Envision Documents

Envision Housing Recommendations and Zoning Ideas; Summary by Lee Farris, 12-2-18

The Envision Housing Working Group recommended 15 new housing actions. Six of those involve zoning. The city has asked for public input on 2 housing zoning ideas based on those recommendations. It is important to look at the other housing recommendations as well, which include several for increased funding. The 15 recommendations cover market housing, affordable housing, homelessness prevention and services, and tenant rights.

Below is a summary of the three Envision zoning ideas. An idea is a sketch of zoning, and is not complete on important conditions and limits. After zoning is drafted, the city council, planning board, and public will discuss and revise the draft, then the council will vote, so these ideas are from being enacted. The three zoning ideas are economically realistic, according to market research done by consultants.

A summary of the 15 new housing actions follows the zoning ideas summary.

100% Affordable Housing Overlay Summary

- Goals: provide 100% affordable housing in parts of the city where there is little; make it easier, faster, and a little less expensive to develop 100% affordable housing. (Would not increase the number of new affordable units unless city allocated more funds.)

- Removes current prohibition in some areas of the city against multi-family housing

- Allows as-of-right approvals in order to prevent multi-year legal challenges; requires design review and community input

- Allows greater density only for 100% affordable (more height, less setbacks, open space, & parking- details not yet specified); changes vary depending on neighborhood type. Categories:

  1. A) Residential: Floor Area Ratio (FAR) increased to 2.0 (currently is 0.5 to 0.75 in most residential areas), in order to be competitive against market or commercial development; allow 3-4 floor buildings instead of 2 floors; examples shown for three different lot sizes.
  2. B) Commercial corridors: FAR increased to 2.5 of current zoning. Three categories: moderate density along parts of Mass. Ave. and some of Cambridge St; medium density along river, and parts of Cambridge St.; higher density in Central Sq. , Harvard Sq., Kendall Sq. No specifics yet on proposed heights or whether all density could be used.

Super-Inclusionary Housing Summary

-Goals: Increase both market and affordable housing in commercial districts; increase the amount of affordable housing relative to market housing or commercial development.

- Currently 20% of all new housing units are required to be inclusionary, meaning they are affordable to lower and moderate income people, in return for a 30% increase in density.

- The Envision Super-Inclusionary idea would allow increased density for greater amounts of affordable housing, ranging from 30% to 40% affordable.

- Would be voluntary if developer chooses to do it; market study says some will choose to do.

- Would still require special permit, design review, and community input as currently required.

- Three tiers:

            - Tier A: 30% affordable would have a density increase of 70% over current zoning. For example, along Cambridge St., Mass. Ave north of Harvard Sq, & Alewife. Four story buildings.

            - Tier B: 35% affordable would have a density increase of 100% over current zoning. For example, in Porter Sq. and parts of Mass. Ave. Six story buildings.

            Tier C: 40% affordable would have a density increase of 130% over current zoning. For example, in Kendall Sq., Central Sq., Harvard Sq., and along river. Twelve story buildings.

Environmental Performance Summary

Goal: Voluntary adoption of improved environmental performance in new buildings earlier than required by the current net zero action plan, via resiliency, less energy use, and less fossil fuel use.

- Offer increased density of 10% for residential buildings and 15% for commercial buildings.

- Only in business corridors and high development areas, not residential neighborhoods.

Development Outcomes of Super-Inclusionary and Environmental Performance

Current zoning will likely result in 8,100 new market and 2,500 new inclusionary housing units (total of 10,600) by 2030. (Currently there are 53,000 units.) There would be 20,800 new residents, including 780 new public school students. This includes projects that have already gotten zoning or permits.

If the three zoning ideas are added, there would be 9,000 new market and 3,400 new inclusionary housing units (total of 12,400) by 2030. There would be 24,500 new residents, including 930 new public school students. Note that most of the new units and people result from the current zoning, and the proportion of new moderate income people is higher under the new zoning ideas.

Under current zoning, there will be 30,800 new jobs. (Currently there are 124,000 jobs in Cambridge). Almost half will be commercial and half will be lab.

If the three zoning ideas are added, there will be 26,300 new jobs, because some development will shift from commercial to residential. Fewer new jobs means less new traffic and less new demand for housing.

If the three zoning ideas are added, green house gases will decline sharply, compared to not acting.

Lee Farris, lee@leefarris.net

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