The Cambridge City Council voted overwhelmingly on Monday night to do away with parking requirements in the zoning code that councilors said wasted space and limited the development of affordable housing.
The 8-1 vote immediately drops a previous requirement for most residential uses that mandated one off-street parking space per unit in the city. Supporters of the move say it can increase affordable housing by opening up previously restricted small lots, and spur more development through lowered costs.
The lead sponsor of the measure, Councilor Burhan Azeem, says Cambridge is the first city in the commonwealth to drop such parking requirements, and he pointed out that landlords and developers would still be allowed to provide parking.
“I think it's very exciting,” Azeem told GBH News. “This will save billions of dollars in construction costs over the next decades. And I think it'll have a pretty great impact in terms of housing affordability in our city.”
Azeem said dropping the requirement for off-street parking makes sense in a city where one-third of residents don’t own cars. He said that, in some neighborhoods, there’s even less demand for parking, such as Central Square, where two-thirds of people are without cars.
Aligning parking construction more carefully with parking demand could be a boon to local developers, he said.
“In some of our new buildings in Kendall Square, you have eight stories of underground parking for almost $100 million,” he said “And then once the building is built, you do the analysis and almost half of that parking isn't going to use — so that's almost, you know, $40 [million], $50 million that went to waste.”
Tamara Small, the CEO of the Massachusetts branch of NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, said her group’s members welcomed the zoning change in Cambridge.
“This is a decision we think is in the right direction,” Small said. “It does reduce costs, and it does put us in line with other cities throughout the country that have adopted these same policies, including Minneapolis, San Francisco and Nashville.”
Small added that more flexibility for developers comes at a good time, with construction costs skyrocketing and interest rates increasing in recent months.
“So the cost to build is going up and up and up,” said Small. “So anything that reduces the cost to build while allowing for that flexibility will ensure that projects can move forward — something I think is absolutely critical for economic development in this region right now.”
Azeem said one way getting rid of minimum parking requirements could increase affordability in the city is by opening up previously restricted lots.
“There’s a lot of small pieces of land in Cambridge where you can't have a house and a parking lot. You can’t fit both, and so you get neither,” Azeem said. “And so now you can at least build a house in those places.”
More renovations to smaller properties would now be possible as well. In the past, he said, some existing homes would have had to be brought up to code before being renovated, but were blocked by lack of space for off-street parking.
Doug Quattrochi, the executive director of MassLandords, a statewide trade group, said he still sees a demand for parking in rentals that already have it, so the change will take while to fully have an effect.
Still, Quattrochi said, changing the parking requirement makes sense given the city’s good access to public transportation and many protected bike lanes. Long-term changes to the city’s landscape could better serve all its residents, he added.
“The cars always find a space, but we've got lots of people who really need housing and we don't have that,” he said. “So I think this is really going to help.”