Make your own free website on

Citywide Growth Management Advisory Committee

Record of Meeting

February 12, 1998, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Attendees: Blake Allison, Larissa Brown, Philip Dowds, Alfred Dussi, Fred Fantini, Tanya Iatridis, Allan Jones, Geneva Malenfant, Brendan Noonan, John Pitkin, Terrance Regan, Silvia Urrutia. Staff: Stuart Dash, Beth Rubenstein. Consultant: Larry Bluestone.

Beth Rubenstein noted that CDD has set up an e-mail mailing list for easier communication with committee members. A Zoning Orientation session will be held for those interested on March 12, 3-5 pm, before the committee meeting.

Larry Bluestone, consultant to the City, led a discussion of backyard development and private open space. He noted that the loss of green space and increased paving of private lots have led to concerns over backyard overdevelopment and were part of the impetus behind recent downzoning petitions. He noted that the City’s Zoning Ordinance is tightly crafted, and that changes in open space provisions or regarding lot size could have unintended consequences.

Some of the variables to be looked at include:

Use of geographic information systems (GIS), which link maps with data, will be helpful in developing "what if" scenarios. Some of the intended consequences of zoning changes to increase open space and decrease backyard overdevelopment could include: extensive non-conformance with zoning (problematic in the event rebuilding is required after fire or other damage), preclusion of modest household additions, internally inconsistent zoning and smaller dwelling units.

Geneva Malenfant noted that ideally zoning should remain relatively simple and should cover large land areas. The challenge is to protect small structures without creating widespread non-conformity. Are there legal means to deal with non-conformity? Silvia Urrutia touched on the difference between public and private open space and how in some circumstances the former may compensate for loss of the latter; Fred Fantini asked why backyard development happens (market demand). John Pitkin noted that in the 80s, backyard development was usually speculative building, creating market rate housing. Population has declined in Cambridge as the number of dwelling units has increased.

Stuart Dash reminded the committee that one of its main functions is to advise the City on how to bring these issues to the public in a helpful way and to elicit the full range of public sentiment. Stuart presented two GIS maps which have been prepared by the City, one showing properties citywide with buildable FAR and the other showing lots with open space greater than what is required by zoning.

The discussion which followed focused on what level of information would be helpful to the committee. For example, do we want to look at FAR available by lot? Geneva suggested that we look at minimum lot size required for a dwelling unit and the geometry of lots, to see where building could happen. Phil Dowds cautioned against relying too much on GIS technology; one doesn’t need to understand every lot in the City to make recommendations.

John Pitkin gave a brief history of the origins of the Pitkin Petition, which was prompted in part by paving over of three large backyards on Ellery Street adjacent to Library Park. Concern over loss of green space and run-off issues led to the downzoning proposal.

With respect to data needs, the following were requested:

John Pitkin asked that the next meeting include a discussion of who will generate petitions which come out of this process. In addition, how should the group critique the validity of materials presented?

CRGM has a new web site:

Next meeting: February 26, 1998, 5-7 pm at the Human Services Conference Room, 51 Inman Street, 2nd floor (entrance is on Inman Place).