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No more parking mandates at new buildings in Cambridge

The Boston Globe 10/26/2022 Dana Gerber
A section of Mass Ave in front of Clothware in Cambridge. © Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff A section of Mass Ave in front of Clothware in Cambridge.

The Cambridge City Council voted Monday night to eliminate all minimum parking requirements for new buildings in the city, a major zoning reform that could reduce the number of new off-street parking spaces and — advocates hope — make it easier to build more housing at a lower cost.

The City Council voted 8-1 to remove the minimums, which have long mandated new developments include a certain number off-street parking spaces, determined by the number of units in the building. Now, those mandates will go away, though builders are free to include parking if they so choose.

Will less parking mean more housing in Cambridge?

“You can build the same amount of parking yesterday that you could today,” said Burhan Azeem, one of the city councilors who spearheaded the ordinance. “It just gives people a lot of flexibility.”

City Councilor Dennis Carlone, who was the sole voice of opposition, said Tuesday that while he doesn’t support overabundant parking, parking minimums should comport with parking demand.

“Cars are mostly anti-city. They overwhelm streets, even local streets in some cases, so I am not pro-car,” he said. “On the other hand, if statistics say in housing, that one-third to one-half of the garages are used, that’s what the zoning should be. Not zero.”

The city’s Planning Board also voiced concerns with the ordinance in August, saying it could cause a shortage by increasing demand for the fixed number of on-street parking spaces as new buildings go up without off-street parking. This is a concern shared by some residents, especially as the city’s population continues to grow. Azeem said that he does not anticipate a rush in residents obtaining on-street parking permits, adding that “the city has other legal remedies to prevent that from happening.”

Both Somerville and Boston have eliminated parking minimums in certain situations, but Cambridge, where about two-thirds of households own at least one vehicle, is the first Massachusetts city to remove the minimums wholesale.

“I’m hoping that Somerville and Boston will use this as an impetus to reform their systems, as well,” said Azeem.

The ordinance also dovetails with Cambridge’s climate goals. The city started attempts to reduce car ownership as early as 2014, and in August vied to become one of the 10 communities in the state to participate in a pilot program banning fossil fuels from new developments.

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