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Lawmakers Propose Allowing 6-Story Multifamily Buildings Anywhere In Cambridge

Cambridge City Council members are trying to tackle the city's housing shortage through a new ambitious zoning measure. 

Cambridge City Hall

City Council Members Burhan Azeem and Sumbul Siddiqui have proposed allowing six-story apartment buildings to be constructed by right anywhere in Cambridge, The Boston Globe reported Wednesday

The plan, first reported by GBH, would make Cambridge the first city in Massachusetts to eliminate single-family-only zoning. It would overhaul the city's neighborhood-specific zoning and create a consistent citywide zoning scheme for anything up to six stories.

The council members chose six stories because it is right in the middle, according to the Globe — not too short, where financing can be challenging, and not too big, where it becomes too complex and adds costly building requirements. 

The council members proposed the plan last week, and it garnered a unanimous vote from the council's Housing Committee to draft language for the proposal. However, the plan has a long way to go, with several public hearings and a Housing Committee and city council vote before it would be enacted.

Other cities and towns across Massachusetts are proposing and debating new zoning measures through the state's MBTA Communities Act. Although Cambridge is compliant with the law, there has been palpable tension in the city over development policies. 

Last year, Cambridge approved an update to its affordable housing law that would allow entirely affordable projects to be as tall as 12 stories in the city's major squares, the Globe reported. The city also voted to abolish parking minimums for new developments.

Local resident group the Cambridge Citizens Coalition opposed the new plan, arguing the city should focus on the existing stock instead of creating new market-rate units, the Globe reported. 

"If this is about adding more affordable housing (a key city goal), this will not work, and indeed will make things worse by encouraging more market rate competition for public housing (subsidized housing) developers," the group wrote in a blog post about the plan. "What we need are details. What is the city’s target number, price, look, and feel for this new housing?"