Friday, June 14, 2024

A car with off-street parking on Beech Street in North Cambridge. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The elimination of parking minimums citywide took another step Monday toward becoming law. It got an 8-1 vote by the City Council to go to a second and final reading despite the addition of two amendments – but those also passed, one 6-3 and the other unanimously.

The amendments from councillor Paul Toner say that developers putting up four or more units of house or seeking a residential special permit must give an informational written report explaining how they decided on the number of parking spots and loading spaces to provide; and that the Community Development Department will report to the council no later than July 2025 on how the elimination of parking minimums has affected the city.

“We’ll have a a record of how they made the decision that they needed either zero parking spots or 100 parking spots, just so we can see if the analysis of the contractors is in line with reality, if they have done a full-blown study or they have a market study,” Toner said, and CDD would be able to use those reports in three years’ time as part of their work.

The amendments were written in consultation with Community Development, said Toner and Burhan Azeem, the councillor who proposed the latest order setting the minimum number of required parking spaces to zero for all uses. Staff assured that the impact report may be written with colleagues in Traffic, Parking & Transportation and endorsed asking developers putting up four or more units for their analyses, the councillors said.

Councillors Patty Nolan and Quinton Zondervan and vice mayor Alanna Mallon were wary of asking a justification of parking plans as “onerous or a not-very-useful exercise that puts an extra burden on developers,” and they voted against the idea.

“I shared their initial skepticism, and I was won over through the conversations we’ve had,” Azeem said. “These are reasonable asks, and they’re not weakening [the original order] in any discernible way.”

With the second change accepted unanimously, the proposed change to parking limits took its second-to-last procedural step and was moved to a second reading. That is expected Oct. 17. The petition expires Nov. 1 if not passed.

The vote against was the same as from the Ordinance Committee’s hearing Sept. 21: councillor Dennis Carlone, who said the change from requiring no parking at all from requiring one parking space for each unit of housing was “too much of a leap” all at once. “It should be half a space instead of one space per unit so you gradually get to the point of zero,” Carlone said. “We know 30 percent to 60 percent of parking at buildings is used.”

While he thought the amendments presented Monday were “intelligent, realistic and not an onerous task” for developers, and needed because “we have to learn from what we’re doing,” Carlone agreed with Planning Board members who feared a zero-parking minimum would lead to fights for on-street parking and wild variations in the cost of housing based on whether it came with space for a car. “I know of a developer of over 100 units, and he will be putting in only four or five [required] spaces for disabled parking,” Carlone said.

It’s already the case that renters pay more for getting a parking space, said Azeem, a first-term councillor who spent much of last year essentially homeless as he searched for an adequate, affordable apartment in the city he helps lead. And Somerville eliminated its parking minimums in December 2019, “and I don’t think that they’ve regretted it.”

While the effects of the parking change is unlikely to be felt overnight, Nolan agreed with Carlone – but because making parking in Cambridge harder is a deliberate policy.

“It means that we are making it more obvious that car ownership is not something that we want to have more of in the city … The message will be that yes, it is more expensive and more trouble than in the past to own a car here,” Nolan said. “I am fully owning that and recognizing that and I think it’s the right way to go.”