(Sent on October 4, 2022.)
A proposal to stop mandating a parking spot for every new residence was passed to a second reading by the City Council last night on a 8-1 vote (Councilor Carlone opposed). The action, which could lead to final passage as early as October 17, occurred after two amendments passed – adding developer reporting of their parking decisions and a 3-year Community Development review. The Globe covered this zoning change, noting that many other cities have removed parking mandates, often driven by the widespread and growing housing shortage. Last week, a new California law ended parking minimums statewide for most developments near transit. “Housing solutions are also climate solutions,” CA Governor Newsom noted when he signed the bill.
The Council last night deferred final action on an over-50% jump in the linkage fee paid by commercial development projects to the Affordable Housing Trust. After multiple meetings over an exemption for smaller projects, a compromise amendment – exempting from linkage fees the first 30,000 sq. ft. of any project under 60,000 sq. ft. in total – was passed 9-0. The proposal was held over as unfinished business so that Community Development and the Law Department could review the change. Councilors seem optimistic that the fee increase will pass before the petition expires on October 25.
Also last night, the Council passed, 9-0, a policy order calling for Community Development to convene a North Massachusetts Avenue Corridor District Zoning Proposal Working Group. Although the group is expected to recommend zoning proposals, its goals also include such non-zoning topics as public art, streetscape design, incentivizing sustainable transportation and supporting existing businesses. The PO calls for the NMACDZPWG to start in June, 2023, and wrap up its work by March, 2024.
- New City Manager Yi-An Huang formally took office after a summer of meetings with current and former city officials as well as people outside of government. He’s been focusing on upcoming appointments to influential boards and commissions as well as generally organizing staff to deal with a large volume of complex initiatives. Huang also hopes to work toward a more collaborative relationship with the Council.
- At ABC’s mid-September Housing Crisis Town Hall (recording available here), residents had an opportunity to hear some of the Councilors talk about their work to make housing more available and affordable to all. Several urged more involvement by residents in these ongoing efforts.
- After a long process involving multiple hearings before the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Board, approval has been granted for a mixed use renovation (including 27 apartments) at 544-550 Mass Ave (longtime home of a dance studio and Teddy’s Shoes). Although just steps from the subway, the project needed exemption from parking requirements, plus a special permit for studio apartments that zoning deems too small.
- The Housing Committee addressed the city’s long-standing goal of ending exclusionary zoning in light of the requirements of the state’s transit-oriented housing law, which includes deadlines for action in 2023-2024. ABC provided the Council with a memo on what it would take to bring Cambridge into compliance with Mass. law while achieving our municipal policy goals. At the mid-September meeting, the Committee confirmed that it sought city-wide reform, not just zoning tweaks in the more restrictive neighborhoods. The full Council subsequently passed a policy order designating Councilors Azeem and Simmons to work with CDD on moving these actions forward.
- Homeowners Rehab, Inc., held its first community meeting about its conversion to affordable housing of 1627 Mass Ave – formerly Lesley University’s Admissions Center, sold in August. Although few details were provided at this stage, HRI is planning to build an additional structure behind the existing building, under the Affordable Housing Overlay permit process. Cambridge Historical Commission is pursuing an “historical” designation for the 1862 building, an action that HRI supports.
- Cambridge is conducting an online resident opinion survey – open to all residents until October 9 – to supplement a recently-completed randomized telephone survey carried out by an independent polling firm. Please take a few minutes and tell ’em what you think!
- The monthly ABC Social hangout is moving to Naco Taco this month, outdoors at 297 Mass Ave, Thursday, October 6. Join us between 7:00 and 9:00pm for an unstructured housing chat.
- ABC will be having a member meeting over Zoom, on Thursday, October 13, 7:00 – 8:30pm to discuss active policy items – particularly the Housing Committee push to end exclusionary zoning – and get feedback. If you're a member, watch your inbox for the Zoom link. If you're not, you can fix that now!
- The state Democratic gubernatorial ticket of Maura Healy and Kim Driscoll has put housing cost and availability high on their priority list. The campaign has released an agenda of their housing goals.
- The NY Times’ Emily Badger set out to discover What Happened to the Starter Home? and came back, as usual, with a well researched and well written report. “Communities nationwide are far more prescriptive today than decades ago about what housing should look like and how big it must be…Nearly all make it difficult to build the kind of home that could sell for $200,000 today,” she found, noting that “the economics of the housing market — and the local rules that shape it — have dictated today that many small homes are replaced by McMansions.”