Jan 26, 2022
Interestingly, the Massachusetts Zoning Act (G.L. c. 40A) does not apply to the City of Boston; rather, zoning in Boston is governed by the 1956 Mass. Acts c. 655 (“Enabling Act”) and the Boston Zoning Code, which was adopted in 1964. Thereafter, as the character and nature of the City of Boston began to change, it was apparent that the Boston Zoning Code had become outdated. In response the City of Boston’s Planning & Development Agency and the Zoning Commission, pursuant to Section 3 of the Enabling Act, have worked to rezone, amend and substantially rewrite the Boston Zoning Code, which remains ongoing to this day. The Boston Zoning Code establishes three (3) zoning districts with each containing multiple subdistricts, which provide each district with regulations concerning use, dimension, and parking.
Parking has always been an issue in the City of Boston, no matter the neighborhood, but now it is likely to be compounded by a recent amendment to Article 23 of the Boston Zoning Code.
Article 23 of the Boston Zoning Code sets forth the minimum parking requirements for new developments in the City of Boston, which was amended to address the lack of parking concerns for the City’s residents. For example, Section 1 of Article 23 provides that no structure or land shall be used for residential purposes unless off-street parking facilities are provided. Specifically, it requires a certain number of spaces per maximum floor area ratio, as set forth in the table below:
* Where use is not divided into dwelling units:
(a) If sleeping rooms have accommodations for not more than two persons, each two sleeping rooms shall constitute one dwelling unit; and
(b) If sleeping rooms have accommodations for more than two persons, each four beds shall constitute one dwelling unit.
† or, in the case of housing projects for elderly persons of low income, 0.2 space. Housing projects for elderly persons of low income, as used herein, shall be deemed to mean such housing constructed under the Housing Authority law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and/or the United States Housing Act of 1937 as amended.
Parking has always been an issue in the City of Boston, no matter the neighborhood, but now it is likely to be compounded by a recent amendment to Article 23 of the Boston Zoning Code. In October 2021, the Boston Planning and Development Agency and the Zoning Commission unanimously approved an amendment to remove parking minimums for affordable residential projects. On December 22, 2021, Mayor Wu approved the amendment. This amendment will delete the footnote † above and replace it with a new footnote to Article 23 to remove parking minimum requirements for the purpose of increasing development of affordable residential housing to confront the affordable housing crisis (“Amendment”), which reads:
† or, in the case of residential housing entirely for persons of low-income, no off-street parking shall be required. Residential housing entirely for persons of low-income shall be considered to describe those projects where all proposed residential units are income-restricted at or below the maximum income level permitted for affordable units under the requirements of the City of Boston’s Inclusionary Development Policy.
The full text of the Petition for the Amendment that was approved by Mayor Wu can be accessed here. The Amendment was introduced to address the use of parking minimums as a basis to prevent and/or stall the construction of affordable housing in the City of Boston, as the City of Boston’s Zoning Code previously specified minimum parking requirements for residential development in the specific neighborhoods of Boston. This Amendment, however, will only remove parking minimums for affordable residential developments where at least 60% of the units are income-restricted at 100% Area Median Income (AMI) or below. Notably, it also prevents the use of parking requirements as a basis to challenge the development.
Importantly, this zoning change does not eliminate or alter parking requirements for all other projects in the City of Boston, it only applies to residential affordable housing developments. At present, the Amendment will help expedite the development of affordable housing, while also making it more cost effective, as developers will no longer be required to include parking as part of the development, which is typically a significant expense. While the impact of increased development of more affordable housing and reduced parking remains to be seen, this Amendment also is intended to work in conjunction with the City of Boston’s goals to move to transit oriented housing, reduce congestion, and combat climate change through the City of Boston’s Transportation Demand Management. The Transportation Demand Management Development Review applies to all development projects over 50,000 square feet and requires developers to evaluate existing transportation conditions and work with City of Boston’s planners to reduce the development’s transportation impacts, which is geared toward reducing driving and utilizing public transit.