City Council items, December 7, 2015

Few residential parking stickers issued to residents of recent, large developments. This isn’t directly indicative of how many people are driving (these developments for the most part provide parking, or at least the option of parking, for most units). A substantial number of people in these developments don’t drive, or even own a car, evidenced by, for instance, the regular practice of renting out owned garage spaces, etc. Nonetheless, of note is an average of 0.26 parking stickers per unit.
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Housing, not an auto repair shop. Hard not to get behind this one.

WHEREAS:

It has come to the attention of the City Council that the Board of Zoning Appeals has denied the special permit request to convert the former Tokyo restaurant on Fresh Pond Parkway into an auto repair garage putting the project in jeopardy; now therefore be it
ORDERED:

That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to approach the current owner of the site regarding the City’s interest in purchasing this property for the development of affordable housing opportunities.

My comments (submitted to council@cambridgema.gov)

I am writing to highlight the importance of City Manager’s agenda item number 9, relative to parking stickers issued to residents of recent development projects. While this doesn’t directly correlate with private automobile ownership or parking habits, this certainly helps inform our conversation around parking loads and parking demands commensurate with new development. Despite an overcapacity Red Line and a very incomplete bicycle network, a substantial majority of Cambridge residents are choosing more and more not to drive. The data in the city manager’s communication, of course, helps support this trend. This trend doesn’t come from nowhere: it comes from better transit planning, and better walking and bicycle planning, that have progressively increased in quality over the past several years. In order to support and reinforce the trend away from driving, we must continue to robustly plan for, and progressively improve our approach to, transit, walking, and biking, with better street design and transit/walk/bike network planning, throughout the city.

In addition, I am writing with a word of support for policy order number 2, relative to the Tokyo restaurant site and exploring the possibility of a city purchase for affordable housing. This is an interesting proposition in the right spirit; however, I think a more appropriate and ultimately beneficial course of action might be a rezoning, that clearly prescribes mixed-use residential development with substantial density. This would accomplish the goal of adding residential units without directly costing the city purchase money. Short of this, if there is some compelling reason it wouldn’t work, a direct city purchase would be a desirable alternative. Affordable housing could then be the primary use, with great street/sidewalk/crossing planning in the immediate adjacent area (this is something which has been an unaddressed concern for this site), and a possible mixed-use (retail, community space, startup space, etc. etc.) regimen. I write in favor of the spirit of this resolution, but with a preference for either 1. good zoning & private development, or 2. some kind of public-private partnership, before getting to 3. a direct city purchase of the site.

Regarding carsharing. There are a few agenda items regarding the carsharing zoning proposal. I am an enthusiastic supporter of carsharing (e.g., Zipcar), and a user. I can’t quite comprehend the opposition to carsharing on private residential lots. The opposition seems to be based primarily on a fear of crime and noise, and a philosophical objection to private owners profiting in residential zones. Neither of these rises anywhere close to enough to oppose the ordinance, when considering either the available data, or the priority of city values. Moreover, the language of the ordinance tilts toward being restrictive and treating carsharing as a nuisance. I suppose this is could be argued to be a rational starting point, but again, it’s rooted in unfounded fears and compromise for its own sake, without taking into account the urgency of reducing private car ownership and vehicle miles traveled (both of which are proven, direct results of better access to carsharing). The language is too restrictive as written, and I hope that this can be regularly revisited to allow for greater access to carsharing, particularly in areas like West Cambridge which have the worst access to transit.

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City Council items, December 7, 2015