Up-Zoning, Up-Pricing = Losses to Housing Affordability, Architectural Heritage, Environment, & Equity
The Cambridge Community Development Department leads a discussion on up-zoning Cambridge residential areas to add more and larger market-rate (“luxury”) housing on March 15, 2022. Their proposals seem geared not only to support a further loss of our declining mature shade tree canopy and green spaces, but also will increase property values (taxes and housing costs), make it harder to create more affordable housing, encourage more existing home tear downs, and will become a target for more national and international property investment here. CCC strongly opposes this luxury housing up-zoning but we do support modifying our existing single-family and two family housing districts to allow more units within the shells of existing structures, as laid out in the Advancing Housing Affordability which we supported.
Below is a summary of the (CDD) slide deck prepared for the Planning Board on this up-zoning proposal being discussed by the Planning Board on Tuesday March 15, 2022 and our Response to it.
SUMMARY OF MARKET-RATE HOUSING UP-ZONING ISSUES PRESENTED BY CDD
In response to the September 2021 Advancing Housing Affordability Zoning Petition modifying Cambridge residential districts to allow more units within the shells of existing structures in Single- Family Housing (SFH)and Two-Family Housing (TFH) districts, this following on the earlier Missing Middle Housing Up-Zoning Petition to allow more and larger market rate housing in Cambridge, the Ordinance Committee of City Council asked the Planning Board and CDD to proposed changes to our SFH and TFH residential districts. March 15 is the third Planning Board meeting on this subject. The Community Development Department (CDD) has a prepared slide deck that lays out what they would like to see the Planning Board decision to entail – apparently ONLY a city-wide residential up-zoning to enable more market-rate (luxury) housing city wide (the core MMH petition). Nothing they are proposing is from the moderate AHA petition that is intended to add housing without promoting tear-downs, loss of green space/shade trees, and increasing economic and environmental inequities.
CDD’s proposal seems to prefer to significantly up-zone the SFH districts (A and A-1) and TFH (B) districts of Cambridge, along the lines of our most dense city districts (C and C-1) to add more market-rate (“luxury”) housing. CDD writes that the the goal is to create a fairer city, greater housing variety, more units in some parts of the city, advance environmental goals, and encourage more multi-family housing.
RESPONSE: Such an up-zoning to add more luxury housing counters city goals to increase housing affordability, will increase property values (and housing costs) and will lead to the demolishing of existing homes, green spaces and mature shade trees. It will also open the city for more outsider investments. We further note that we only have c.3780 Single Family Homes (roughly 7.2% of our total housing corpus, so any loss will decrease our housing diversity. Moreover, cities cited by CDD are not at all comparable (Minneapolis has 70% SFH, Portland Oregon has 60% SFH – both are far larger, and are far less dense than Cambridge (the 4th-5th most dense city in the country with a population over 100,000.
Also, the city’s Envision plan does not propose ending SFH or TFH and instead suggests any new housing be done on major corridors. By encouraging more gentrification (and likely removing existing rental units) this will likely make the city less economically and racially diverse not more. City neighborhoods already have a rich diversity of housing, any change in zoning will likely hit transitional neighborhoods hardest (which now are the hardest hit with tear-downs, luxury infill housing (removing views of green spaces and trees), increasing environmental and medical inequities by encouraging more heat island impacts. We continue to support the Advancing Housing Affordability (AHA) petition that allows homeowners to add more units within existing structures, which would preserve the facades of existing homes, add rental units, and allow senior residents to age in place.
Basically, CDD is asking Planning Board to decide on 1 of 4 options (all of which are bad),and are not part of our Envision Plan. None will bring more racial equity, more housing affordability, much new housing (which should be directed toward the corridors), but will greatly impact neighborhoods, encourage tear-downs, increase property values, and diminish, green spaces/shade trees, while making city housing more expensive for everyone, and open the city up to outside investors.
Surprisingly, this CDD proposal appears to be driven more by ideology than by planning, responsible urban design values, or viable examples from elsewhere and is likely to make the housing affordability situation worse in Cambridge not better.
Note: as pointed out below (SECTION D): Minneapolis has 70% SFH (compared to 7.2% in Cambridge). Cambridge also is a much smaller denser city - already 4th or 5th most dense city in the country with a population over 100K). Minneapolis studies are showing that the ending SFH exclusive district zoning there is not leading to what they had hoped; indeed most new units are going to urban center (not the suburbs) and building rates have slowed.
Note also: Ending SFH and TFH housing districts in Cambridge is NOT one of the Envision goals for adding more housing, so they never addressed its potential consequences. Envision recommends adding greater density to the main corridors (not citywide) and also calls specifically for more green spaces for the denser parts of the city, not the likely losses that will result from more infill.
SUMMARY OF CDD PROPOSED OPTIONS
CDD OPTION ONE: decrease property size requirements (increasing the number of units allowed on the same space) so that citywide all districts are the same and resemble the city’s most dense C or C-1 districts (which allow 1,000-2,000 SF per unit). Note: C District = 1500 SF; C-1 = 1800 SF; B is 2500SF.
Response: This will impact the large majority of our residential areas. It will dramatically decrease current A-1 property size requirements some 600% (6 X) and will radically change the look/feel of these neighborhoods, decreasing green spaces/shade trees here, promote tear downs of existing homes, and increase property values as larger numbers of new expensive market rate housing displaces older homes or is added as infill. It will also decrease the already dense B-district property size requirements from 2500 SF to a proposed 1000 SF, more than doubling the number of units that can be built on these properties.
If the Planning Board selects Choice 1 not only will property values here soar but it will radically change the nature of these neighborhoods in terms of not only density and building scale, but also residential housing type. C district zoning citywide (which CDD seems to be promoting) would be a radical change for much of the already dense city as currently constituted. It will also make AHO properties more difficult to find due to increased property costs.
*According to the Cambridge zoning ordinance “Residence C districts….may allow anything from a single family house to a high rise building containing more than one hundred dwelling units. Residence C districts permit more types of land use than Residence A and B districts, including transient residential uses (such as hotels) and institutional uses (schools and hospitals).” (emphasis added). This will have a major impact on parking, infrastructure, noise.
**Current City Zoning Units Per Acre –Net Unit Range
District A-1 3.6-7.3 units
District A-2 4.8-9.7 units
District B 8.7-17.4 units
District C 12.1-24.2 units
District C-1 14.5-29.0 units
With an average of 2.2 people per Cambridge dwelling unit, this could potentially add 63.8 people to each new residence if we use C-1 district density or FAR, and well over 70 new vehicles to this street/neighborhood that would be in need of parking.
CDD OPTION TWO (another version of 1): Eliminate minimum allowable unit numbers and use instead FAR (Floor Area Ratio) basically the number of units and people allowed on each property. While CDD does not specify a maximum FAR the allowable FAR in A-1 currently is .5 (but .3 is what is most properties now have); C-1 district FAR ranges from .75 to 4.0.
Response: In Cambridge, C-1 residential districts support a .75 FAR and a limit of 29 dwelling units per acre. A .75 FAR is 2.5 (two and a half) times the size of .3 FAR (the average in most A-1 neighborhoods), a difference that would promote far larger (2.5 times) residential structures. A 2.0 FAR is nearly 7 times larger than a .3 FAR (typical of A-1 districts). The scale of these structures would dwarf those around them. Please see *(Choice 1) on what kinds of structures would be permitted here citywide. B districts have an allowable .5 FAR, while C-1 districts have an allowable .75-1.25 FAR. The latter would allow market rate structures over twice as large as current B district allowances of .5 FAR. These would dramatically increase property values and parking headaches, while decreasing green spaces, shade trees and adding to heat island impacts and both environmental and medical inequities.
We now have ONLY 3780 Single Family Homes in Cambridge – 7.2% of the total city housing stock. This plan uses market forces to demolish and replace large numbers of our existing SFH homes to transform existing neighborhoods into places comparable to the dense parts of the city, dramatically increasing property values, housing costs, gentrification, and greater inequities.
See also Option 1 * and ** on impacts.
CDD OPTION THREE: “Eliminate all limits on units per acre” city-wide but use other controls (such as still unspecified limits on building types (say single family to large multi-family structures), number of buildings on a property (three? four? More?), limit the building heights (say to four or even six stories – up from an average single family home height of 2.5 stories), limit the sizes of new structures (likely what fits once green spaces have been reduced to a minimum), and limit how much of the overall lot these buildings could cover (likely well over 50% of the yard - removing much of the existing green space and trees.
Response: This neoliberal/libertarian market force approach encourages tear downs and would likely enable the creation of much larger single-family homes (McMansions - consistent with current desires for large gyms within elite homes) and/or radically change the scale of neighborhood structures introducing much larger institutional-size luxury housing while also removing potential properties for AHO development. Where are the analyses for this kind of radical change elsewhere for a city as dense and historic as ours? See also Option 1 * and **.
CDD OPTION FOUR: Create a minimum units per acre standard (same concept as number 1, but in reverse). This option stipulates that property owners are allowed ONLY to build multi-family structures, e.g. with a certain number of units (say four or more), while also eliminating an owner’s ability to reduce the number of units on a property (changing a three- or two-family property into a one-family property for example), and disallowing enlargements (additions) to an existing property without adding additional units being included.
Response: This, more socialism-framed schema, would likely promote the addition of several tiny (expensive) houses on the same property (increasing property values significantly) and/or equally likely would limit owners and investors to only building multi-family structures on their properties (likely with very small units, but also increasing property values dramatically), and/or require for any property renovation the addition of a separate unit (a grandparent suite?) that likely would be part of the same larger home. Green spaces and shade trees would be lost, along with existing sustainable homes. None of this adds to housing affordability and will make housing even more expensive.
We urge the Planning Board not to support any of these options but to send this back for further study and also to ask them to include the more moderate zoning ideas of the AHA (Advancing Housing Affordability) petition, that modifies SFH and TFH districts by allowing owners to add more units within the shells of existing structures, with moderate changes to non- street facing sides to enable egress.
OVERVIEW OF CDD DISCUSSION ON RESIDENTIAL UP-ZONING (AND OUR RESPONSE)
ISSUES FOR THE PLANNING BOARD (PREPARED BY CDD)
(The following sections follow the order and statements of the CDD slide deck created for this meeting)
A. GOALS AND BENEFITS
1. CDD Seeks : A more fair city, not more exclusive in some areas than others RESPONSE: At this juncture the whole city (not just certain sections) is out of reach of nearly everyone due to our large-scale commercial (labs, biotech, infotech) development, outside property investments, and vast increase in our population size. Ending SFH or TFH will NOT make the city any fairer and is likely to make it less so since it will likely increase gentrification and removal of existing rental properties.
2. CDD: No reason to exclude multifamily housing, most neighborhoods already have a variety of housing types RESPONSE: Yes - as noted above “most neighborhoods already have a variety of housing types.” We only have about 3,200 SFH today (for 120,000 residents). If we remove more of our existing SFH, we will be DECREASING the variety of our housing types, not increasing it.
We have 51,882 housing units in Cambridge (2019 US Census). So our SFH comprises only 7.2% of our total housing stock -WAY below most other cities who have undertaken this change.
3. CDD: Encourage creation of more housing units – more opportunities in more parts of the city. RESPONSE: With only c.3200 SFH, and the trends now toward tearing down SFH to build larger SFH, or converting 2 family housing into 1 family, any change of this sort is NOT likely to increase units. It will also likely lead to more SFH as infill units in already dense parts of the city, removing key green spaces and trees, and increasing heat-island impacts.
4. CDD: Multifamily housing in Cambridge and other transit-served communities serves broader environmental goals. RESPONSE: When we remove critical green spaces and trees through infill, we are causing heat island impacts, along with serious environmental and medical inequities – just the opposite of our environmental goals. And large multi-family housing uses central air which is much more costly to the environment than fans or window air-conditioners that are frequently employed in SFH and TFH. And as more residents circle the neighborhoods to find increasingly rare parking the environment also suffers. 55% of the Cambridge residents who work are employed outside the city and often need their cars to get there; this is particularly true of some lower income residents. The likely increase in tear-downs also has a negative impact on the environment.
5. CDD: Statewide, regional policies encourage multifamily housing. RESPONSE: Yes. And we only have 3200 SFH for 120,000 residents. The vast VAST majority of Cambridge residents already live in multifamily housing.
B. ISSUES AND CONCERNS
1. CDD: New market-rate housing will be high-cost, wealthier households RESPONSE: Correct, and not only wealthier households but also outside property investors, many of the new wealthy owners are not going to be living here much of the year.
2. CDD: Increased property values if more development is allowed RESPONSE: Correct, and it is happening already. The increase in taxes regularly fuel much of Cambridge budget increase.
3. CDD: Preserving private open space (backyards) and tree canopy. RESPONSE: Partly true. In this very dense city our small yard green spaces (and trees) are shared by all. Indeed, often it is the neighbors who see and enjoy them as much as the owners. Asking developers to pay into a “tree fund” is not viable because this will not lessen heat island impacts, and it generally takes 50-60 years before a planted baby tree reaches a size that will furnish viable shade. Often there is too little space remaining on a property to add a new tree once the older tree is cut down.
4. CDD: Balance between accommodating families with children and higher cost of larger homes. RESPONSE: Unclear what this means. Families with children now are also frequently in multi-family units. (There are only c.3200 SFH but 120,000 residents).
5. CDD: Competition for residential on-street parking. RESPONSE: This is not uniformly a factor in many A-1 and A-2 areas– but is a key concern in our already dense B and C areas where more infill will likely make parking harder. Also, most developers want to add on-site parking because it adds c.$118,000 to the value of a new home for them.
6. CDD: Architectural character of neighborhoods, avoiding tear-downs. RESPONSE: We have no design review means or guidelines for infill. This is a major problem. Since the average height of SFH is 2.5 stories, any larger 4-6 story building (nearly double the height) is going to stick out, particularly if it does not conform with the existing street setback amount. And, yes, we do want to preclude teardowns, not only because it is terrible for the environment, but also because this sustainable housing, also contains much of our naturally occurring more affordable housing.
7. CDD: Unintended consequences. RESPONSE: AHO properties in underserved areas will become MORE difficult and expensive to acquire – defeating AHO aims. And this move would likely remove more minority residents from these communities by way of further gentrification and buy outs.
C. ZONING APPROACHES
1. CDD: Change standards in current districts, rather than a complete rezoning. RESPONSE:: This needs further study, but on a whole, addressing this on a trial basis and doing this on a district by district basis makes more sense, particularly if one is simply speaking about allowing more units within the shells of existing structures, concomitant with other districts.
2. CDD: Aim for incremental, not wholesale change. RESPONSE: For the most sustainable change in housing, professionals agree that incremental is always the best way to do this.
3. CDD: Some things can be advanced sooner (e.g., allowing more use types, housing units). RESPONSE: On use types (adding more units within existing structures) makes sense. Special permit remains an ongoing option for more than this.
4. CDD: Other things will need more study and discussion (e.g., setbacks, parking). RESPONSE: Yes. Key goals in Envision speak to neighborhood distinctiveness and both set backs and heights are an important part of this. On parking, for market rate housing, most developers and owners will seek on-site parking because it further increases the value of a home.
5. CDD: Some issues will need non-zoning strategies as well – e.g., affordability will need subsidies, &c .RESPONSE: Correct: particularly affordability. Why not address this issue first since it is such an important issue that we are facing here, and ending exclusive SFH and TFH districts will likely increase housing costs overall. Note too that unlike San Francisco, Cambridge has no rent control or larger renter legal support, so addressing this within the context of Cambridge specific circumstances will be important.
D. COMPARABLE SITUATIONS
1. CDD: MINNEAPOLIS - 2-family, 3-family homes allowed in districts formerly restricted to single-family (effective 1/1/2021) • Minneapolis Fed to analyze outcomes (dashboard). RESPONSE: Minneapolis has a much larger land mass (57.5 Square Miles versus 6.2 Square miles for Cambridge and Minneapolis SFH is 70% of their total housing – compared to 7.2% SFH for Cambridge – so how comparable are these cities. Note: Minneapolis results to date are not very positive re. impacts. Most new housing is in the urban center, relatively few new units have been added, and the numbers are now declining after an uptick. A rent control bill was recently passed here.
2. CDD: BERKELEY - Voted to remove single-family zoning in 2021;To be implemented through general plan (2-year process). RESPONSE:: Berkeley SFH comprise 49% of their housing stock versus Cambridge’s 7.2%. Berkeley is nearly 3 X larger in square miles (17.7 square miles) and has a very good local transportation system. Berkeley also has a strong rent stabilization system. So how comparable are these cities.
3. CDD: OREGON - 2019 legislation requires cities to allow non-single-family housing types, depending on size. RESPONSE: 60.3% of Portland, Oregon housing is SFH, and that is no doubt the densest city. Oregon has a lot of rural areas as well. This is very different from Cambridge. Oregon also has a statewide rent control law – that will help reduce gentrification.
4. CDD: CALIFORNIA - 2021 legislation requires cities to allow 4-unit development, division of lots (w/limitations). RESPONSE: Nothing in this bill requires affordability and equally importantly the bill requires a developer to live on site for at least three years to curtail speculative buying.
Note: California, like Oregon, also has a state rent control law that will help stop gentrification.
5. CDD: MASSACHUSETTS - 2021 “MBTA communities” legislation requires transit-served areas to permit multifamily housing of at least 15 units/acre. RESPONSE:: The zoning requirements vary on local mass transport availability, but those with subway and rapid transit need a minimum of 25% multi-family units as a percentage of overall total housing stock (REPORT). Far MORE of Cambridge housing multi-family than 25% that is required for this.
E. THINGS TO REMEMBER ABOUT ZONING
1. CDD: Fundamentally: What is prohibited where, and why? RESPONSE: Remember: Existing multi-family homes are not prohibited anywhere in Cambridge. One can add new multi-family homes by special permit anywhere in the city or subdivide one’s existing home for the same purpose by special permit. In Cambridge red-lining history was largely based on proximity to factories and the health dangers that entailed. Economic segregation has long existed however, and this will not help the situation but may well make it worse.
2. CDD: What are the values that determine what the City allows in some areas, but prohibits in others? RESPONSE: Envision Goals encourage the city to add more green spaces, shade trees, parks and other amenities into our denser neighborhoods. We can easily allow more units within existing historic homes, and by special permit can add new units via a thoughtful addition. Already a lot of infill is happening particularly in transitional areas. Most of this is for larger contemporary single-family homes – not for multi-family or rental units.
3. CDD: What should change if the status quo does not reflect the City’s values today? RESPONSE:: We should be willing to moderate commercial development (particularly labs, biotech and infotech business expansion here) because too often these entities are acquiring properties that could and should be used for housing. The city should also purchase more property for housing. And, we now have c.1500 Cambridge residents on our affordable housing list. We could easily house all of those in new high-rises on city-owned land on a main corridor.
F. ZONING PRINCIPLES (FOR DISCUSSION)
1. CDD: Allow an equitable range of housing types and unit sizes in all residential districts – i.e., no districts limited only to large, single/two-family homes. RESPONSE: Within a free-market system such as ours, without the city acquiring significant amounts of new land at considerable costs, how would we achieve this in practical terms, particularly since the investor and market interest is in larger expensive single-family homes. Already due to market rate forces expensive single-family homes are increasingly being built as infill and to replace other SFH in most every part of the city – so bringing this element of “diversity” to the city at large. As noted above, most neighborhoods already have an array of multi-family homes.
2. CDD: Allow additional housing units in restrictive zoning districts, to create more housing opportunities in those areas
RESPONSE: If only market rate (luxury) housing is being added, this will most likely increase property values, cause more gentrification, and bring fewer (not more) housing opportunities for most residents.
3. CDD: Balance the benefit of allowing more units with concerns about increases in building size, which could increase property values. RESPONSE: It is not clear that there is any benefit in adding more expensive market rate housing units here when the key city problem is housing affordability. There are only 3200 SFH in Cambridge, these are rarely sold (most people are here to stay) so very little new housing will be added. Even if one is renovating a current SFH (or transferring a TFH into a SFH) you are increasing the property values (often forcing out renters in the process), so adding larger building sizes is not the only aspect of this that would increase property values.
4. CDD: Encourage preservation of existing building stock where it’s valued RESPONSE: There are important environmental reasons to retaining our sustainable housing. The history of this housing – and its historic diversity is one of the most important things that bring uniqueness and value to our many existing neighborhoods. Encouraging reuse and preservation of existing buildings is very important. It is also one of the key ways to retain our naturally occurring more affordable housing.
5. CDD: What is necessary to enable multifamily housing in A-1, A-2, B districts? RESPONSE: Multifamily housing already exists in our A-1, A-2 and B districts. To add more we need to focus on repurposing some of these homes by allowing more units within the shells of existing larger homes, many creates in an era when much larger families were the norm. If the purpose is to add more housing, and more housing affordability, we should follow the main Envision goals and build larger and denser units along parts of Mass. Ave., particularly in the area between City Hall and MIT.
We also could provide plans, design and financial help to transform basements and sections of current homes into new housing. Three-family homes (triple deckers) also can be readily modified to add a new unit. These plans could also be made widely available and financial help provided to those in need.
1. CDD: Current zoning limited to single detached unit on a lot (A), two-family or townhouse development (B) Subdivision is constrained by lot sizes. RESPONSE: What we are currently seeing is expensive infill SFH in our denser transitional neighborhoods, along with the removal of critical green spaces and shade trees. Considering that we only have 3,780 SFH units (7.2%) of our total housing, we will not be adding much housing this way, even by subdivision, and the latter risks losing even more shade trees and green space. We have lost 20% of our tree canopy in the last 10 years due in large part to development. Since this move will not add any significant amount of housing, and will likely increase housing costs, this does not seem like a good trade-off.
2. CDD: What range of housing types should be allowed? RESPONSE: All multi-housing units are possible now citywide through special permit, or with a modest shift to add more units within the shells of existing structures, with small additions or changes to the rear of a building (as proposed in the Advancing Housing Affordability petition.
H. ALLOWING MORE UNITS PER ACRE (LOT AREA PER DWELLING UNIT)
1. CDD: More restrictive districts allow larger buildings with fewer units. RESPONSE: Incorrect. Large buildings with few units are all allowed citywide – and increasingly this is the model we are seeing as the city becomes wealthier and wealthier. SFH is THE MOST sought after housing form here. Changing zoning will not alter this situation unless other non-zoning changes are made, such as precluding the transformation of TFH into SFH or the building of large SFH infill.
2. CDD: What changes would allow the creation of more units in the same floor area? RESPONSE: The best way to do this is to allow more units within the shells of existing larger structures. At present, housing density varies across the city: A-1 (3.6-7.3 units per acre); A-2 (4.8-9.7 units per acre) B (8.7-17.4 units per acre), C (12.1-24.2 units per acre), C-1 (14.5-29.0 units per unit). If one is planning to increase housing density in A-1 or A-2 (7.3-9.7 increasing to C or C-1 levels (24.2-29.0), we have three main choices.
I. MAIN CONCEPTS: WHAT OTHER CONCEPTS MIGHT BE CONSIDERED?
1. CDD: Adjust Parking Requirements: Ongoing process looking at parking requirements more broadly, along with other parking and transportation policies and regulations. RESPONSE: There are financial reasons why parking remains strongly valued (many residents need parking to get to work – in Cambridge, and equally importantly outside of Cambridge. Developers strongly want to create parking because they can sell a unit for $180,00 more if it has parking. What we need is a city-wide and areas-wide transportation system that will take workers (and others) where they need to go, and in a manner that gets them there on time. Unlike European cities, Berkeley, NYC and many other cities we have not yet prioritized such a transportation system.
2. CDD: Adjust Dimensional Standards: Design study needed to test balance among housing, environmental, and urban design goals. RESPONSE: We need to explore this from a neighborhood basis – average heights and setbacks for existing homes, and most effective ways to add new units within the shells of existing structures. We also need a design review board that can meet on an ad hoc to evaluate new plans and provide critical insight.
3. CDD: Increase Density Near Transit: Most of Cambridge served by transit, major transit hubs mostly zoned higher-density mixed-use. Additional analysis could inform a potential rezoning. RESPONSE: Yes to focusing new/additional density on the major corridors – this is what Envision Goals advocate – and especially be parts of Mass. Ave. But this needs to be addressed on a block-by-block basis.
4. CDD: Change Affordability Requirements: Current zoning has “voluntary inclusionary” incentives; Needs careful legal and economic scrutiny; Next review of inclusionary policy in 2022. RESPONSE: Yes to addressing affordability requirement. And it is important for Cambridge to use/purchase its own properties and provide financial support for low and middle-income residents to purchase their own homes here, sharing equity when they move out.
K.EXAMPLES (COMPOSITE IMAGES) CONCERNS
RESPONSE: CDD composite photo below has an incorrect label All housing types are now allowed citywide, on their own or by special permit. Sadly up-zoning will lead to the tearing down of homes such as this. CDD’s plans (shown below) to reuse existing spaces and add more homes, is predicated on the tearing down of existing still sustainable historic homes. Again, we have only c. 3780 SFH in Cambridge, or 7.2% of our total housing stock. Either of these choices, would be environmentally problematic, not only because of the tear down but also because of the removal of green space and trees, and it would likely increase property values, providing 2 multi-million-dollar homes where 1 existed before.
In short, the CDD composite photo contains incorrect labeling. All housing types are now allowed citywide, on their own or by special permit. Sadly up-zoning will lead to the tearing down of homes such as this.
CDD’s plans (shown below) to reuse existing spaces and add more homes, is predicated on the tearing down of existing still sustainable historic homes. Again, we have only c. 3780 SFH in Cambridge, or 7.2% of our total housing stock. Either of these choices, would be environmentally problematic, not only because of the tear down but also because of the removal of green space and trees, and it would likely increase property values, providing 2 multi-million-dollar homes where 1 existed before.
Below is CDD's graph showing Ground Floor Area differences within different districts
CCC Notes on the Above Chart: A-1, A-2, and B are roughly the same. Most housing today that is out of conformity is because it is larger than the allowable setbacks. Where this is the case, decreasing required setbacks will not significantly change things. C and C-1 are considerably larger properties, and these make the most sense for large residences. But to do this in an A-1, A-2, B district would remove these properties as options for new AHO developments in these areas. Furthermore, if we are really committed to new housing in Cambridge, and housing affordability specifically, we need to commit to holding back on lab and other commercial development and focus our attention specifically on catching up by adding needed housing units on these sites instead.
L. CDD OPTIONS FOR ALLOWED USES IN RES. A-1, A-2, B
1. CDD: Allow conversions of existing buildings to multifamily housing. RESPONSE: A smart move – repurposing sustainable buildings for a new use, particularly now that people are having much smaller families. This also would allow seniors who wish to remain in their homes to bring in rent-paying tenants.
2. CDD: Allow a limited range of multifamily housing (e.g., 3-unit buildings, 6-unit buildings). RESPONSE: This is already possible through special permit, but any such addition would have the same problems of increasing property values, would be exclusively market rate (“luxury”) housing, would not adding affordability (and likely lessen it), and would promote tear downs of our existing sustainable housing, which today provides the most naturally affordable housing.
3. CDD: Allow all multifamily housing RESPONSE: From A-1 to C-1 a large majority of Cambridge housing is already multi-family. Current market trends promote the creation instead of more (larger, more expensive) single family homes – which are also less expensive for developers to build. Plus, to add more housing city wide (including A-B districts), we need to require our universities and our large employers to create housing for their students and affiliates areawide and/or require a significant percentage of their employees (30%) to work from home (wherever). This also would save salary costs.
4. CDD: Allow multifamily and group housing (same as Res. C, C-1). RESPONSE: Kendall Square is described by residents as a disaster, with only 1 subway stop and a parking nightmare. To allow C or C-1 density and design up-zoning citywide would go against key tenets of Envision but also would make it harder to build new AHO units citywide because property values would go so high. And, likely would be an open sesame for housing tear-downs and out of state investors, making the situation of housing affordability even worse. A large 4-6 story building with now set back in a neighborhood street with average 2.5 story homes set back the same distance from the street, would be a sizable change from current Envision goals, and others seeking to maintain and enhance neighborhood feel. And adding density to 14-5-29 units per acre (60 Plus people) to a street that now has an average of 3.6-7.3 units per acre (15 plus people currently) would bring major changes and would need sizable infrastructure.
M. OPTIONS FOR ALLOWED SITE DEVELOPMENT
1. CDD: Maintain standards to encourage fewer, larger buildings on a lot. RESPONSE: Yes. This encourages incremental change. Note – this can and has been altered currently through special permit
2. CDD: Change standards to allow subdivision and/or multiple building development. RESPONSE: Note –“allow subdivision” is VERY different than allowing multiple development.
4. CDD: Change standards to allow subdivision and/or multiple building development Response: Note –“allow subdivision” is VERY different than allowing multiple development.
N. OPTIONS FOR CHANGING UNITS PER ACRE RULES
1. CDD: Reduce minimum L.A./D.U. (lots per area/dwelling unit) for a consistent GFA/unit ratio across districts (e.g., calibrate to 1,000-2,000 SF of GFA per unit). RESPONSE: SEE ABOVE: SUMMARY: CDD PROPOSED OPTION 1
2. CDD: Eliminate minimum L.A./D.U., limit number of units based on GFA/FAR. RESPONSE: SEE ABOVE: SUMMARY: CDD PROPOSED OPTION 2
3. CDD: Eliminate all limits on units per acre, keep other controls (e.g., limits on building types, number of buildings, height/size, lot coverage). RESPONSE: SEE ABOVE: SUMMARY: CDD PROPOSED OPTION 3
4. CDD: Create a minimum units per acre standard (limit reductions in number of units, enlargements without adding units)
RESPONSE: SEE ABOVE: SUMMARY: CDD PROPOSED OPTION 4
O. EXISTING CONDITIONS
1. CDD: Analysis: Potential effects across the city, map areas where changes would be more likely RESPONSE: Require further study, but likely change would continue to occur in already dense transitional areas, where we are seeing more and more infill for expensive SFH with concomitant loss of green space, gardens, sunlight and shade trees.
2. CDD: Design: Look at example lots, potential building and site design outcomes. RESPONSE: Yes. Also we need design review criteria, and a design review committee.
3. CDD: Economics: Look at example lots, potential effects on development value, property value, home prices (note whether any increase in property value would potentially impact affordable housing opportunities) RESPONSE: Yes. And cost impacts (building costs, property value increases in neighborhoods), environmental costs of tear down (reuse of sustainable materials) green space loss, mature shade tree loss and loss of existing home(s – rental units). Potential alternative use for AHO or as a city property for a home ownership possibility. We also need to address current parking and new parking needs, information on transit access, as well as new infrastructure needed (clean water, plumbing, electric).
4. CDD: Planning Goals: Evaluate options according to Envision Cambridge metrics of livability, diversity & equity, economic opportunity, sustainability & resilience, community health & wellbeing, learning. RESPONSE: Yes. Note nothing in Envision proposes terminating SFH and TFH zoning, or up-zoning citywide to C or C-1 levels. Instead, we see goals about maintaining neighborhoods, green spaces, adding denser housing on corridors, and adding more housing affordability not increasing housing costs. This will lessen housing diversity, and because it will be expensive, likely will lead to more gentrification leading to decreased equity and diversity. If it leads to more housing demolitions it is decreasing sustainability and the removal of green spaces and trees likely will lead to more heat island impacts and both health and environmental inequities.
Time Allotment for Planning Board Meeting
Planning Board Discussion March 15, 2022 Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD)
Recap earlier discussions
Discuss Zoning Principles (±15 mins):
Is there agreement?
What could be changed?
Discuss Zoning Concepts (±15 mins):
Are these the right concepts to study?
Should other concepts be included?
Discuss Zoning Options (±30 mins total):
Which might be pursued?
Which should not be pursued?