Changes for 2020

Throughout 2019, the community and the City Council engaged in a discussion of the Affordable Housing Overlay. Over the course of many hours of discussion in both the Housing Committee and the Ordinance Committee, the ordinance language was updated to take into account the concerns of Councillors and the community.

Over the months since the proposal was tabled, a number of minor concerns were raised with the language added from some of the many amendments adopted of the final ordinance as it was tabled. The newly submitted 100% Affordable Housing Overlay Ordinance text attempts to address these concerns. This document attempts to offer a narrative explanation as to a possible reason for each of the changes from the most recent draft that was tabled in September of 2019.

Standards for Eligibility Subject to State Requirements (11.207.3(b)(i))

In order to fund affordable housing developments, the Commonwealth and other public entities are typically key sources for funding. When those funding sources require specific asset limits, this language update will allow CDD to craft appropriate policies to meet both the AHO requirements and other public funding requirements.

Language around unit counts (11.207.3(c)(ii)); Minor

This is a minor clarification that 80% of units within each project will meet the lower income threshold (rather than all developments under the AHO Ordinance).

Abutting Parcel Heights (

One of the key elements of the AHO is to ensure that lower height limits are in place in buildings that are near lower height districts. Not all parcels are entirely in one district or another. This language change clarifies that this limitation on height applies from the *property line* of an AHO parcel that crosses the line (rather than applying partway through the parcel). For affordable housing developments that are in a divided parcel, it will allow more opportunity to develop affordable housing, while still protecting abutting parcels which are in a lower height district.

Yard Setbacks (

This change sets the minimum front yard setback to 15 feet. This limit is greater than the 10 feet originally proposed under the AHO in April, but lower than the 25’ that was amended in a later version of the Ordinance. 15’ is greater than the 10’ observed by the Cambridge Urban Forest Master Plan to produce the City’s densest canopy. Restoring the front setback maximum to 15’ provides additional capacity for creating more affordable housing, especially on lots with unusual shapes.

Open Space Reduction (; Minor, drafting fix

The intent of the open space reduction was to provide incentive for builders to create developments which include the preservation and protection of an existing building included on the State Register of Historic Places. The final language from the ordinance committee confused the requirements for a reduction of open space with the overall description of the open space requirements, and this is corrected in the latest draft.

Allow relocation of buildings (; Minor

In addition to allowing other modifications to existing buildings, the language is clarified to allow relocation. Relocation is often an important tool for ensuring protection of existing historical buildings.

Required Loading areas (

It is important for larger buildings to provide or create access for passenger pick up and drop off locations. However, in small developments, requiring these spaces is creating additional infrastructure that is solely used for fossil fuel infrastructure (vehicle loading/unloading) which do not drive enough demand to be heavily utilized. To prevent the creation of unnecessary, underutilized car infrastructure, the text has been updated to only require explicit areas for loading and unloading for developments with 20 or more units, where the demand for such loading spaces supports this requirement.

Street Context Concerns (; Minor

During the Ordinance process, the addition of a requirement to match “street context” was added. However, it was noted by City Staff that this clause would be difficult to enforce, and would likely put developments at risk, as this requires a judgement call that can not be meaningfully made by the Inspectional Services department. This clause was added during the amendment process, and rather than put affordable housing development at risk, has been removed in this latest draft.

Breaking Up Building Massing (

During the amendment process, concerns were raised about large street frontages requiring breaking up the buildings with large courtyards. While on a given site, encouraging these types of courtyards may fit the particular site. In other sites, this type of large courtyard may not be appropriate, may instead break up a healthy street frontage, and could result in a reduction of potential units. Including this recommendation for courtyards or other open spaces in the set of design guidelines for builders would be better suited, to allow for healthy streetscapes and appropriate matching of building massing to site requirements.

Glazing Requirements (,

One of the goals of new construction in Cambridge, as set out by our Green Building Ordinance, is to ensure maximum building efficiency in our ongoing attempt to fight climate change. Setting minimum standards for glass facing in some cases may come in conflict with those requirements. This language change lowers the required amount of glass facing to be 30% for business portions of the building, rather than a higher 70% standard which might make meeting climate goals more difficult.

Ground Floor Retail Requirements (

Public funding for nonprofit developers does not include retail spaces. Also, given that retail spaces throughout the city have had difficulty finding new tenants, this further potentially compromises financial feasibility for an affordable housing project. Rather than requiring new affordable housing developments to create new retail space, this change updates the text to allow for retail development. In this way, builders creating affordable housing have the opportunity to create new retail establishments or social service facilities, but are not obligated to in cases where a site may not support it.

Tree Protection Ordinance language (

The Tree Protection Ordinance has excluded affordable housing development since its initial creation. When passing the Tree Removal Moratorium in 2019, and extending it in 2020, this exclusion remains in place. Given that there is ongoing discussion of how the Tree Protection Ordinance should be revised, the best place to address how this should apply to all affordable housing is in the context of the ongoing Tree Protection Ordinance discussion, rather than only excepting Affordable Housing Overlay developments from the limitations of the Tree Protection Ordinance.