A Cambridge City Council committee unanimously recommended a policy ordinance eliminating minimum requirements for off-street parking for new developments at a virtual meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
Under Cambridge’s current zoning code, developers must construct at least one off-street parking space for every unit in a new residential building, with slightly different requirements for non-residential development.
Members of the Transportation and Utilities Committee voted 5-0 to recommend an ordinance drafted by Councilors Burhan Azeem, Quinton Y. Zondervan and Mark C. McGovern to remove this minimum parking space requirement. The order is likely to pass the full Council, where five votes constitute a majority in the nine-member body.
If the ordinance becomes law, Cambridge will join the growing list of major cities that have abolished parking minimums in recent years, including Minneapolis and San Francisco. Many others have implemented reforms significantly relaxing parking requirements.
Azeem, the chairman of the committee, made a presentation on the political order at the meeting, noting that the parking minimums overestimate the true demand for parking in Cambridge.
“There is a lot of evidence to come – as cities have started to move away from parking minimums – that parking requirements may be too high and suggest that cities are forcing developers to build parking lots whose people don’t want, at the cost of housing units that people want,” Azeem said at the meeting.
According to a 2020 report by Cambridge’s Community Development Department, the share of Cambridge residents and non-resident workers who drive to work has dropped significantly since 2000, while the share of people walking, cycling or taking public transport has increased.
Councilman Paul F. Toner, who backed the ordinance, called for “some oversight” to prevent developers from “abusing” the policy by not building enough parking spaces.
“I know we dream of a future where no one drives cars, but that future is not the immediate present,” Toner said. “We’ll just see people overflowing and overloading more of what’s available on public roads.”
Azeem emphasized at the meeting that the ordinance would not prevent developers from building parking lots.
“Developers can still build the same number of parking spaces,” Azeem said. “They can also choose to build fewer parking lots, but they wouldn’t be prevented from building the same number of parking lots as they would now.”
He added that developers often have financial incentives or contractual obligations to build parking spaces.
Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon, who attended the meeting, said passing the ordinance gives council an opportunity to consider ways for owners of existing unused parking spaces to convert them to d other uses.
“There has to be a way for us to be creative right now, as we re-imagine parking minimums, to allow for that possibility so we can get back and take back either that land for more car storage, or housing , or for a million other city needs,” Mallon said.