By Seth Daniel
Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his Planning Department are in the process of drafting a new mixed-use Overlay District for several business districts throughout Everett, an effort that will eliminate parking regulations and increase building heights and project densities.
The sweeping changes were first announced at the Planning Board in broad terms by City Planner Tony Sousa on July 24, but more details emerged in a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) Monday, and in comments from the mayor.
“The purpose of the zoning change is to encourage redevelopment of existing properties by allowing a deliberate mix of ground level commercial space – such as retail, restaurants and offices – with residential units above,” read the letter. “This type of concentrated development is seen as a key ‘smart growth’ tool to enhance economic development opportunities, increase housing stock, reduce auto dependence and preserve green space.”
DeMaria said his goal in proposing a new, mixed-use Overlay District is to encourage smart growth and revitalize the city’s business district.
“This proposal will encourage new development and the redevelopment of existing properties,” he said. “It will bring a critical mass of residents to enliven our downtown and help support new and existing retail, restaurants and entertainment. To accomplish this smart growth strategy, we need to relax requirements that demand large amounts of land be dedicated to parking. We must encourage the use of public transportation, car sharing, bike lanes and trails and devote more land and resources to workforce housing, open spaces, and other amenities. The fact is, today’s population is becoming more accustomed to life without a car, when they can walk, bike or take public transportation to work.”
The crux of the changes would include implementing no parking requirements for new, mixed-use developments and certain residential developments and stand-alone businesses. Parking requirements along the busy Broadway business district and others as well, have been an impediment recently to new projects looking to build on Broadway – but not being able to provide anywhere near the parking that’s required.
A proposal for 22 micro units in Glendale Square with two parking spots is currently tabled until September, while a proposal to be reviewed Monday for a 23-unit building on Broadway with no parking was also put on hold.
Reducing or eliminating parking is seen a move to upgrade the business districts and add new or existing residents who do not wish to own cars – a trend that many say is coming to Everett, though many also are skeptical of the idea.
Other pieces include allowing buildings to be increased from 65 feet to 70 feet – going from four to six stories tall.
Also, the density – known as Floor Area Ratio (FAR) – has also been removed from the overlay. Currently, the FAR in the business districts is between 1.5 and 1.
Another feature of the proposal is that it will institute “design standards” for mixed-use projects. The new standards will make sure things are done to a high quality and more uniformly. Already, there are design standards on Lower Broadway, and that would likely be expanded to the new areas in the overlay.
The proposal was entered into the ZBA file Monday, and it will be presented to the City Council later this month. A Planning Board hearing will also take place, with a recommendation from that Board going to the City Council.
The idea, Sousa wrote, came out of the Everett Square Streetscape Re-Design Plan done by Utile and unveiled last March.
“The plan itself evolved though a substantial public process, involving buy-in of local officials, residents, property and business owners, developers, and other interested citizens,” read the letter. “Thus began a community expression to advance the notion of mixed-use as one of a number of strategies to improve Everett Square.”
That plan has now been modified to include not only Everett Square, but also Glendale Square, Main Street and Ferry Street.