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Cambridge Planning Board Evaluates Two Climate Change-Related Zoning Proposals

Cambridge City councilors submitted a petition to the Cambridge Planning Board for an addition to the city's zoning code that would require developers to report expected carbon emissions.
Cambridge City councilors submitted a petition to the Cambridge Planning Board for an addition to the city's zoning code that would require developers to report expected carbon emissions. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend adding an emissions accounting section to the city’s zoning code to combat climate change during a virtual meeting Tuesday evening.

The petition proposes requiring developers to calculate and report expected carbon emissions for development projects that require special permits from the board. At the Tuesday meeting, the board also discussed the final report of the Climate Resilience Zoning Task Force, which recommended possible zoning changes requiring flood and heat resilience.

Submitted by Cambridge City Councilors Quinton Y. Zondervan, Dennis J. Carlone, and Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80, the zoning petition is one part of Zondervan’s broader “Green New Deal for Cambridge” proposal.

Zondervan filed the Green New Deal Zoning Petition — an all-encompassing amendment that included reporting requirements, emission fees, and funding for green jobs — in 2021. At that time, the Planning Board suggested the omnibus policy would not be appropriate in the zoning code.

This term, with the policies refiled as three separate ordinances, Zondervan said in an interview he “fully expect[s]” all three to pass.

“We’re in very good shape,” he said.

Zondervan said in the interview he wanted Cambridge to lead in the global effort to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050.

“By leading in Cambridge and leading with these larger buildings that are producing most of our emissions, the hope is that if we can get those under control by 2035, then we’ll still have another fifteen years to get our other buildings to zero, and to help other people across the country and the world get their emissions to zero,” Zondervan said.

Zondervan also stressed the importance of immediate action.

“At every point that we have an opportunity to intervene, we have to do so as aggressively as possible,” he said.

At the Tuesday meeting, the board also heard a presentation from city official Sarah Scott on the final report issued by the Climate Resilience Zoning Task Force, first assembled in 2019 by City Manager Louis A. DePasquale.

The report introduces a “performance-based Cool Factor” to measure a development’s capacity for heat resilience and mitigation. In the proposed system, development would have to meet a minimum “Cool Score” based on their use of cooling or heat-resistant features such as trees, vegetation, and “high-solar-reflectivity paving materials.”

The report also recommends zoning guidelines for flood protection based on the city’s 2070 projections of flood risk for different areas in Cambridge.

Assistant City Manager for Community Development Iram Farooq, a co-chair of the task force, said in an interview that the report’s use of future projections to inform zoning standards was an “innovative” way to address climate resiliency.

She also said that this approach had implications for “climate justice.”

“Historically, the areas where the lower-income populations have been located are areas that are most environmentally vulnerable,” Farooq said. “We find that that is, in fact, true, even with future impacts.”

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @eschisgall.

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