The Citywide Upzoning Plan for more Affordable Housing How did we end up here? What are the core concerns?
Cambridge citizens lobbied for a Master Plan – we still don’t have one! The Affordable Housing Overlay (AHO) is not what we asked for or paid for. This project was taken over by Cambridge's Community Development Department(CDD) and largely written by affordable housing developers; CDD has not listened to alternative approaches that would do far more to address affordable housing and root causes of the current problem. The AHO is a radical engineering of the city. It is different in every way from Somerville & other progressive cities. The AHO was rushed ahead of all the other Envision concerns (some of which contradict key elements in the AHO). The people of Cambridge feel very let down. At the last two AHO meetings (Senior Center & Huron) citizens opposed the Overlay 4 to 1; the remainder did not know what it entailed, were confused, or were ready for a decision. The large majority of Cambridge neighborhood groups OPPOSE the AHO yet we all strongly SUPPORT affordable housing. We want it done in a way we can be proud of. We want it to work! The manager’s report states that the city-wide up-zoning would add only 1.2% more affordable units than currently allowed (either 40 or 60 units); others say (based on legal opinions) that this will open up the entire city to this new radical zoning model. With present zoning, special permits are given for structures that lie outside zoning restrictions. The system has worked well Cambridge has met and surpassed key affordable housing & other development needs effectively through this means & citizens effectively advocate for design & other issues. We all believe in the need top create more affordable housing. But this plan is far too risky. Why take this risk?! It does not address root causes (and impacts). Current gentrification impacts. Some 17% loss of African American In the Port. We need a sure plan that will address both causes AND specific context-based plans going forward. The AHO represents a major shift in both policy and precedent & moves us in a direction that no other city has gone. The Affordable Housing Overlay General Characteristics The AHO removes key Planning Board design oversight (review only); Limits checks & balances. The AHO rushes the design review process. The AHO removes both citizens right to both legal appeal & meaningful input in design issues. The AHO Design Oversight (final decisions) are given to CDD, the Affordable Housing Trust, and Developers. AHO does not address the real problem (influx of new businesses & higher paid employees; gentrification & luxury housing glut); 14% vacancy in E. Cambridge units attests to this). AHO Developers will receive differential treatment from other developers – as well as from citizens seeking changes. Only one type of builder/owner will be allowed to own/construct. And the only type of unit allowed is not currently allowed in A-1. (Note Palo Alto’s plan was to only build in places where there were no houses). There is a major danger here that buildings that should NOT be built will be, and these will end up in court. There is a real risk of mistake. Allowing 3-4 (or greater) times the density allowed in some places currently envisioned is just wrong. Low low- income earners and middle income earners are left out; one cannot take a better job and stay in this housing. Economically segregated housing is not equity, especially when housing form & materials are visually distinct from others. We URGE the Planning Board (and City Council) to send this Overlay Proposal back to be rethought and then resubmitted in a format we can all proudly get behind.
Disproportional AHO neighborhood impacts (Same zoning code will have radically different impacts in city neighborhoods (based on manager’s report)
Some 77.83% of all city properties tagged in manager's report for likely AHO projects are west of Mass Ave. (based on sales in Table II) 40.68% West Cambridge 17.37% from North Cambridge 15.68% from Neighborhood 9 (Avon Hill, Porter Sq etc.) 4.10%. Strawberry Hill –Grove St 77.83% is a stunning figure and many of these areas are far from public transportation hubs Competitiveness Data (Table I) – where properties most likely to be found -Strawberry Hill - 100% competitive -Professors Row (Agassiz – near Harvard Divinity School) – 100% competitive -Coolidge Hill - 80% competitive -Brattle Street area – 57% competitive (NOTE: Brattle St. itself is in an Historic District so facades cannot be changed -Concord Ave area – 33% -Huron Ave area– 25% -Riverside - 17% competitive -Cambridgeport - 20% competitive The areas west of Mass. Ave are often large properties, many with historic homes, older trees, and large green spaces. To build large AHO projects here, there will be significant citywide environment losses (green spaces, mature trees, historic residences) Questions around the Manager’s Report -In the Manager’s Report, West Cambridge is reported in 4 distinct areas –Brattle, Huron, Concord, Coolidge Hill. Why? -The manager’s report co-joins Wellington-Harrington (W-H) AND The Port – Why? What is the actual count for each?? -MIT and Cambridge Highlands have no data in the report. Why?
SITE RENDERINGS: GENERAL CONCERNS All 4 the CDD models are on empty lots (no trees, houses): most are on corridors and 1/2 are on corners. There are no examples for current A-1 zoning These are well drawn but are not representative examples Nearly all of the units have no parking, yet they may be outside ¼ mile of the subway entry. Many people will be circling for parking so they can get to work in outside areas or at odd hours. Major environmental & livability impacts. There is no requirement for green spaces in the AHO (instead all are simply “open” spaces – concrete or asphalt) There is no requirement to preserve of mature trees. In manager’s report: resident displacement is not a concern. Yet many displaced cannot move back based on income. The AHO does not address displaced businesses. Many will go under or be forced to leave, leaving neighborhoods without key amenities.
Site 1: Now an Empty Lot. To be 4 stories plus rooftop mechanicals. No Parking. Front 10’ setback does not include covered entry. Side 7.5’ setback does not include bump-out. No room for green spaces. Site 2: Now an empty lot. On a major corridor. 80 feet tall plus mechanicals. For 37 (or 34) units. No Parking Spaces. No front or side setback. 20 feet rear setback. 1 version has 16 below-ground parking spaces (1 for every 2 units). Who would get them? Possible cause of conflict. Site 3: Now an Empty Lot. Corner property. 88 units. No Parking. 4 stories plus roof mechanicals. Front bump outs likely not included In setback at front. One version has less open space. Site 4: Now Empty Lot. Corner property. Likely on a major avenue. 4 stories. 9 or 10 units. No parking. No setback on either of front sides. 7.5’ setback on 2 other sides. Bump outs not included in setbacks. Dwarfs adjacent houses
We URGE the City Council and Planning Board to send this Overlay Proposal back to be rethought. We can and must do better, and once we get a progressive and smart proposal with the kind of cross-neighborhood citizen impact we should expect here. We will come back and proudly and strongly support it!
Who We Are Cambridge Citizens Coalition was founded by local neighborhood group leaders and is led by them along with other local civic activists and residents dedicated to smart development, thoughtful city planning, good governance policies, sustainability, housing affordability, and the preservation of our trees, green spaces, and historic architecture.
Contact us at CCCoalition1 at gmail dot com. or by mail at P.O. Box410083. Cambridge, MA 02141.
Land Acknowledgement: We acknowledge and honor that Cambridge sits on the traditional homelands of the Massachusett people. We also acknowledge their close neighbors and relatives, the Nipmuc and Wampanoag peoples.