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Cambridge lifts zoning requirement for off-street parking

Cambridge lifts zoning requirement for off-street parking
Cambridge lifts zoning requirement for off-street parking 02:19

CAMBRIDGE - In a move that is being billed as the first of its kind for Massachusetts, the Cambridge City Council voted Monday to make sweeping changes to its commercial and residential zoning laws.

With a vote of 8-1, the city council removed decades long zoning that required developers to create one parking spot per unit.

Burhan Azeem, in his first term on the city council, said the previous zoning laws were dated and did not reflect the way of life in Cambridge today.

Azeem said a third of residents in the city did not own a car. Cambridge is known for its biking initiatives and prioritizing the development of bike lanes throughout the city.

Azeem said due to the unique density of the city, developers are often forced to build parking garages that often go underground. It is a costly endeavor that is passed on to the tenant. Azeem argued those parking decks are not being utilized.

"It's a lot of money and it really doesn't make sense in a city where a third of people do not drive and in places like Central Square, where we are now, two thirds do not drive," said Azeem.

During its meeting Monday, the city council read over statistics that showed parking garages average 33-50% vacancy on any given day.

Tamara Small is the CEO of NAIOP Massachusetts. They advocate for commercial and residential developers.

"It is a very challenging time, particularly to build housing," said Small. "It allows developers to meet tenant demand. If there is not a huge demand for parking, developers will not be required to invest those significant resources."

Councilman Dennis Carlone was the single dissenting vote. Carlone said he sees a need to make changes to these zoning laws but did not agree with how his other councilmembers were going about it.

"I strongly believe cars have overwhelmed city streets, especially main streets, and we have to balance that," said Carlone. "What we heard is that a third to a half of residential garages are empty. If it is a third to a half you do not go to zero, you go to half a space per unit or something like that for commercial development."  

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