The City of Somerville is being rezoned for the first time in 24 years, according to George Proakis, the city’s director of planning. Proakis will be leading the rezoning project, which was submitted to the city’s Board of Aldermen for approval on Jan. 20.
Proakis explained that there is a significant need for change because, although the city’s goals and technology have changed over the years, many places haven’t changed since the 1920s.
“Fundamentally, we are doing the rezoning to bring the city’s rules and regulations surrounding land development to match the comprehensive plan, and to make sure we can achieve our city-wide goals,” Proakis told the Daily.
Proakis said that his team hopes to implement a new set of rules concerning development. He explained that the development of the city would be able to include 17 different types of buildings, with some building types better suited to some environments over others.
“The plan specifies different zones in which you can do different types of buildings,” Proakis said. “For example, in the residential district, you can do one of a couple of building types. A house, triple-decker type or a three-story building is easier to build in a neighborhood square like Ball or Teele,” he said.
Proakis added that Davis Square’s regulations have remained constant.
“In Davis, you can do a four-story building, though Davis isn’t much different from what it was before,” he added. “And then on the eastern side of the city, which is mainly an industrial area and where the Green Line is going to have a stop in the future, there will be significant transformation.”
According to Proakis, the building types will reflect the current structure of buildings that are already standing in each neighborhood.
“All the building types are going to be based on the measurements of existing buildings, on … what we like about those buildings and about how they work or don’t work,” he said. “Understanding what works to make something fit the character of what surrounds it is important.”
Additionally, Proakis mentioned that it is now easier for artists and businesses to grow in certain places. He said that it is simpler for small businesses to start in neighborhoods where housing is more affordable.
Proakis emphasized that although the ordinance has been submitted, the changes have not yet been made.
“A proposal of what we want to change has to get approved from the Board of Aldermen,” he explained. “This ordinance has only been reached after hundreds of meetings about the community goals, so we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do and where we want to go, but in order to approve the zoning ordinance, two-thirds of the board has to vote.”
Denise Taylor, Somerville’s director of communications and community engagement, added that Somerville’s zoning code is truly community-driven.
“More than 100 goals that our residents identified over several years of SomerVision community meetings are codified in this code,” Taylor told the Daily in an email. “The code itself was then developed after more than 50 hours of further public meetings. And now we are incorporating additional public comment.”
A community information meeting was held on Jan. 20, where people could express their reactions to the plan and have their questions answered, according to Proakis.
“It was the first meeting with the whole document, and there were over 100 people,” he said.
Proakis is confident in public support for the zoning changes.
“It seems that, in general, folks are very supportive of what we are trying to do,” Proakis said. “There has been a lot of support for a lot of the individual elements in the zoning ordinance, for example cutting red tape for small businesses.”
Taylor believes that once this is in effect, the city will be exactly on the path the residents want it to be, which is a win for both the community and responsive government.
The Somerville Board of Aldermen is holding a public meeting on Feb. 10, where they will discuss changes, suggestions and improvements before they are ready to vote and put them into effect.