but the primary requirement is that members be interested in thoughtfully reviewing proposals and available for weeknight meetings almost every week. The City Manager is offering an annual stipend of $6000. If you or someone you know may be interested in serving on the Planning Board, please apply or encourage them to apply! 

Upcoming hearings…

  • Last month’s Housing Committee hearing on zoning amendments to expand and strengthen the 2020 Affordable Housing Overlay included compelling presentations from non-profit affordable housing builders and over an hour of largely positive public comment. (Read our recap here.) The Committee will return on March 8 at 3pm for discussion among Councilors and possible preliminary action on the proposed changes; however, even swift action would mean many more public hearings before any changes could be ordained.
  • A recent proposal to halt the spread of lab buildings by banning new ones in certain areas has evolved into a wider and more nuanced discussion of potential city initiatives on a broader range of building uses. A draft policy order to be taken up at this Monday’s City Council meeting calls for a working group of representatives of various interests, organized by the Community Development Department, to consider the benefits as well as the problems of labs. Most interesting is a provision that tasks the group with exploring ways to “address the need for more housing through a pro-active discussion on mixed use and mixed income development of lab, housing, and retail.” The draft envisions the group producing a report by March of next year.
  • At the same meeting, the Council will consider officially supporting a statewide housing bill called  “An Act to Promote Yes in My Back Yard.” The bill, marked by Abundant Housing MA as their top legislative priority, would set a statewide target of 427,000 new homes by 2040, with 20% income restricted/affordable. Other provisions of the bill will streamline the process for converting vacant land and commercial properties to multifamily housing, prioritize the disposition of state-owned land for affordable housing, and legalize accessory dwelling units by right, statewide. While the Council’s support is entirely advisory to the state legislature, you can show your support and thank the Council for affirming the need for new housing by emailing [email protected].
  • The Cambridge Historical Commission may soon decide whether to block 19 homes (including 3 affordable family-sized homes) in East Cambridge. If the CHC allows it, two vacant 1-2 story buildings at 231 and 235 Third Street in East Cambridge will be torn down; however, CHC has failed in past hearings to prioritize concerns about the need to increase our housing supply.The CHC meeting begins at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 2; written comment is welcome up to 24 hours before the meeting and may be sent to [email protected].
  • A proposal to reform the requirements for creating a new Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) returns to the Ordinance Committee for a public hearing on Tuesday, March 7, 12:30-2:30.  The proposed changes include a requirement for Council sign-off before starting an NCD study and imposing NCD restrictions, improving diversity on NCD Study Groups and Committees, and an exemption for affordable housing, among other measures. A signup for public comment will be posted here 1-2 days in advance.

Upcoming events…

  • An ABC member meeting on Thursday, March 2 at 7 pm will include a presentation from and discussions with representatives of the Charter Review Committee. The 15-resident group is charged with reviewing the city’s 1940 Charter and making recommendations to the Council on improving Cambridge’s governance structure. This is an opportunity to add your views to the suggestions the Committee is collecting from residents across the city. A meeting link will be emailed to members.
  • Save the date: ABC and Abundant Housing MA are planning a joint event in the evening of [UPDATE MARCH 9: event will be postponed to end of March]. More details to come, but it will be a great opportunity to eat food, meet other pro-housing people, and discuss ways to reform zoning and push for more housing in and around Cambridge.

Reports and readings…

  • A referendum authorizing a public development authority to create socially owned and operated housing in Seattle appears to have passed by a large (though not final) margin. Backed by a coalition of housing activists, the new entity will build, acquire and manage housing for residents with incomes up to 120% of the area median income, who will pay 30% of their income. Next step: securing funding for the ambitious new venture.    
  • Why The Housing Crisis Is A Problem For Everyone — Even Wealthy Homeowners” is outlined by this piece from an NPR affiliate. On top of the ethical implications of the housing shortage, it describes the effects on commuters, business owners and, well, anyone who might benefit from a healthy economy. 

These last couple items bring us back to the AHO amendments mentioned near the top of this newsletter. If you haven’t already signed the petition of support, it’s waiting for you here.