Cambridge Citizens Coalition
At this point, we should contemplate questions about our recent zoning experience. There are
many political questions, but let me list some questions of substance about the zoning and what
we were told or not told.
* Why did such a radical transformation of City zoning need to apply
city-wide? It should have been phased in a section at a time, rather than
one massive lump that went down in flames.
* Why were we given only one alternative to consider and not a choice of
options? Regardless of our views and hopes on the housing question, the
only choice we had was the CDD "discussion draft" which contained only one
huge option -- why no choice?
* Why did City Council meetings on the Overlay Zoning go on for weeks
without distribution of even the CDD discussion draft? Why was the Final
report on Envision not distributed until weeks later?
* Why did the Envision report not include results of the special study of
Alewife -- what had gone wrong and what needed to be done?
* Why was there no comprehensive study of transportation -- traffic and
transit, especially for the Alewife area? Why was there no discussion of
the existing peak hour traffic congestion at Alewife?
* Why was there no master plan for energy? The Envision report said the
City could do an energy study, but no one did it. Now we are in a crisis
situation at Kendall Square, with massive amounts of new development
projected in the coming decade, yet insufficient electricity capacity from
Eversource to handle the new energy loads : why did the city not make a plan
to anticipate this problem?
* What sections of the Envision report need to be done all over, in order to
provide planning guidance for the City in the future?
* Why was there no AHO alternative which could have followed the SPOA
proposals, to build on the existing housing supply in Cambridge, with
addition and subdivision of units? Would such an alternative result in
significantly lower subsidies?
* There was no limit on AHO subsidies. The sky is the limit. Advocates
presented only one calculation of a sample AHO unit with rental and subsidy
-- and the subsidy was over $380,000 per unit. How cost-efficient was any
such cost proposal? What would be the subsidy if costs of new housing rise
to $600,000 or higher per unit, as real estate trends indicate?
* Advocates could never agree on a number of new AHO units per year we would
get. Why could we get no better numbers on new AHO units that a variation
from as low as 30 to as high as 100 units a year ?
* How did an original discussion draft contain no FAR limits for AHO at all,
and then after extensive rewriting result in FARs being reinserted, but
allowing four times the FAR density for AHO? Where is the gradualism in a
quadrupling of density?
* Why did no one explain what form-based zoning is, and how it has been
advocated by Smart Growth groups, even as they have renamed it "form based
codes" rather than "form-based zoning" ? Is AHO the first step towards
getting rid of zoning?
* Why was there no comparison of the city-wide need for affordable housing
and how many units would be provided by AHO?
* Why were issues of aesthetics, bulk, and impacts on established
neighborhoods not shown in greater detail and with better visual methods?
Why was the Fire Department not consulted on the reduced setbacks?
* Why was the plan aimed only at moderate- and middle-income zoning, and why
did it totally ignore low-income households and elderly on fixed income?
* Why did the plan propose radical changes to open space, tree canopy and
* Why was no program of housing conservation proposed, to preserve the
affordable housing we now have?
* How did such a poor-quality proposal as Overlay zoning become such a focus
of housing planning for the City? Why did the $3 million Envision plan fail
so badly? How about rewriting the Envision report to make it useful as a
plan, and have the report approved (with public hearings) by the Planning
Board and/or the City Council?
* Why would anyone seek to refile either the original Overlay zoning
petition or its extensively revised version? Should we instead agree to
rewrite the whole thing and begin with the SPOA proposal to "create
smaller-sized units in existing buildings"?
These are the questions I have so far, and I am looking for answers.
Note: Stephen Kaiser is a member of CCC's Advisory Research Team