Saturday, July 20, 2024

The Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved an 18-unit East Cambridge condominium recently that includes four affordable units. The project was also endorsed by the East Cambridge Planning Team – the neighborhood organization that pays close attention to development. The site is currently occupied by a Dunkin’ Donuts’ and a large parking lot at Monsignor O’Brien Highway and Third Street.

This development is possible thanks only to the zoning reform passed by the City Council last October. It ended the long-standing rule of one parking space for each unit of housing. Cambridge is among a wave of cities across North America ending 1950s-era car-centric mandatory parking requirements. This frees the space previously required for parking for more housing and open space. More homes will be available for Cambridge families at a lower cost per unit with more trees.

Before the council lifted the parking requirement, the same developer had proposed a project for this site. The first proposal complied with 2022 zoning regulations. It was for three duplexes with six parking spaces and 1,900 square feet of open space. Thanks to the zoning reform, the revised project adds 12 more homes, including the four affordable units, and 600 more square feet of open space (a 31 percent increase!).

But where will these families park? Of the 18 households, about 12 will own cars, according to Community Development Department statistics. They will have options – they can pay for a reserved parking space in a nearby garage or use publicly subsidized free parking (also known as on-street parking). Some may choose to use a combination of public transport, biking and occasional car-sharing options instead of owning a car. The Lechmere T stop and a grocery store are only a three-minute and a six-minute walk. Our ever-increasing bike infrastructure is giving many more safe alternatives.

Not only does this project give more families access to the benefits of living in Cambridge and chips away at the 21,000-plus Can’t Wait List, but creating more homes near transit is also an important part of Cambridge keeping its place as a climate leader.

A trade of 12 homes for six parking spaces is a good deal. When a third of those homes are affordable, it’s even better!

Camilla Elvis, Linnaean Street

Camilla Elvis is on the board of directors of the group A Better Cambridge, which advocates for housing.

This post was updated July 30, 2023, with the group affiliation of the author.