City Council committee studies zoning changes | Local News
The City Council’s Planning and Development Committee gave a detailed presentation on Wednesday evening on proposed zoning changes intended to stimulate more housing in the city based on the strategies developed in the Gloucester Housing Production Plan 2017.
This includes increasing the height allowance for residential homes from 30 feet to 35 feet and increasing the downtown multi-family height allowance to 45 feet.
In all, nine motions from the city council’s planning board are up for consideration, and Wednesday night’s presentation was not a public hearing, but a chance for councilors to hear about the proposed changes.
The Planning and Development Committee is comprised of President Jason Grow, Board Chair Valerie Gilman as Vice Chair; and Ward 2 Councilwoman Tracy O’Neil. Grow said about 115 people attended the Zoom meeting, and he said they could meet everyone last night, but questions about zoning should be directed to the City Clerk to address at the next meeting. Resident questions aired after press time.
“We’re going to take our time with this,” Grow said, saying it was a detailed presentation and they wanted to digest it before taking questions from residents. “The council is not interested in rushing anything in the process.”
“These are important community discussions,” planning director Gregg Cademartori said of the proposals.
The proposed zoning changes, which are technical in nature, focused on the use and size tables for single, two and multi-family dwellings.
Cademartori noted that the housing production plan was not just about creating affordable housing, but about creating housing in the city, given the needs of an aging population in Gloucester, with estimates that 43% of the city will be 60+ years old by 2030. The housing production plan spoke of the trend in Gloucester towards smaller household sizes and a need for housing at all income levels, as well as the need for create different types of housing.
One bucket of proposed changes relates to usage allowances, the other bucket involves dimensions, Cademartori said.
The first changes discussed would be the removal of the special permit requirement for two-family conversions with exterior modifications, Cademartori said. The idea is to have consistency between the different zoning districts. For example, a homeowner can now build a new two-family home on vacant land without a special permit, but an addition that meets all of the dimensional requirements would still require a special permit from the Zoning Appeal Board.
The following proposal allowed consideration of two-family homes by special permit in the Coastal Residential District, RC-40, which includes portions of Eastern Point and the Magnolia Shore.
Another amendment would allow three-family dwellings to be considered in the R-30 low-density residential zoning sector by special permit.
A fourth change would allow for three-family dwellings in the R-5 high-density residential area, which is currently permitted by special permit. The R-5 neighborhood extends between Route 128 and the water, neighborhoods that surround downtown.
Gilman asked what types of houses already exist in the R-5 zoning district.
“There are a number of multifamily in this area,” Cademartori said. There are also a number of single family and two family homes, and these homes would provide opportunities for conversion. O’Neil asked if there was the infrastructure to support three law families. Cademartori said they’re talking about locating housing close to amenities, but the zoning changes don’t address parking, which was a concern for some councillors.
Ward I Councilman Scott Memhard asked how parking regulations fit in with zoning changes and the possible ripple effect on parking and congestion. Cademartori said it was a matter for the zoning board with presenting a plan that does or does not meet parking regulations.
“Maybe we can provide a little more information about parking demand,” Cademartori said.
On dimensional changes, remove the requirement to double lot sizes in R-80, R-40, RC-40 and R-30 neighborhoods for two-family construction or conversion. For example, in the R-80 zoning district, the minimum lot size is 80,000 square feet, but current zoning also requires a minimum lot size per dwelling unit of 80,000 square feet, which means that the land should be 160,000 square feet for two units. The proposed amendment would reduce the minimum lot size per unit in R-80 to 40,000 square feet.
Other changes would modify lot width requirements to simplify lot configurations.
As for height, Cademartori said many downtown homes along Washington Street are already over 30 feet.
“I know people are very passionate about it,” he said. Existing height limitations in zoning have deterred developers from making conversions.
“It’s a community decision,” Cademartori said of the proposed height changes. The increased height can allow more space in a structure to convert a house into a two-family home, and it would allow homes to be raised due to concerns about flooding in coastal floodplains.
Cademartori said increasing downtown heights to 45 feet was a late addition to the proposals. Two projects that have already been approved revolve around four floors, he said.
“It’s one of the factors related to housing in the city center,” he said.
Personal editor Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714 or by email at [email protected]