Modernized, customer-friendly code developed via community process makes zoning more predictable and fair for residents and developers; Public asked to comment on draft ordinance online and at meetings.

SOMERVILLE –An overhauled ordinance that seeks to make zoning more predictable and fair while enacting more than 100 policies and goals called for by the community in the SomerVision Comprehensive Plan, has been submitted by Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone to the Board of Aldermen, and the City is seeking public input and feedback on the ordinance. The overhaul, which breaks ground for the City on inclusionary housing requirements and zoning to support the city’s arts and maker economy among other community-driven provisions, is the first major review of the rules for development and land use since 1990, and incorporates a review of many regulatory provisions and mapping decisions that were first put in place nearly a century ago.
The modernization of the City’s zoning ordinance seeks to ensure that growth in Somerville reflects the community’s values and vision in SomerVision. The new zoning codifies the community’s priorities including an expansion of inclusionary (affordable) housing, preservation of neighborhood character, zoning for arts and creative economy, and streamlined permitting for small, independently owned businesses.
The introduction of the ordinance follows three years of work on the SomerVision plan, neighborhood planning efforts through the Somerville By Design program, and extensive outreach on effective best practices in zoning. This past summer, city staff led 12 topic-based public zoning workshops to seek community input into key zoning provisions. With an ordinance now submitted, the community is invited to provide input and feedback on the ordinance via a number of ways:

A new website at provides robust opportunity for ongoing review of the ordinance and public input. Currently the code can be downloaded for review. Starting the week of Jan. 19, community members will be able to visit the site and comment directly on any section of the code.
The Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development will hold an information session on Tuesday, Jan. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Somerville Armory, 191 Highland Ave., which will include a presentation followed by an opportunity to review the code and map and discuss them with city staff.
The Land Use Committee of the Board of Aldermen and the Planning Board will hold a joint public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Through this process, public feedback will be incorporated into a revised ordinance before a vote by the Board.

“Our community has set ambitious goals for itself—more housing, more jobs, and more tax-paying businesses all in a way that still feels like home. In short: building more of our community,” said Mayor Curtatone. “This proposed overhaul supports that goal by making it easier for families to grow in and stay in their homes without facing red tape for small projects like dormers, by preserving the character of our neighborhoods, by zoning to support small businesses and creative artists, and by making development even more transparent and predictable, so we can build the homes, offices, open space and more that we need.”

“Our current zoning ordinance made sense a couple of decades ago, but it does not reflect today’s reality and, in some cases, makes it harder for homeowners to make common improvements to their homes like bay windows or front porches than to build a new multi-unit building that towers over neighbors. That does not make a lot of sense,” said Director of Planning and Zoning George Proakis. “We hope that this new ordinance both rectifies those problems and makes our zoning ordinance more customer-friendly now and into the future.”

SUMMARY OF KEY CHANGES TO THE CODE: Among other improvements to the existing zoning code, this ordinance addresses the following central values identified in SomerVision:

• Makes Somerville a national leader in using zoning to produce affordable housing with the most ambitious inclusionary housing requirements in the state:
o Inclusionary zoning requirements will increase citywide.
o In areas of the city where major new development is planned, up to 20% of new units must be set aside for affordable housing.
o Incentivizes infill and redevelopment projects to assist in funding City programs to produce affordable housing in existing neighborhoods.
o Adjusts calculations so that a proportion of affordable housing is priced for middle income households, without decreasing the rate units are produced for low and moderate income households.
o Orients the production of affordable housing to transit accessibility, further reducing costs for households that need affordable units.
• Increases the diversity of housing types, unit size, and price points by promoting a range of building types permitted in each district.
• Promotes the development of housing for families in Neighborhood Residence districts with appropriately designed one-, two-, and three-unit building types.

Customer Service
• Easier Home Improvements
o Allows homeowners to add common enhancements such as dormers, bay windows, open front porches, and small rear additions to their homes without the need for extensive review processes.
• Readability
o Implements new regulatory techniques and terminology with the reader in mind to increase clarity and transparency.
o Includes more than 200 graphics illustrating the code that make the ordinance easier to read, understand and, ultimately, more customer-friendly.
• Ease of Use
o Simplifies the list of permitted uses from 297 to less than 100 by grouping similar uses with similar characteristics into categories.

Neighborhood Character
• Ensures that infill development fits into the form, scale, and pattern of existing neighborhoods and squares.
• Implements incentives for small, local businesses.
• Only permits formula businesses (chains) and big-box stores (retail over 10,000 square feet) by special permit.

Arts & Creative Economy
• Work and creative space
o Requires new buildings in certain districts (including Brickbottom, InnerBelt, most of Boynton Yards) to set aside 5% of gross floor area as leasable arts and creative use spaces.
o Allows arts and creative economy use of shop fronts and accessory buildings like garages and carriage houses.
o Allows artists to now work at home and not just in certain districts by permitting creative studios in the Neighborhood Residence districts.
• Work/Live Artist housing
o Permits certified artists to live within studio space in the new Fabrication District
• New “Fabrication Districts”
o Creation of new districts zoned specifically for artisan production, exhibition, sales, service, education, shared workspaces, and similar uses by the arts and creative economy.
o Maps Fabrication Districts over existing arts related uses and other desirable building types.
• New “Arts & Creative Economy” use category
o Calls attention to the thriving arts & creative economy of Somerville and permits these activities to thrive across the city.

Adaptive Re-Use
• Access to Fresh Food
o Supports the development of new corner stores and permits the adaptive reuse of commercial buildings located in Neighborhood Residence districts into corner stores.
• Supporting the Arts & Creative Economy
o Permits the adaptive reuse of former civic, institutional, or municipal buildings located in Neighborhood Residence districts into arts and creative economy uses.

Transformational Redevelopment
• Harnesses the demand for residential housing to redevelop underutilized areas of the city as new neighborhoods.
Implements standards for new, developer-built streets, open space, and other infrastructure in transformational areas.
• Requires the commercial/residential development mix called for by SomerVision.

Smart Growth
• Establishes transit-oriented parking standards across the entire city.
• Focuses development intensity within a quarter-mile of existing and future MBTA transit stations.
• Coordinates zoning with the community-driven neighborhood planning of Somerville by Design.

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