The Overlay: New & Updated Materials for 9/3 Meetings (One Response)

With two more meetings on the 100% Affordable Housing Overlay coming up on Tuesday, 9/3, CDD has just published several new and updated documents that will be discussed by the Ordinance Committee (12pm) and the Planning Board (6:30pm)

There are 4 new documents for the Ordinance Committee’s review that may be found on CDD’s webpage for the AHO:

Overlay Zoning petition (updated with amendments voted on and suggested new text for areas of question, 25 pgs)

Supplemental Information Regarding the AHO Zoning Petition (6 pgs)

Zoning Comparison Charts and Maps (updated per amendments and with suggestions for some FAR limits, 7 pgs)

Draft Design Guidelines (updated with new statements of Purpose and Objectives & Principles, 46 pgs)

I have not had time to closely review all these new documents. One significant change is CDD’s decision to add of an FAR cap of 2.0 in the lower density zoning districts (Res A-1, A-2, B, C, C-1, O-1, BA-1, BA-3, IB-2). A uniform FAR of 2.0 will have a greater multiplier impact in base districts where the current FAR is only .5 (Res A-1, A-2, B) or .6 (Res C) than it will in districts where the current FAR is .75 (Res C-1, O-1, BA-1, BA-3, IB-2). I had suggested using a multiple of the base FAR rather than one number across the board.

The current base zoning also has a minimum lot area per dwelling unit that has been removed in all districts under the AHO. The minimum lot area and the FAR work together as limits that can trigger the need for a zoning variance for a relatively modest expansion to a house on a smaller lot.

CDD’s desire to create more uniformity across districts is evident in the AHO’s lower open space ratios as well. The biggest changes are in Res A-1 and A-2, where the current minimum open space ratio is cut from 50% to 30% in the AHO. The same 30% open space requirement would apply in Res B (now 40%), C (now 36%) and C-1 (now 30% so no change under the AHO). For every district where there is any open space requirement, 75% of it would be required to be at ground level; currently all the open space is required to be at ground level, and there is a requirement for a 15’x15′ open space area that has been eliminated under the AHO. That means the open space requirement can be met without requiring much usable space on the ground.

These charts are worth studying to try to understand exactly how AHO developments would differ from existing buildings in varying degrees by zoning district. Granted, there are larger non-conforming buildings in all districts that could not be built under today’s base zoning. With the AHO other property owners would still have to comply with the base zoning restrictions while developers of a 100% affordable project would be able to create larger buildings as-of-right. Regardless of whether this differential could be successfully challenged in court, it could fuel support for broader zoning reform, which ironically could undermine the density advantage to affordable developers the AHO seeks to create.

On the evening of 9/3 the Planning Board will discuss its draft recommendation based on their two inconclusive meetings on the Overlay (the second one was 7/9). The petition has since changed and may change further during the Ordinance Committee’s 9/3 meeting, and it is unclear whether or how subsequent amendments could affect their recommendation. Given the short window of time before the petition expires, I wonder if it would even be possible for the Planning Board to deliberate on the revised version of the petition and draft an updated recommendation in time for it to be approved and placed on a Council agenda prior to our final vote. The AHO petition expires on 9/30 but we will not meet that night because of the Jewish holiday, so the last regular Council meeting where the petition could be on our agenda would be 9/23.



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    Jan Devereux
    City Councillor
    Cambridge, MA