July 30, 2019
A Detailed Plan to Improve Medford’s Approach to Zoning, Planning and Community Development
Permitting and zoning are among the most impactful ways local government shapes a city. This detailed plan includes suggested changes to how our City can grow and add value to our surrounding neighborhoods. More important to the details is a vision for change. That vision should be created through a dialogue with our residents, neighborhoods and businesses. This policy paper is intended to start the conversation based on 18 years of experience in local government, 10 years as a local business owner and 39 as a Medford resident which have included amazing change, inexcusable process breakdowns and a Medford that has tremendous strengths that need to be capitalized on and not threatened.
Throughout the last several years, I have not only suggested, but helped enact new legislation that has a positive impact on development in Medford:
1) We increased notification requirements to extend to all neighborhood residents within 400 ft. of a proposed project;
2) We expanded affordable housing thresholds from 10% to a minimum of 15% in order to increase availability of affordable new homes;
3) Most recently, I have advocated for greater emphasis on historic preservation. Medford has a wealth of historic homes that are under attack from developers looking to demolish these buildings and add greater density with new structures that lack the character that makes our City unique and embraces our rich history. By implementing an 18-month demolition delay we have helped protect the history, character and fabric/beauty of our neighborhoods. I’ve also proposed the establishing of additional historic districts and advocated for staffing for the Historic Commission and the Historic District Commission to give us the tools to continue to preserve Medford’s history and character.
Approach to Growth
Our City is bordered by tremendous change agents. These pressures have become a catalyst for change Medford, whether we like it or not.
To the east, the Encore Casino boasts an expected 8 million annual visitors less than 1 mile from Wellington Circle.
To the south, the Greenline extension will connect our neighborhoods via MBTA light rail to one of the most powerful economic drivers in the world in Cambridge/Boston, which are centers of innovation.
At the same time, we face internal pressures to increase the quality of government services and reverse deferred maintenance in our infrastructure. We need to embrace discipline and efficiency to ensure taxpayers have confidence their resources are being spent well. Even with these steps, our needs are significant and can’t be pushed on to local taxpaying homeowners. We need new commercial growth to expand our tax base and fund better roads and city infrastructure that residents from all parts of the City rightfully demand today.
Metropolitan Boston has one of the highest housing costs in the nation. Medford’s Urban/Suburban makeup and its proximity to highways, public transportation and bicycle links have made it a very attractive place to live. It’s hard for young families and recent graduates to afford to buy a starter home in Medford and even harder to rent here. Seniors on a fixed income share the same concerns about affordability and the ability to stay here. Our current Mayor signed onto a regional pact to increase Medford’s housing stock without any deliberate plan how and without council and community input.
The decisions before us are to determine how we grow, purposefully, transparently, and according to a plan. When investors and developers look to Medford, are the rules clear and applied consistently? Are the processes open for residents to voice their concerns; and the processes such that they create ability to resolve differences? How do we make it crystal clear that if developers are unwilling to design appropriately sized and located buildings within our zoning ordinances, and are unwilling to accept input from neighbors, they should go elsewhere?
Ultimately, our zoning and permitting rules will help answer these questions, however it’s the leadership of our City that matters most. Transparency. Professionalism. Community.
18 Ideas to Improve Engagement and Results in How our City Changes
- Allow building permits to be filed online with a clear timeline of the steps that will be taken after submission. The current antiquated process requires submission during office hours, lagging behind best practices in how government leverages technology to reduce paperwork.
- Allow outdoor dining licenses to be renewed every 3 years instead of annually. Outdoor dining makes our City vibrant and takes advantage of our amazing natural resources and historic charm. We should encourage it. Restauranteurs shouldn’t have to file for a renewal every year. It would save them time and also save the city from processing unnecessary paperwork.
- Allow single-day liquor licenses to encourage pop-up business collaboration. As businesses start, it can help infuse life with pop-up collaborations where area craft breweries and similar companies can bring beer, wine and liquor to new restaurants for single day events.
- Add to the historic district commission and review historic districts. Medford’s history is one of its greatest strengths. Right now, the Mayor appoints all members. We should add one to two members: appointed by the City Council. With an expanded membership, the Commission could and should explore additional districts as we know they are necessary to protect the City from demolition.
- In addition, the City should hire a part-time person to help the Historic Commission and the Historic District Commission given the vital nature of their purposes and the amount of work it takes after a home is deemed significant and when creating a historic district.
- Similarly, add to the Board of Park Commissioners through two appointees from the City Council, at least one of which shall represent a local youth sports association. Require the Commissioner to share scheduling plans, field preservation plans, and review prioritization
- Add to the Zoning Board of Appeals through one to two appointees from the City Council, at least one of which is a local business owner.
- Create Impact Advisory Councils comprised of 5-9 local neighbors and business owners appointed by the Mayor and City Council for any variance or special permit that would facilitate the creation of 10 or more units or 20,000 or more gross square feet of new development.
- Require site plan review for both variances and special permits that would facilitate the creation of 20,000 or more gross square feet of new development.
- Require the presentation of site plan review recommendations to the City Council for developments that create 20,000 or more gross square feet or materially alter the use of similarly-sized buildings.
- Require the ZBA to wait 45 days upon presentation of site plan review recommendations before taking action on any developments that create 20,000 or more gross square feet and 75 days or more for any development that creates 50,000 or more gross square feet. Push for changes to MGL Ch. 40A should any of these additional steps required state authorization.
- Review the zoning map comprehensively after public input and with the support of consultants to understand opportunities. With the help of community input, increase Multi-use zones to areas that are serviced by regular MBTA service and where local businesses would benefit from additional growth and development and where existing boundaries separate larger scale development from lower density residential neighborhoods. This will reduce the need for variances and special permits, but only in places that benefit Medford.
- Ensure any legislative proposal made to adjust the zoning map includes a full briefing by the Mayor and Community Development Director on the impact of the changes to the Council at a time when the public is present. The briefing should include an explanation of how the changes relate to a comprehensive vision for growth and development in Medford. In addition, require that a zoning consultant provides an independent analysis on the impact of the changes in writing to the Council, which shall be publicly available on the City website.
- Increase the current size of the planning department through an additional full-time planner devoted to bringing in new businesses that will benefit and fit in each area of Medford.
- Dedicate CPA funds to creation of a housing plan that outlines specific strategies to expand and preserve housing opportunities. Ensure the plan includes significant public input and a transparent process. Push for solutions that help revitalize existing homes, prevent Medford’s seniors and working families from being priced out, and embrace a mix of both home ownership and apartments in new developments.
- Establish a contest seeking ideas to improve public spaces with creative, low cost improvements, public art or other initiatives.
- Update the Medford Square plan to reflect the success of the Chevalier, current businesses and the parking needs of our seniors. Advance a parking plan for the square that recognizes the change. Send out a request for information allowing all developers to submit potential proposals based on the Square’s need for parking, commercial investment, community centers, use of the river, and housing that includes a mix of rental and ownership.
- Broaden our zoning to include the addition of breweries and taprooms in key areas within our city.
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