Why Cambridge Needs Zoning Reform: 2072 Mass Ave Reflects Our City’s Planning and Its Values

The proposed 100% affordable housing development at 2072 Mass Ave is a sustainable, transit-oriented project that has incorporated community feedback on design and neighborhood impact to date. As housing advocates and proponents of more sustainable, equitable development strategies, A Better Cambridge is all in on this Passive House development. 

Several City Councilors co-wrote an op-ed supporting the 2072 Mass Ave project, following an initial BZA meeting that minimized the importance of new affordable housing to the many families current in unstable housing, risking displacement and/or spending the majority of their income on ever-increasing market rents. ABC was impressed and empowered by these Councilors, who emphasized that we “need to define the ‘character of our neighborhoods’ as the residents who live in the buildings, and not the buildings themselves.” 

Some opponents of the project say that while they are all for affordable housing, approving this project would mean “throwing out” all the planning that has been done. In fact, this project fulfills the urban form, housing, and mobility goals of Envision Cambridge, our 2019 citywide comprehensive plan that we all helped develop. City staff from the Community Development Dept. (CDD), Traffic, Parking and Transportation (TP&T), and the Dept. of Public Works (DPW), all recognize that this project reflects recent planning, as evident in their supportive memo to the Planning Board (12/1) The Planning Board universally voted in favor of the project, which has incorporated recommendations from City departments to improve traffic safety and meet ambitious sustainability goals. The Envision Cambridge Comprehensive Plan (2019) identified the stretch of Mass Ave that includes the 2072 site as a Major Mixed-Use Corridor, where underutilized lots like this one are opportunities for dense redevelopment. The 2072 Mass Ave project, as proposed, will help the City meet its affordable housing production goals 

City-sponsored planning processes to date support the 2072 Mass Ave development, but our outdated and exclusionary zoning code does not. Additional last-minute demands have led to an ad hoc path to development - a result that is quite contrary to the planning process described above. Not only are developers navigating a drawn-out and costly approval process, they are now facing a late-stage attempt to derail or fatally delay an exemplary affordable housing opportunity that meets Cambridge’s development goals.  

As evidenced by the 2072 case, our current zoning code does not reflect the Envision planning process that 1) our community spent significant time and effort developing and 2) the City formally adopted as a guide for future growth. It’s time to update Cambridge’s out-dated zoning code to match our progressive, inclusive Envision Cambridge plan so all projects - like 2072 Mass Ave! - are vetted and developed in a way that is consistent with our priorities. 

We hope that ABC members and allies will speak in support of the 2072 Mass Ave proposal at the January 7 BZA hearing, and please advocate for the project among your friends and neighbors as it navigates our local approval process.