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A Cambridge City Council committee unanimously recommended a policy order eliminating minimum requirements for off-street parking spaces for new developments during a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Under Cambridge’s current zoning code, developers must build at least one off-street parking space for each unit in a new residential building, with slightly different requirements for non-residential development.
Members of the Transportation and Public Utility Committee voted 5-0 to recommend a policy order authored by Councilors Burhan Azeem, Quinton Y. Zondervan, and Mark C. McGovern to remove this minimum parking space requirement. The order is likely to pass in the full Council, where five votes constitute a majority in the nine-member body.
If the order becomes law, Cambridge will join the growing list of major cities that have abolished parking minimums in recent years, including Minneapolis and San Francisco. Many others have implemented reforms significantly loosening parking requirements.
Azeem, the chair of the committee, gave a presentation about the policy order during the meeting, noting that parking minimums overestimate the true demand for parking in Cambridge.
“There’s a lot of evidence coming — as cities have started to move away from parking minimums — that parking requirements can be too high and suggests that cities are forcing developers to build parking that people don’t want, at a cost of housing units that people do want,” Azeem said in the meeting.
According to a 2020 report from the Cambridge Community Development Department, the share of both Cambridge residents and non-resident workers who drive to work has fallen significantly since 2000, while the share of people walking, biking, or taking public transportation has risen.
Councilor Paul F. Toner, who supported the order, called for “some oversight” to prevent developers from “abusing” the policy by not building sufficient parking.
“I know we dream of a future where nobody’s driving cars, but that future is not the immediate present,” Toner said. “We’ll just see people spilling out and further overcrowding of what's available on the public roadways.”
Azeem emphasized during the meeting that the order would not prevent developers from building parking.
“Developers can still build the same amount of parking,” Azeem said. “They can also choose to build less parking, but they would not be prevented from building the same amount of parking they would now.”
He added that developers often have financial incentives or contractual obligations to build parking spaces.
Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, who attended the meeting, said the passage of this order gives the Council an opportunity to consider ways for owners of existing unused parking spaces to convert them for other uses.
“There has to be a way for us to be creative in this moment, while we’re reimagining parking minimums, to allow for that possibility so that we can regain and recapture either that land for more car storage, or housing, or for a million other needs of the city,” Mallon said.
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