City of Somerville

Agenda Item
Placed on File
Feb 13, 2020 7:00 PM

18 registered voters submitting a proposed Zoning Ordinance amendment to add a new Section 17.8 re: open space requirements for mid-rise and high-rise buildings.


Department:City ClerkSponsors:
Category:Public CommunicationPurposes:Public Ordinance


  1. 18 Voter Petition re SZO

Official Text

See attachment.

Meeting History

Aug 23, 2018 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting

Also referred to the Planning Board.

Oct 4, 2018 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Co-author of the proposed amendment, Bill Shelton, spoke about the item. He noted that the city’s SomerVision goal is to secure 125 new acres of open space. Mr. Shelton stated that the current open space requirement is related to lot size and he explained how this proposal would increase open space based on a requirement related to square footage over a certain height. He suggested that a decision on the matter should not be deferred until after the citywide zoning overhaul, under separate consideration by the Board, is completed and said that the city would be well served to build the open space fund rather than to secure open space in developments. He noted that the square footage requirements were based on calculations made by co-author Philip Parsons. Chairman Davis asked that Mr. Parsons provide the committee with a written response describing the thinking behind the ratios.

Kevin Lane, an Assistant Professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, spoke about urban areas seeing a decrease in contact with nature and greeness and noted that, although still developing, science literature speaks to a broad range of health benefits gained from increased green space. Mr. Lane submitted several articles that outline the state of the field with regard to the health benefits of open space.

Mr. Proakis spoke about SomerVision’s goals of increasing housing units, jobs and open space and said that the city does have a plan to achieve the goal of obtaining 125 new acres of open space, with one strategy being through transformative development. The city will still need to purchase space for use as open space and funds will be needed to accomplish this. Mr. Proakis spoke about the relative legal processes for different means of requiring an open space contribution. He noted that if the city were to only impose an impact fee to generate revenue, that would require approval of a Home Rule Petition. Alternatively, if an on-site open space option is given, as is the case with this proposal, then a Home Rule Petition would not be needed. Mr. Proakis stated that when all aspects are considered, the need for a holistic solution is visible. The city needs to understand the plan to achieve 125 new acres of open space and how to get there. Mr. Proakis believes that attaching this proposal to the current zoning is not the right thing to do and he submitted an opinion of the Planning Staffto that effect. He noted that permit and linkage fees are high for commercial development. Alderman White asked if this proposal could legally apply to a 40A development and Mr. Proakis will consult with the Law Department to get an answer.

The Public Hearing was opened at 7:39 PM and several members of the public spoke on the matter. Speakers were allowed 2 minutes each to make comments. Their comments are summarized here:

· There is not enough open space and this proposal provides a mechanism to increase it now rather than waiting for the zoning overhaul

· The city is up for sale and has allowed yards to be filled in, trees to be cut down, and development to continue with no thought of how it will affect our children

· The natural world is being ignored and we should be thinking of open space first, not last

· Climate change is real and it’s here

· The notion that open space is needed for well-being is attractive and a request was made that OSPCD’s plan to achieve the open space goal be made public

· More playing field space is needed and the city needs to do something about the funding issue

· The city has not kept pace with the open space goal at the same rate as other SomerVision goals

· This proposal seems practical

· The green space plan in SomerVision is useless and should be discarded

· Open space in Union Square is going to be a disaster

The Public Hearing closed at 7:58 PM and the record will be kept open until noon on October 12, 2018 by both the Land Use Committee and the Planning Board to receive additional written comments. Mr. Proakis clarified that the city is has created 15 new acres of open space since SomerVision was release but confirmed that that lags behind the other goals of the plan. He cautioned that if a plan is not crafted properly, it will result in small open spaces at developed sites. Chairman Davis requested that Mr. Proakis submit any suggested changes to the proposed amendment committee, along with a written explanation of the plan to meet the SomerVision goal of 125 new acres. Chairman Davis stated his intention to take up deliberation of this item as soon as possible and that while it may be discussed in conjunction with the citywide zoning overhaul, it will be on the Agenda for independent consideration should the committee so choose. Alderman Rossetti stated that it’s time to do something and that she is done with talking about this and is ready to vote on this item.

Nov 13, 2018 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Mr. Proakis noted that the Planning Board expressed that this strategy is important and recommend that it be included in the zoning overhaul, rather than this stand-alone amendment. He expressed concern that the requirement does not also include some benefit to the builder and could be awkward to implement in a separate amendment. He noted that the Solicitor’s office advised that, because the proposal allowed the option to provide open space onsite or make a payment in lieu into a fund to procure open space, it would be permitted and could be done without a home rule petition. The Planning Staff anticipates that, if this were passed, it seems likely that more developers would opt to make that payment in lieu and expressed that that may not be a bad outcome as it would help the city acquire larger parcels for use as open space. There was discussion about the current status of the Somervision goal of 125 new acres of open space. Mr. Proakis noted that, to date, only 17 have been created. The members expressed the urgency of moving forward on this without delay. Mr. Bartman conveyed that he’s been looking into the experiences in New York City and would like to be able to complete that research and be able to better advise the committee on the impact of the proposal. There was discussion of the timing of the proposal and the impact of a vote by the full Board to adopt this proposal either at its scheduled December 13th or January 10th meetings. Mr. Proakis confirmed that there would be no impact. Based on that, the members agreed to keep the item in committee so that Mr. Bartman can continue his research and report back at one of those future meetings.

Nov 27, 2018 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Mr. Bartman hopes to have information for the board next week.

Dec 4, 2018 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

For discussion of this item, see #206747.

Jan 15, 2019 7:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

See item #207332

Mr. Bartman informed the committee that this item, as well as item #207332, have been advertised for a public hearing on January 29, 2019. The goals of each item are the same, but the methods for getting there vary. The Planning Department will have some information ready in time for the public hearing.

Jan 29, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee Meeting

See 207460

Mar 5, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Items 5 and 6 were discussed together. The Chair stated that there are two separate proposals to address the creation of open space and that the administration has been working with the drafters of the citizen’s petition on a unified approach. Mr. Bartman will meet with Mr. Shelton when he returns from being out the country. Mr. Bartman went through a Slide presentation that included discussion of the two open space amendments. Chair Davis noted that the presentation is available at for members of the public that wish to review the detailed slides. Mr. Bartman raised a couple of questions about what share of the remaining 88.25 acres needed to reach the SomerVision goal of 125 new publicly accessible acres will be required as part of the new development and how this could be funded. Mr. Bartman discussed “dos and don’ts” of Zoning for Public Space Creation along with clarifying the difference between public space and civic space. Mr. Bartman will provide complete presentation prior to the public hearings on the two open space amendments on March 12.

Mar 12, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole
Mar 19, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee Meeting

Items 206481, 207460, 205054 and 207332 are related to the same topic and were discussed together.

See discussion under item # 207332.

Apr 2, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole
Apr 22, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Items 5-8 were discussed together. Mr. Bartman reported that the Planning Board took a vote on these items at its meeting on April 18th and voted 4-0 expressing general support of the concept behind the four proposed amendments and recommending that language be incorporated into the city wide zoning overhaul rather than as a stand-alone amendment to the current zoning. Mr. Bartman gave a slide presentation on the issue, including additional comparative analysis of the open space at the Boston Seaport district and Cambridge Research Park in Kendall Square. There was discussion regarding regulatory strategy and new development in Transform Areas and why an open space requirement would not apply to other districts beyond Transit Oriented Districts. There were discussions about empty and unwatched space at night in industrial type areas not being safe. Councilors expressed a general desire to apply any requirement to other areas in the present proposal rather than wait for neighborhood plans to be put into place in the coming years, because any construction that might happen in the intervening timeframe would then not be subject to the requirement. There was discussion regarding whether and in what circumstances a payment in lieu would be appropriate. There were discussions about height and density programs. Mr. Bartman talked about open space; useable space may not be a park. Other conversations about driveways not qualifying as open space. Mr. Bartman talked about air rights and how a property owner could buy air rights for a building. It was stated that generally, lab buildings are no higher than 9 stories to avoid challenges with floor space for internalized heavy equipment.

The chair allowed a couple of the citizen petitioners to share their thoughts about the draft and new changes made by Mr. Bartman. Mr. Shelton shared concerns about getting the ordinance in place as quickly as possible. He stated there is a risk of not doing anything and not wise to ask staff to invest more time on this matter. He also had concerns about only allowing 5% in lieu for certain locations. Ms. Antonino agreed with Mr. Shelton and not having enough public space. She suggested buildings should go higher than 5 stories and affordable housing should have access to green space. Ms. Antonino also supports roof tops to count as open space.

Apr 30, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole
Jan 30, 2020 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee Meeting
Feb 13, 2020 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting