City of Somerville

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

Requesting the adoption of a New Zoning Ordinance (9/2018 update) to supersede the current Zoning Ordinance as originally adopted on March 23, 1990.


Category:Mayor's RequestPurposes:Zoning Ordinance

Official Text

To the Honorable Board of Aldermen:


I hereby submit for your Honorable Board's consideration and approval the new version of the zoning ordinance overhaul that reflects comments and concerns expressed in the early 2018 review process. 


As with the last draft, this is a new ordinance overhauling and superseding the current zoning ordinance as adopted on March 23, 1990, and subsequently amended.


This new zoning ordinance implements over 100 goals, policies and actions spelled out in the SomerVision comprehensive plan.


My staff and I look forward to discussing this amendment with your Honorable Board.


Respectfully submitted,


Joseph A. Curtatone


Meeting History

Sep 27, 2018 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting

Also referred to the Planning Board.

Oct 16, 2018 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Mr. Proakis made some introductory remarks regarding the latest iteration of the city’s zoning overhaul proposal, noting that the presentation slides and recorded video of the meeting are available on the city’s website at <>. He then turned the presentation over to Senior Planner Dan Bartman. Mr. Bartman compared the city’s current zoning to an old computer in need of a new, upgraded operating system and highlighted areas that have changed and tasks still needing to be done. He compared the update to updating computer operating system. He spoke about what has changed and what still needs to be done. Overall, the language in the proposal before the committee (referred to as Version 3.0) has been simplified for clarity. Some comparisons were shown between earlier versions of the proposal and Version 3.0. Mr. Bartman spoke about changes involving triple deckers, carriage houses and accessory use (permitted by Special Permit) for owner occupied properties. Members questioned if the accessory use was transferrable and Mr. Bartman explained that if a property were sold to an owner not occupying the property, the Special Permit would expire. He also pointed out that the accessory use provisions would be listed on the deed to the property. Mr. Bartman stated that other communities are operating this way and he’s confident that this would withstand a legal challenge.

The presentation moved on to sustainability, parking & mobility, landscaping, ground treatments and green scores and Mr. Bartman cautioned against mandating landscaping through deed restrictions. Recent separately proposed amendments to the city’s zoning include: near highway air pollution, civic space in overlay districts, and adult use recreational cannabis businesses. There is still significant work needed to address the issue of affordable housing. Mr. Bartman told the committee that the Planning Department is monitoring Seattle’s design review process, adding that, ideally, design review would occur early in the process, not late in the game - as is the process here in Somerville. He also commented that the City of Boston's design review process is geared to the public realm.

Public comment may be forwarded to the Planning Department via the following links:

· <>

· <>

Chairman Davis informed the committee that the next meeting of the Land Use Committee would be a joint meeting with the Planning Board and would include a public hearing on the proposed zoning overhaul. The meeting will be on October 30, 2018 at the East Somerville Community School. Deliberations on the proposal will commence on a date following the public hearing and it’s expected that there will be an extended period for the public to submit comments. The BOA will have 90 days from close of the public comment period to act on the proposal. If the period lapses without final action having been taken, the item would have to be resubmitted and another public hearing would have to be held.

Mr. Bartman suggested that the recent separately proposed amendments presented need to be dealt with to figure out how they fit into the new code (Version 3.0), followed by areas of concern to the aldermen. He will prepare a list of what should be addressed first.

Alderman Rossetti commented that it might be helpful to have a day-long conference to work on this item and Alderman Niedergang mentioned items in the Legislative Matters Committee that he would like to complete and roll into the new proposed zoning, adding that he would like to see the zoning overhaul passed and then fine-tuned.

The committee meeting was recessed at 8:16 PM.

Oct 30, 2018 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Chairman Davis recommended that the public view the zoning presentation on the city's website at <> to familiarizes themselves with what is being proposed, and he encouraged people to submit any additional comments they may have.

Public Hearing:

Forty individuals spoke on the proposed new Zoning Ordinance and their comments are summarized, as follows:

· Supports most of the changes proposed,

· Not sure of the intent of not allowing homeowners to add a third dwelling unit in NR districts,

· Supports Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) but they should not take the place of actual dwelling units in NR districts as they are restrictive and will lead to displacement of tenants,

· No changes were made at the intersection of Washington and Beacon Streets and residents don't want the character of that corner to be changed. They know their neighbors and love the neighborhood and don’t want three- and four-story mixed-use buildings there, so why is this being proposed when 265 residents of that area signed a petition against it?

· Kudos to all for the work that went into the proposal and for listening and including incentives for energy efficient buildings,

· The proposal is a step in the right direction,

· Find a way to finish this process without destroying anything, since it will never be perfect,

· There is much going on in Gilman Square and the plan for that area needs to be updated, possibly by adding an overlay to connect to Central Hill. Current heights are maxed out by zoning, so consideration should be given to density,

· Special permits for adding a third unit should be granted only for owner-occupied properties,

· Add a provision that if a third unit is added, it must remain affordable for 5 years,

· ADU’s should not be allowed as an accessory to a condo,

· There is a lack of lab space in Somerville and bio-tech business is expanding, so provisions should be made to accommodate this industry,

· There is a bias against college students, who need affordable housing near mass transit, and highly educated young unmarried adults who work nearby, due to the limitation of unrelated persons occupying a dwelling unit,

· There is a bias against both absentee and resident landlords with respect to the sale of accessory dwellings,

· The “approve now amend later” mentality does not serve the public interest,

· ADU’s will be too difficult to enforce,

· The subdivision/sale issue is a blockade,

· There are equity issues, i.e., areas of East Somerville will be transformed, but areas are being conserved in West Somerville,

· Update the zoning platform now and adjust things later,

· More density is needed at transit hubs,

· Parking should be reduced,

· The proposal used floor area ration (FAR) to set the number of units,

· The proposal doesn't do enough to build the needed density,

· There is a gap between affordable and market units,

· Square footage lot measurement would provide more flexibility for owners to build on their lots,

· The existing code is simple - the proposed code is not, as it has 5 building types, each having 14 requirements,

· It’s difficult to understand the rationale behind this proposal,

· The Zoning Department becomes the boss of telling owners what can be done to their properties,

· Supportive of more affordable housing and ADU’s,

· Supportive of taller mixed-use buildings along the Beacon Street corridor,

· Change is needed, and density is the way to allow people to afford to stay in Somerville,

· A glide path should be developed to assist with the immense transition predicted for the Innerbelt area,

· ADU’s are not a good idea,

· There are over 2,000 2-family homes in RB districts now, but with the imposed restrictions, additional units won’t be built,

· Make sure that the inclusionary requirements are enforced,

· Create an affordable housing overlay district,

· Luke - will submit comments via email

· Residents and commercial entities on the Somerville side of White Street are all in favor of the change to MR-4 (Mid-Rise 4),

· The proposal will allow a developer to create new gateway to Union Square,

· This will allow more units to be created on the same footprint,

· Design guidelines are still too restrictive and should include a mechanism to waive the guidelines,

· The design review process should be refined,

· The only way to keep people living in the city is to keep rents affordable, so there should be incentives for benevolent landlords,

· The current zoning is cumbersome and out of date,

· Examine the planned GLX sub-station planned near the Medford Street bridge to ensure that it isn’t an eyesore to the neighborhood,

· Downzoning is inconsistent with affordable housing,

· Limiting ADU’s to owner-occupied properties is discriminatory,

· The city is under development pressure and at the same time, makes it difficult for developers. The rate of change going on in the city is going to be catastrophic and the changes proposed will accelerate the changes to the city,

· Somerville has the greatest shortage of jobs per population,

· Not sure that the proposed new zoning will deliver SomerVision’s goal of 125 new acres of open space,

· The proposal for the D-2 block in Union Square is the worst seen in 30 years - there should be open space there, but a garage is planned, instead, and the High-Rise district completely surrounds a residential area,

· This proposal is just a prescription for builders to build more,

· Do not pass this new zoning,

· The city is losing middle school aged children and the people who advocate for density don't see the benefits of raising children, e.g., seeing others as neighbors and friends. The new zoning doesn't encourage this type of family living and its passage would accelerate the change to the city,

· Somerville is a city of elegance,

· Would like the corner lot at Tufts and Glen Streets to be a park.

The Public Hearing was closed at 7:33 p.m.

Several dates for closing the comment period were discussed by both the Planning Board and the Land Use Committee, considering their meeting schedules and recommendation timelines, i.e., the BOA will have 90 days from the close of the comment period to act on the proposal.

Alderman Niedergang stated that he doesn't see a problem if the work on this proposal doesn't get done in time and another round of discussions is necessary. He doesn't want to be rushed through this process. Alderman McLaughlin advocated for more time and asked that the committee try to allow the maximum amount to time for deliberation. Mr. Proakis would like to leave enough time in case another public hearing becomes necessary. Alderman Scott commented that deliberations can’t commence until the comment period closes.

The Planning Board will close the period to receive written comments on Monday, November 26, 2018 at the close of business.

The Land Use Committee will close the period to receive written comments on December 13, 2018 at the close of business.

The meeting was recessed at 7:59 p.m.

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

The Chair is looking forward to dedicating some time to the overhaul on November 27 and December 4th. Ald. Ballantyne is going through the binder and has concerns about the degree to which the proposal influences design. Ald. Niedergang questioned the balance of triple decker’s allowed in residential zone. He would like the planning staff’s response about the triple deckers and the accessory units. Ald. Mbah requested a single document to identify the changes in the binder. The chair suggested the planning staff collapse the slide deck to identify the changes in the draft binder. Mr. Bartman suggests the committee let the planning staff know in advance what questions they may have so they can come to the meeting with the information. Mr. Bartman provided a brief presentation and said there are still some things that need to be addressed: tree protection, air quality, adult marijuana, affordable housing, neighborhood meetings, design review in Union Square, slope protection, and regulation of signs. Public comment period is still open. The slides shared by Mr. Bartman will be available on the planning website. Or you can go to

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

Ms. Lewis provided an update to the Board and was welcomed in her new role as planning director. She went over an answer to the map density and whether the zoning map seemed racist. She went on to explain how the map got to this point. It started from SomerVision. SomerVision is a balancing act and the community needs and desires affordable housing and increased mobility all within a small city. The city needs to be more creative. About 25% is dedicated to roadways and should the city repurpose the asphalt. The planning staff will talk a lot about open space on December 4th. The neighborhood plans are analyzing the culture of the neighborhood with the physical character of the neighborhood. There are eight different place types that will not be in every neighborhood. The place types are: 1) Regional Center, 2) Urban Center, 3) Local Center, 4) Neighborhood Center, 5) Main Street, 6) Suburban Center, 7) Town Center and 8) Crossroads. Examples were given for each place type. This information is available on the documentation handed out at the start of the meeting. Ms. Lewis talked about the proposed districts such as: Assembly Square and Sullivan Station, Union Square Station. There are some commonalities of high density districts with transformational areas of SomerVision. The areas were generally industrial or vacant land. Mid density areas are usually closer to the neighborhoods. The chair asked about the community process. There were more conversations about racial and social economic balance. Questions were asked if there is a Ball Square neighborhood plan on the list. Question was asked what triggers a neighborhood plan. It was stated that under-utilization of land, land that could be at a higher and better use, will get the neighborhood plan. The plan is completed is based upon staff capacity. Other areas may need to be re-prioritized. Ald. Scott’s constituents feel stepped on and were not involved in the plan for Ward 2. Comments from the aldermen state it’s clear there is a need for a more neighborhood plans and may need additional staff to get there. Ald. McLaughlin stated there should be fair and equity across all of Somerville and should not put 5 story buildings in one area. He talked about a fear of displacing local businesses. Ald. Hirsch asked about the 130 acres and how we will get there.

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

The chair stated that items 3 and 4 would be considered together.

Slides presented at this meeting are available on the city’s website. Mr. Bartman provided an executive summary for this discussion. He talked about the present road map for 125 acres and review zoning petition. There were discussions about launching SomerVision 2040. Twenty acres has been created since 2010. It was stated that it will cost $550M to create 88.25 acres. This cost is too much for the city to handle alone. The city is forming a taskforce on this matter with 6-8 city staff and the BOA to appoint members. Topics discussed were public open space as a percent of land area and to inform open space per 1,000 residents 1.75 acres per 1,000 residents and rates. Somerville was compared to Allston, Brighton and South Boston in the slides. Somerville has 1,945 acres. SomerVision recommended 3.3 acres per 1,000 residents. Planning for public space, for six weeks now, Ms. Woods has been leading a team working with MAPC. Mr. Bartman stated that residents should be no more than ¼ mile from a park. This is a balancing act; neither the city nor developer can absorb the cost to develop enough open space. He said there are approximately 230 people on the community garden wait list. There are 3,000 requested hours not permitted on the city’s athletic field. There were discussions about creating open space in Gilman Square, Winter Hill, Union Square and Somerville Junction. There were be 193 acres available if remove recently permitted projects in Boynton Yards, Union East and Grand Junction, Brick Bottom, Inner Belt and Assembly Square. The estimated cost to create open space today, acquisition $4M, design and construction would be $2.2 M for a total of $6.2 M. The costs continue to increase every month. The total CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) would cost $1.13 Billion. There are ongoing maintenance increase costs for existing public space. Mr. Bartman did not recommend adopting the proposal as is now. He will work over the break to work on a proposed revision to the proposal. There are significant enough changes and will need to re-advertise for a public hearing. The first Land Use meeting in the New Year will have the edited zoning based on this proposal as a baseline with justifiable challenges. In conclusion, Mr. Bartman stated that SomerVision 2040 will improve the plan for the city. Ald. Scott suggested approve now and amend later. December 13 was the written comment closure. The 90 day clock starts when the comment period closes and would be January 12th. The first BOA meeting will be January 10th. The committee asked if they recommend and finish up between now and the proposed meeting, is there a way to advertise after December 20. The President of the BOA will assign new chairs for the committees after the first of the New Year and will work with the city clerk, city solicitor and Mr. Proakis on dates for the next Land Use meeting. Formal submission to BOA on January 10, place ad Friday after board meeting. It is the city solicitor’s opinion the proposed revised text and maps must be available at the time of publication. Ald. Rossetti asked about the use of green roofs for green, open space. It was stated that some cities allow green roofs to count but Somerville has prioritized actual green ground space. Ald. Rossetti followed up with a question on whether 50% could be green roofs to help meet Somerville’s requirements. Ald. Niedergang asked if the green roofs would be accessible for the public. Mr. Bartman will take a look at green roofs to get to the 88.25 acres. The open space taskforce will reach out to the petitioners. The planning staff is not sure how the task force will function yet. Ald. Rossetti suggested that one or two of the petitioners be encouraged to sit at the table for the task force.

Ald. Rossetti motioned and it was accepted to encourage one or two authors of the citizens petition be considered to be on the open space task force. Ald. Clingan moved to amend the motion that the BOA president appoint one of the members be from the community. Ald. Clingan withdrew his amendment.

Ald. Hirsch talked about parks/playgrounds and neighborhoods that are underserved. Benefit to have more people in the park for people watching, kids playing basketball creates a lot of energy. Create open space that has multiple purposes, creating connectivity and cut through pedestrian paths to communities. Mr. Proakis talked about 17 Somerville Ave open space and this property needs a title search and appraisal. He hopes to have the information for the next meeting. Ald. Niedergang sponsored Mr. Shelton, one of the authors, to speak at tonight’s meeting. Mr. Shelton stated he trusts that Mr. Bartman will make their petition better. The first petition was done 11 months ago and wanted to get a place holder not to miss any opportunities. Ald. Niedergang talked about Inner Belt being zoned for industrial development and can be a big part of getting the opn space goal. Ald. Ballantyne supports the idea of looking at physical conditions (25 parks over the next 10 years) and the task force. It was stated that the City of Somerville does not budget enough funds to maintenance. She suggested having a neighborhood group to help maintain the parks. Additionally, a sustainability goal for Route 16, high water table flooding all the time. She also supports blocking all the streets that have hills and have sledding parties and other snow activities. It’s creative way to use the streets on weekend as temporary open spaces. Ald. Clingan asked how much open space is being used on any given day. He talked about using the space under 93 like the South End does to have neighborhood activities. Ald. Davis suggested to Mr. Bartman to look at building heights and green roofs. To also keep what we have in the proposal. There is also a good amount of work that is being outsourced outside of municipal employees relating to parks. There are some gaps for parks where communities are underserved.

Ald. White motioned and it was accepted to request the administration revise the proposal to specifically include some of the suggestions from the presentation, suggestions made at this meeting and to advertise if appropriate. This motion also includes to work with the president on dates for the public hearing and to move forward with the public hearing as soon as allowed.

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

Chairman Davis informed the members that he is planning to hold ten (regular) Land Use Committee meetings to deal with this item and, if the need arises, will schedule Committee of the Whole meetings accordingly. As this topic is important, Chairman Davis requested that all amendments be channeled through Mr. Bartman, adding that if the document’s language is worked on with Mr. Bartman, it would speed up the process. Chairman Davis explained that he does not intend to have topical discussions on the proposal, therefore he asked that amendments be put forth as soon as possible. He explained that another public hearing will be necessary since the current time frame expires on March 19th and because there will most likely be substantive changes made to the document. The plan is to advertise the item for an April public hearing but meeting that timeframe will require that the “big ticket” language revisions are completed. Mr. Bartman advised the committee that a document showing any major changes must be ready for advertising on March 13th or 20th and Alderman Scott suggested that all amendments be submitted by January 31st.

Alderman Ballantyne asked about setting up a process whereby all aldermen would be able to review any amendments submitted. Mr. Bartman replied that as his focus will be to provide guidance, he feels that when an amendment is sent to him, he should format it before making it available to the aldermen. He asked that aldermen send him their initial language for an amendment, as well as the amendment’s objective, and then work with him on it. Once amendments are formatted, he will circulate them among the aldermen and Chairman Davis will add them to the committee meeting agendas. Alderman Niedergang commented that he has many amendments that he will submit and he asked that they be circulated in time for discussion by the committee.

Mr. Bartman gave a presentation that summarized comments received from the public and noted that of all the proposed revisions put forth, this one received the least amount of public comment. Some of the areas of concern dealt with the zoning map, residential districts, building types, carriage houses, uses, development standards, parking, overlay districts, open space, affordable housing and permitting.

The Planning Department has reviewed the various building types with the SFD to secure their input with regard to fire safety. Alderman Niedergang inquired about up-zoning in Davis Square and Mr. Bartman responded by saying that since nothing has yet to be planned, it’s not reflected in the zoning proposal. Chairman Davis commented that he would like to incorporate some up-zoning into the proposal. Alderman Niedergang pointed out that it would be helpful to know what can be built in UR districts and Mr. Bartman will provide some information. A distinction was made regarding the term “triple decker” wherein a triple decker is defined as having a flat roof and stacked units. A house that does not meet those criteria and has 3 living units is called a (3 family) home. The zoning code treats these buildings differently.

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

Mr. Bartman shared the update that he will be meeting with Board members individually to draft amendment language. He is also making edits and corrections based on public feedback and Version 4 is forthcoming. The target date is May 30th, with a backup date in July.

Alderman Hirsch noted that she would like to have a deeper conversation about affordable housing, and asked how the Board should organize to address different pieces of this. Chair Davis asked that Aldermen submit a list of what they are working on through Mr. Bartman.

Alderman White inquired about whether it's possible to specify requirements for a third unit in the new neighborhood districts. Mr. Bartman noted that they are building a database to determine numbers and types of buildings and lot sizes that would be affected by various changes.

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

Mr. Bartman gave a presentation that included a list of potential meeting dates between now and July 11. The March 12 meeting will have four joint hearings: Open space, Tree protection and Zoning Overhaul. Mr. Bartman would like to bring in a parking consultant on April 22.

Councilor Hirsch asked about NR and UR districts and how this will affect the zoning map. Mr. Bartman stated that any amendment to the map needs to go to the GIS consultant very soon so that version 4 in April will show all the changes. Councilor Niedergang suggested having a couple of meetings on the proposed Zoning Ordinance in June and cut back on the Budget Hearing meetings. The revised zoning ordinance will be provided in red-line form with changes in version 4 tracked against version 3. There were discussions on several points in the presentation, including NR setbacks and examples of distances in other communities outside of Massachusetts, the concept of accessory apartments, and the use of carriage houses. Chair Davis noted that Mr. Bartman’s presentation can be found at for any members of the public that would like to review the detailed slides.

Councilors Ewen-Campen, Scott, and Niedergang each introduced potential proposals for amendments to the proposed zoning overhaul. Councilor Niedergang sponsored Mr. Berman to speak on certain proposals that are specific to affordable housing and that were primarily drafted by Mr. Berman. The members asked questions of Mr. Berman as well as Mr. Bartman. Councilor Niedergang noted that he already has some changes that he plans to make to the proposals at a future date. Chair Davis agreed to a request by Councilors Niedergang and White that the written submissions from Councilors Ewen-Campen, Scott, and Niedergang be attached to the record so that they can be viewed by the public.

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

Mr. Bartman noted that the proposal that is the subject of this public hearing is the same document that was presented in September of 2018 and was the subject of a prior public hearing. The Planning staff intends to submit a revised version of the proposal, updated based on proposed changes from the Committee as well as comments from the public and Planning Staff recommendations, sometime in April, after which a public hearing for that new revision will be scheduled. Speakers were given two minutes for comments. This item was closed for written comment.

Mar 19, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee Meeting
Apr 2, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Chairman Davis began by introducing the process for the zoning overhaul discussions and noted that the plan for this meeting is to discuss the NR and UR zones and nonconforming structures. The upcoming schedule includes meetings on open space (April 22), parking (April 30) and affordable housing (May 14), with the potential for additional topics to follow. Mr. Bartman clarified that the parking conversation should involve the parking consultant and they will need to be notified in advance; other topics can be discussed when meeting time permits. Councilor Niedergang mentioned that there are many amendments that have been proposed that will need to be discussed as well. Councilor Hirsch expressed a desire to begin the conversation on affordable housing as soon as possible.

Mr. Bartman shared slides, which can be found at, designed to present a number of questions for consideration by the Council. The goal is to consider each building type and make determinations accordingly. The first question focused on the number of dwelling units allowable, and the determination of this is based on both the existing SZO and the lot area - both criteria must be met. 10% of the RB district can have 3 units, because of these two density metrics, allowing for an additional 842 units. In the RA district, an additional 317 dwelling units could be possible. Councilor Scott confirmed that, by right, this means that 3% of the city's housing could be added. This is the floor, based on where the ordinance stands today.

Councilor Ewen-Campen asked if 6-10% of the buildings having room for expansion is the norm. Mr. Bartman does not have readily available statistics on density. Mr. Bartman also noted that people are regularly turned away because they do not meet both criteria for adding additional dwelling units. Councilor Hirsch noted that her preference is to roll back the by right and require an affordable housing contribution for ANY new units added. President Ballantyne also added that it is important to consider our housing goals in the context of our population goals and sometimes adding a unit is not the way to add more liveable space. Councilor Niedergang responded that there are amendments to prevent making apartments smaller, such that they would be unable to house families. Councilor White commented on the number of single-family buildings, which is among the lowest of the surrounding communities, and wondered if those seeking to add a new unit are generally property owners or developers. Mr. Bartman anecdotally sees more homeowners, but this could also be because the developers are working through other avenues.

The detached house is the most prevalent building type in the NR districts. The majority of these have 2 units. The first question posed was whether the detached houses should be permitted to have a third unit at all. There was no noted opposition to this allowance. Councilor Niedergang shared his thoughts that there should be some number of additional units, but he is unsure what that number is. We should start small and consider increasing it if it works.

The subsequent questions were: If a third unit is permitted, should it be a deed restricted affordable dwelling unit (ADU)?; If an ADU is permitted as a third unit, what price should it be set at and should it be subject to the affordable housing lottery? Councilor White clarified that the lot area metric is no longer relevant and Mr. Bartman concurred that the size of the building is the relevant metric. Councilor Scott wondered if this would incentivize micro-units. Councilor Niedergang introduced a proposal from he and Mr. Berman that would make a third unit deed restricted, targeted at middle-income people. He added that we should be judicious about what we allow, while being willing to make changes to expand if things are working. Councilor Hirsch wondered how these affordable housing opportunities might include families with children. Councilor Ewen-Campen noted that the community seems to want to conserve development in the NR districts, with the exception of building affordable housing. He favors allowing a third unit across the NR, with those units deed restricted but not subject to a lottery. Councilor Clingan agreed with this stance, with the exception of condo conversions, which should be in a lottery.

President Ballantyne asked for more details on the calculations behind the rent numbers. The numbers in the presentation were arrived at using the AMI for the region. Per Councilor Ewen-Campen's request, Mr. Bartman is researching whether the rents cover the costs of creating a unit. Councilor Hirsch noted that subsidizing the costs of creating these affordable housing units is more efficient than constructing other new ADUs. Chairman Davis noted that there doesn't seem to be much of a downside to adding new deed restricted affordable units. A lottery may be less likely to encourage this happening in reality. He is also supportive of an exception in the case of condo conversions. Mr. Bartman asked whether there would be limitations to who these ADUs could be reserved for, as the people on the wait-list are deserving as well. Councilor Hirsch noted that regardless of the decision, there should be a way to monitor who gets the units, to understand which demographics are benefiting. Councilor Ewen-Campen expressed concern that added requirements would discourage people from taking these steps.

Mr. Bartman continued by asking the same questions for semi-detached houses, which are a much more rare building type. The previously noted comments and concerns expressed apply to this building type as well. For triple deckers (which may have more or fewer than three units, but are generally identified by a flat roof), Mr. Bartman presented a number of circumstances in which this building type might be allowed. Regardless of the circumstances, they still must be on a correctly sized lot. Councilor Ewen-Campen shared that he has heard concerns about the direct abutters, and this could cause conflict. For this reason, side-by-side adjacency would be the situation where it seems to make the most sense to allow. President Ballantyne expressed a struggle with limiting design and that size, rather than type, should be the determining factor. Councilor Clingan wondered whether triple deckers should only be allowed in MR districts. Councilor Niedergang agreed that shadow issues are a reasonable concern, and triple deckers should be allowed only when adjacent to another or in a UR or MR district. Councilor Scott added that this building type does allow for larger units, and allowing them on lots abutting triple deckers on any side would better encourage their spread throughout the city. Councilor White shared a concern that two-family houses would be turned into three-family houses without an affordable unit offered. Councilor Scott clarified that he did not intend to waive the deed restricted requirement for the third unit. Councilor Mbah confirmed that the third unit could be deed restricted in perpetuity. Mr. Bartman noted that there could be language to that end, but it may not be legally feasible.

For cottages, which are generally 1 unit, the questions would reference a second (rather than third in the previous cases) unit. For duplexes, which may be side-by-side or stacked, the questions would refer to a third unit. There was no discussion on these building types. For carriage houses, the question would be whether existing garages and other outbuildings could be converted to a carriage house, though most are nonconforming to the intended dimensional standards for this building type. There may be restrictions on access for emergency services, which is a critical consideration. A newly created carriage house would consume some backyard area. Chairman Davis noted that a way to address carriage houses could be through restrictions on allowable lot coverage. Councilor Ewen-Campen shared that relative to converting current structures, assuming there is sufficient access for public safety and the deed restrictions applied, he is highly supportive of this and it represents a significant area of opportunity. Councilor Scott shared concerns about setbacks and Mr. Bartman noted that the separation distance requirement has been modified to apply to all structures and is 10 feet. Councilor Clingan expressed that he doesn't think new carriage houses should be built. Councilor Niedergang added that his and Mr. Berman's proposal allows for only three units total; residential use would only be permitted if a unit already existed that could be adapted or replaced to make it suitable for use; it could be no closer than 8 feet from any property line and no higher than 16 feet; the unit would be affordable; and the unit would be limited to owner-occupants. Councilor White added that these restrictions assuage many of his concerns, but wondered if there were any limitations on lot coverage. Councilor Niedergang replied that he had not included that but would look into limiting the footprint.

Mr. Bartman suggested adding language to protect existing dwelling units of each building type from being cannibalized to add additional units if permitted. This could be that the modification of any existing building that increases the number of dwelling units may not result in a decrease to the floor area or bedroom count of any existing dwelling units. Councilor White added that further protective language should include not reducing the square footage of the existing bedrooms. Councilor Ewen-Campen voiced the alternative view that the loss of a bedroom could be necessary in order to accommodate family needs such as aging in place. Councilor White noted that a special permit could be the mechanism to allow this.

Mr. Bartman then shared an analysis of the actual distance existing buildings in the RA and RB districts are setback from side lot lines. The majority of the city (61.91%) is within two feet of the lot line. The last question Mr. Bartman addressed is whether MGL 40A, Section 6 permits a municipality to be stricter when it comes to modifying nonconforming properties. The city is allowed to be more strict and does have such provisions in this proposal. An updated map is underway, and an estimate on making the changes discussed is within 3-6 weeks.

Apr 22, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole
Apr 30, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

The item is the third revision of the proposed overhaul, with a fourth version coming soon, to be followed by a public hearing. Mr. Bartman shared a presentation (which can be found at with an updated timeline and asked all of the Ward Councilors to provide updates to their respective ward maps by May 15th.

Mr. Bartman reviewed the proposed policy and amendments, beginning with an overview of transit oriented development, which typically has limited parking and policies to induce transit ridership and reduce dependence on automobiles. The cost to build parking is handed down to the tenant, regardless of whether it is commercial or residential. Parking policies can help achieve the SomerVision goals, and should be used to do so.

Matthew Smith, Parking Consultant with Nelson Nygaard, shared a history of the Residential Parking Permit Program in Somerville. The current structure leads to a scarcity of on-street parking. Households in multi-unit buildings are less likely to have a permit, so those areas with few multi-unit buildings have the highest permit densities (West Somerville, Ball Square, Winter Hill/Magoun Square). Similarly, future GLX areas have the highest existing parking permit densities. Councilor White requested that this be compared to registered vehicles per acre. He also confirmed that households are defined as each unit. Councilors Rossetti and Hirsch expressed concerns with using the census data, which does not properly account for unrelated adults in a household, in the calculations. Councilor Scott also noted that only 15% of Somerville residents work in Somerville, so there is often a need for even related households to have multiple parking permits in order to drive separately to their respective jobs.

To reduce automobile dependence, the policies must extend further than parking, including availability of goods and services. Un-bundling parking (i.e. charging separately for a parking space rather than including it within the rent) may also disincentivize automobile use. Councilor White shared a concern that we want to be cautious not to overburden workers who don't have jobs near transit and will need a vehicle regardless of where they live, as well as those in affordable housing or with mobility needs.

President Ballantyne asked for clarification on the example of Maxwell's Green and Mr. Proakis shared that most vehicles were parking in the garage, but many got a parking permit as well, to allow them to park on the street throughout the City. A small amount (approximately 10-15) only had a parking permit, and chose not to park in the garage. Councilor Clingan noted that if we are incentivizing residents to move toward using transit more than they currently are, the trains need to be in a position to handle this additional traffic, or we risk pushing people back to cars.

Mr. Smith cited several case studies to highlight various ways to restrict residential parking permits - by zones, households, for buildings with off-street parking, or utilizing tiered pricing. Mr. Bartman also clarified that these policies are designed to affect new residents, and they would not necessarily be imposed on current residents. Councilor Scott expressed that there is a struggle between adding density and the technological implications of restricting parking. Mr. Proakis shared that technology should not prevent us from choosing the right policy solution. Councilor Rossetti asked for more information about guest permits. Mr. Smith shared that an option might be to move to requiring a registration and a fee per vehicle, rather than a simple placard that can be used in any vehicle.

President Ballantyne requested that the administration provide a timeline for when changes could be made within Traffic & Parking and whether a retroactive implementation could be made as well.

Councilor Niedergang clarified that the recommendations for adapting existing buildings would not be part of this specific overhaul, but are things that could be considered and phased in at a later time. Councilor Scott noted that there has been no mention of business parking permits and wondered whether that would be an item for consideration. Mr. Bartman confirmed that this has not yet been addressed, but is on the agenda for the Parking Working Group. Further, there is nothing within the Zoning Ordinance that regulates street parking, so this would be a companion policy, and another commercial companion policy could be introduced and considered separately.

Mr. Bartman continued to discuss minimum parking requirements, and noted issues with the literature on parking, which is often related to vastly different land-use areas. Some recommendations that make more sense for Somerville include: removing minimum requirements for off-street parking; charging the right price for on-street parking; and reinvesting parking revenues to improve transportation and parking. Research shows that topography matters little with walking to transit for work, but weather is a significant factor.

Mr. Bartman detailed the transit areas on the map and noted that there is an exemption for small businesses (under 5,000 sq.ft.) in the proposed ordinance. Councilor Hirsch noted that parking lots often create dangerous situations. Councilor Rossetti clarified that there is no accessory parking allowed in overlay districts, and all parking will be on a fee basis. Councilor Niedergang asked for information depicted visually on where the various minimum parking requirements exist. Councilor Scott asked whether there was a waiver process and Mr. Bartman noted that there is a proposed special permit, which would allow for a waiver of either a minimum or maximum depending on circumstances.

The administration does not support the amendment reducing the GLX transit areas to 1/4 mile. The time period for new development to open in conjunction with the GLX is already underway, and granting parking permits would undermine the goals to reduce traffic and parking. The Planning Board should review all proposed parking through the site plan approval process. CoucilorWhite suggested that this be specifically included in the procedures for site plan approval, rather than accepted as a norm.

Mr. Bartman shared that district parking maximums generally don't account for varied use over the course of a day. The Urban Land Institute's Shared Parking Model offers formulas used to help calibrate this usage to local conditions. This was utilized to calculate demand for neighborhood planning.

Chairman Davis asked what Mr. Bartman needs from the Committee in order to finalize the next version. Mr. Bartman noted that he will move forward with the restrictions on parking permits in transit areas if there is support for such. Councilor Niedergang noted that he would withdraw the amendment if there is a promise to eliminate on-street parking in transit-oriented districts. He asked further for more information about what the 5,000 sq.ft. commercial exemption looks like in practice. Councilors Ewen-Campen and Scott expressed an eagerness to move forward with this and Councilor Hirsch voiced her support for eliminating all minimum requirements. Councilor Rossetti supported keeping the restrictions to the 1/2 mile of the TOD areas. Chairman Davis shared an inclination to agree with Councilor Hirsch, as we are in effect forcing parking onto homeowners, but noted a superseding desire to pass the updated zoning ordinance first, before exploring further policies.

May 14, 2019 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee of the Whole

Chairman Davis noted that a fourth draft, once submitted to the Council, would require a Planning Board recommendation and a public hearing, which will affect the schedule for when it can come before the Council for a vote. There may be one fewer Committee meeting than the schedule currently states in order to allow for Mr. Bartman to spend more time writing the ordinance's revisions.

Councilor Hirsch shared that she will be working with the Office of Housing Stability to identify how to administer a program to manage any new units that are added as accessory dwelling units. The issues are not specific to zoning, but are important policy considerations. She will also recuse herself from further discussions on accessory dwelling units, as her property has a unit which falls under the criteria to be considered as an additional unit with the pending updates.

Mr. Bartman shared the list of proposed amendments and hos recommendations for separating them into what can be done now and what should be addressed later. The goal is to expand the scope of the financial feasibility analysis that is currently underway to address the questions that are highlighted in red per the attached slides. Councilor Hirsch emphasized that she does not feel like a financial analysis is needed to decide on lowering the threshold of Table 12.1 (a) to 4 units. Mr. Bartman responded that there are loan programs that are offered that might disqualify small development if the requirements are changed. Access to financing would have a big impact on the small business overlay district. Councilors Niedergang, McLaughlin, and Ballantyne agreed with the concern, but expressed an inclination that waiting to get it right may be the better approach. Councilor Rossetti confirmed that the financial analysis is expected by late summer.

The first proposed amendment to address now is to apply affordable housing requirements to "substantial renovations". The goal is to target construction of all new buildings, including reconstructed buildings that were demolished. It would also cover modifications of an existing building that changes the existing unit count. Zoning doesn't have jurisdiction over the interior of buildings, so cannot address activity that only concerns the inside; but if unit count is altered, it touches the land use and can then be regulated. Councilor Ewen-Campen wondered if this would incentivize modifying only the interior, and Mr. Bartman shared that this language would at least cover the possibility that every building that qualifies for additional units would not simply add units and displace tenants.

The second proposed amendment relates to lottery preference criteria. The administration's recommendation is that this is better held outside of the zoning ordinance in the procedures of the department, where it can adapt to changing needs. Mr. Proakis added that OSPCD is working on how to better manage wait lists. Chairman Davis noted that removing section 12.1.7.f would remove the guidance from the Council. The administration would still be able to administer as they see fit, even with language in the ordinance. Mr. Bartman clarified that the preferences have changed and may change again, and removing them would allow them to be adapted more easily based on need. Councilor Hirsch agreed that flexibility is important, and she would also like to see a preference for children in the Somerville Public Schools. Councilor Rossetti wondered whether we should include language in the ordinance in order to protect against the whims of a future administration. Councilor Mbah stated that he thinks it is necessary to include this language. Councilors Hirsch and McLaughlin noted that the Office of Housing Stability could be responsible for presenting the criteria for consideration by the Council, and in order to move this forward, and with the promise that it is a very high priority for the department, it would make sense to remove it now.

The next proposed amendment is to delete the requirement for off-site compliance overall, but to require it in larger buildings in Master Plan Overlay Districts. This would help ensure that affordable housing is not concentrated in one area of the City. Chairman Davis wondered how this would be calculated. Mr. Bartman noted that the Overlay Districts are in the process of being re-written, and the specifics will be explored further. Councilor Clingan confirmed that the language about the affordable units being equal would not be affected. Councilor Hirsch added that it could also create an opportunity to address living requirements to support family-friendly housing and outdoor space.

The following amendment requires in-lieu payments to be made to the Somerville Housing Trust Fund, or to the City for transfer to a Massachusetts Non-Profit Housing Finance Corporation. Chairman Davis wondered how we would guarantee that if the latter, it would still be used for Somerville, and Mr. Proakis confirmed that this restriction would be in place. President Ballantyne asked what tools the Non-Profit Housing Finance Corporation would possess that the Somerville Housing Trust Fund would not, and the most significant is that they can borrow against future funds, provide bridge loans, and would allow the City to move more quickly in instances like purchasing a piece of property. Councilor Rossetti asked what administrative fees would be involved, and Mr. Proakis noted that since the City would do a lot of the administrative work, they could likely negotiate a reasonable rate. On a case-by-case basis, there would be an analysis of which option would be best. She also asked whether the Somerville Housing Trust Fund accrues interest and Mr. Proakis responded that he would investigate. The amendment provides further that a certificate of occupancy would be prohibited until the in-lieu payment is made.

Proposed amendment five suggests edits to remove overrides of other Articles from North Point and Powderhouse School Redevelopment districts, and leave Tufts and Assembly overrides as they currently stand. This would encompass more than just affordable housing, and include special uses and parking requirements. The zoning of Tufts and Assembly were both settled through court cases and stand as free-standing districts. They could be addressed separately through home-rule petition. President Ballantyne expressed an interest in exploring parking in the Tufts district.

The sixth amendment presented would remove the additional floor bonuses from all Overlay Districts and explore other bonuses and incentives to provide community space or other things desired by the community rather than just additional affordable dwelling units.

The final proposed amendment would provide a finding for a Master Plan Special Permit and for Household Living or Group Living residential uses. President Ballantyne asked for clarification of Group Living, and it includes any unit with more than four unrelated people. She asked further whether this could be restricted and how it would be differentiated from a dormitory. Mr. Bartman noted that each use would be permitted differently, based on the special permit allocation. There is, however, a federal right to housing for Group Living for medical reasons.

Councilor Mbah wondered how we could emphasize empowerment through home ownership. Mr. Bartman clarified that the pending financial analysis of the amendments with a significant economic impact will help to address this, but we don't have answers yet.

The creation of a small business overlay district helps address issues related to corner stores and is supported by OSPCD. Councilor Scott expanded that this would solve the problem of only allowing commercial uses in areas where development can go to the street and touch its neighbors. This would help maintain the character of neighborhoods and allow for neighborhood businesses in buildings that aren't traditional store-fronts. Councilor Ewen-Campen wondered about food establishments and whether there would be issues due to waste, storage, odors etc. within neighborhoods. Councilor Niedergang noted that these establishments are currently permitted, though he would like to see them granted by special permit. Chairman Davis noted that this type of overlay district could be included within the zoning overhaul without any specific areas to which it would apply. Councilor Niedergang inquired as well about the use case for pet sales and asked that they should also be permitted by special permit.

Councilor Niedergang suggested another amendment to strengthen the requirements for notification. Notification to neighbors about a development project should be proportional to the scale of the project. The amendment would also require tenants and occupants to be notified, rather than just property owners. Advanced notifications of postponed or rescheduled public hearings or meetings before the Zoning and Planning Boards should also be provided as soon as possible. Chairman Davis shared that an applicant has a right by state law to request a continuance at a meeting, which makes an advanced notice requirement a challenge. Mr. Proakis added that they are working to minimize these instances, by working to build contact lists via email for faster notification and noting on an agenda if a continuance has been requested. Mr. Bartman shared further that since we don't have a complete address list, there would be immediate non-compliance with the zoning ordinance if tenant notification was a requirement. Councilor Niedergang suggested that applicants could be required to make a good-faith effort to place flyers at every residence within a particular radius.

Mr. Bartman suggested that residents visit to sign up for alerts. This was built in conjunction with code for Boston and will send notifications to anyone within 300 feet of a project. Chairman Davis wondered whether this could also be used to send a notification about meeting agenda updates. He further suggested that Councilor Niedergang could present a suggestion about how the radius should be updated.

Councilor Ewen-Campen wondered whether a notice could be sent to each address to "current resident" and Mr. Bartman shared that this was tried in the past, at a significant cost, and some arrived several months late, which poses an issue since all of these cases are on time limits imposed by the state. Councilor Scott suggested that the voter registration database could be a good start. Councilor Hirsch added that signing up for alerts could be a question included on the census, which would include non-voters. Councilor Clingan noted that a large sign at the project site could be an option as well. Mr. Proakis emphasized that we want to include everything that can possibly be done, but not make the requirements so stringent as to get the City trapped in a lawsuit on a project that it wanted to build. Expanding the radius for notification and utilizing flyers and any means possible to notify renters as well as owners received support from all Councilors.

Jan 30, 2020 6:00 PM Video Land Use Committee Committee Meeting
Feb 13, 2020 7:00 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting