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Cambridge Officials Table Talk On Huge Hike On Developer Linkage Fees


Cambridge officials aren’t expediting a vote on a potentially massive hike on developer linkage fees in Cambridge, instead turning their attention to a jobs linkage fee.

Leggat McCall Properties' 40 Thorndike mixed-use tower project in East Cambridge, under construction in November 2021.

Councilors in September backed raising the fee on developments 30K SF and larger to $33.34 per SF, a nearly 67% increase from the current $20.10-per-SF rate, Cambridge Day previously reported. But Cambridge Housing Committee members on Wednesday voted 3-2 against giving the linkage fee proposal a favorable recommendation before the city council in response to new questions surrounding a jobs linkage fee.

“It’s not a deal-breaker,” Cambridge City Councilor Dennis Carlone said of the linkage fee hike during the virtual meeting. “You might be told that, but it’s not. … It’s not kicked anybody out. Nobody has changed their plans.”

Any councilor can still bring forward the policy order regarding the linkage fee hike at Monday’s Cambridge City Council hearing, although even a favorable vote would trigger an approximate two-month review process.

The proposed linkage fee would surpass Boston’s $15.39 per SF on projects 100K SF or greater, an increase pushed by former Mayor Martin Walsh before he departed the office in March. Neighboring communities have single-digit linkage fees per SF on larger developments. Suburbs bustling with lab development like Waltham and Watertown don’t have any developer fees, although Watertown in October voted to begin a study on the linkage fees, Watertown News reported.

Cambridge previously renewed its outdated linkage fee in 2015 to $12 per SF, a rate that has increased slightly each year with consumer price index adjustments. The proposed $33.34-per-SF figure for affordable housing contributions was cited as the maximum defensible linkage fee considering competitive development concerns, according to a 75-page 2019 study. The rate would send $20.90 per SF to low- and moderate-income unit development and $12.44 per SF for middle-income housing development.

Residents and other potential speakers were barred from comment during Wednesday’s meeting because it was a continuation of a November hearing. Committee members Wednesday asked a few questions about the linkage fee but spent a large portion of the meeting discussing the study’s suggested $1.51-per-SF maximum employment contribution. The funds would go toward training unemployed and lower-skilled Cambridge residents for living-wage jobs. 

DivcoWest's Cambridge Crossing campus, under construction in May 2021 in East Cambridge.

Cambridge Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon balked at the figure, suggesting the city could do more to get its residents into the red-hot life sciences industry. She compared Cambridge to Somerville, where a jobs linkage fee of $2.60 per SF helps fund a biomedical career program. 

“I'm a huge advocate of having a job linkage fee because we are not hiring and training our residents for these high-level jobs that are coming into our community, competing for housing and creating multiple problems,” Mallon said.  

City officials during the meeting told councilors any updates to the linkage fee policy order regarding the employment contribution would require a new petition, prompting some councilors to side against recommending it. 

A city council vote on the linkage fee policy order, which constitutes a zoning update, would have to go through the Cambridge Planning Board and Ordinance Committee before returning for a formal vote. The planning board and ordinance committee each meet once more before the end of the year, and agendas haven’t been posted.

The linkage fee discussion is the second major development-related issue raised by Cambridge officials after they initiated a review last month on lab and office use in Alewife in response to REIT Healthpeak Properties’ proposed 36-acre life sciences campus. The moratorium must undergo review before the planning board and ordinance committee at a yet-to-be-determined date.