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Cambridge City Council Votes Against Changes to Affordable Housing Overlay Amendments

The Cambridge City Council voted 6-3 against proposed changes to the Affordable Housing Overlay amendements on Monday evening.
The Cambridge City Council voted 6-3 against proposed changes to the Affordable Housing Overlay amendements on Monday evening. By Julian J. Giordano
By Emily L. Ding, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council voted against revising amendments to the Affordable Housing Overlay Monday evening, rejecting language that would have prioritized housing middle-income residents and altered the policy’s approach to building height.

During its regular Monday meeting, the Council voted 6-3 against the proposed changes to the AHO amendments, with some councilors citing a lack of time to properly assess their impact ahead of the zoning petition’s expiration on Oct. 29.

Co-sponsored by Councilor Patricia M. “Patty” Nolan ’80 and Councilor Paul F. Toner, the proposed changes to the AHO amendments would have used a formula to determine building height limits along some corridors of the city, rather than a uniform 12-story allowance.

The changes also proposed “workforce housing” that would prioritize middle-income residents in 20 percent of AHO developments and measures to preserve green and open space in accordance with Cambridge environmental policy.

All councilors but Nolan, Toner, and Councilor Dennis J. Carlone voted against the changes to the amendments.

Councilor Toner speaks with Councilor Marc C. McGovern, one of the sponsors of the original AHO ordinance, during public comment.
Councilor Toner speaks with Councilor Marc C. McGovern, one of the sponsors of the original AHO ordinance, during public comment. By Frank S. Zhou

The original AHO amendments, which were upheld in Monday’s meeting and will face a final vote in October, would raise height maximums for affordable housing — in some parts of the city, allowing buildings up to 15 stories tall — and eliminate the requirement for setbacks in most cases.

During the meeting, Nolan said the changes to the amendments would prevent affordable housing developments from being “uniformly pushed for the same height in dramatically different streets.”

“The blocks of Concord Ave. have only — literally today — just single and two and three-family homes, and it’s treated the same as all of Mass. Ave., which doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s not in line with Envision — with city plans that have been written — or good urban planning,” Nolan said, referencing Envision Cambridge, the city’s 2007 growth plan.

Nolan also discussed the benefits the changes would provide for middle-income residents.

“Envision documents that the absolute steepest decline of residents that the city has had is middle and upper-middle income,” Nolan said. “We need people to stay in Cambridge — the people that we are losing and we don’t have are the middle income.”

Six councilors — including Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon — voted against the proposed changes, citing a lack of time for an analysis report of the changes and potential consequences before the petition expires on Oct. 29.

“These questions are extensive, and we may not have time for them to be fully answered in the way that I think that the motion makers would want them to be answered,” Mallon said.

“We talk a lot about CDD and not having a whole lot of time to do the work that’s already in front of them. And this does seem like we would be asking them to really put everything on hold,” Mallon added, referring to the city’s Community Development Department.

Though Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan acknowledged the need for affordable housing, he similarly opposed the changes due to time constraints.

“The proponents want to pursue these ideas,” Zondervan said. “Of course, they can still do that, but it would have to be independent of this particular building decision.”

In an interview Wednesday, Zondervan called the need for analysis of the proposed changes a “stalling tactic in order to try to delay the process” of voting on the AHO.

“The Council is ready to move this ordinance forward. If the councilors who have those questions want to ask them, they can do so. But we’re not going to hold up the process for that.”

Zondervan continued to voice his support for the AHO amendments — which he helped write — without the changes discussed on Monday.

“I think it’s ready to go — we went through the whole process, we’ve been discussing it for almost a year now, and all the affordable housing developers agree that this is the right way to move forward. This city staff is on board with it. There’s just no reason not to do it,” he said.

“All we’re trying to do is create more affordable housing so that fewer people end up on the streets because they don’t have a place to live,” he added. “Why is that such a horrible thing for people?”

—Staff writer Emily L. Ding can be reached at emily.ding@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @emilylding.

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