To the editor:
I am writing to correct several inaccuracies in recently published letters to the editor regarding the proposed zoning changes moving to the City Council next month: Joshua T. McCabe’s letter of Dec. 13, and Dennis McGurk’s letter of Dec. 27.
As Mr. McCabe notes, Gloucester is in the midst of a housing crisis, and a huge percentage of our residents are cost-burdened by our existing housing market. Two- and three-family housing options are significantly cheaper than single-family homes, increase our housing stock while preserving resources, allow families to provide affordable housing for their adult children, and increase options for our older residents to downsize while remaining local and putting more single family homes into the market.
Unfortunately, Mr. McCabe incorrectly states that the proposal includes reduction of lot size. There is no change to lot size in any district. What is proposed is a reduction in per unit lot size for two-family homes in R-80 and R-40. Currently a doubling of lot size — from 80,000 to 160,000 and from 40,000 to 80,000 square feet — is required for two-family homes in those districts. The proposal eliminates that doubling requirement, placing those districts on par with all other zones in the city.
Mr. McGurk’s letter compounds Mr. McCabe’s mistake by claiming that the proposal is “shrinking lot sizes in most neighborhoods.” This is simply not true. There are no changes to basic lot sizes of any zoning district, and the proposal does nothing to “destroy” neighborhoods or foster “dramatic change for the entire city.”
The proposal is NOT driven by state guidelines or mandates, as Mr. McGurk claims. Rather, these proposed changes — like two earlier amendments that the Planning Board recommended to the City Council and which were subsequently adopted — are an outgrowth of Gloucester’s Housing Production Plan adopted in 2017, and several years of public meetings of the Housing Production Plan Implementation Working Group, a Planning Board subcommittee, and the Planning Board as a whole. The working group included members of the City Council, Planning Board, ZBA, city staff, Gloucester Housing Authority, industry professionals, and community housing advocates, as well as a zoning consultant.
Contrary to Mr. McGurk’s claim, the charge of the HPP working group and the proposed zoning changes are not limited to the creation of “Big A” Affordable Housing (housing that is deed-restricted in compliance with federal affordability requirements). Rather, the HPP warns that Gloucester is in need of all categories of housing: Affordable housing and market-rate housing that will hopefully be made more affordable through zoning changes and increased housing stock of all types.
The proposed changes to our zoning ordinance are not complicated. The changes are rather basic and well anchored to the needs of Gloucester and its residents:
— Minor changes to dimensional requirements to facilitate lot division and configuration by making the minimum lot width the same as the required frontage;
— Removing the requirement to double lot size in R-80 and R-40 for two-family construction or conversion, bringing those districts in line with other districts;
— Minor changes to encourage development of three-family units in R-10 and R-20 with special permits, and make three-families by right in R-5;
— Removing the special permit requirement for two-family conversions with exterior modifications, bringing these conversions in line with new construction and interior conversions which are now by right;
— Increasing maximum by right height from 30 to 35 feet, placing us inline with the vast majority of municipalities and modern zoning standards. Height variances are currently one of the most frequent requests to the ZBA and are destined to increase as climate change advances;
— Increasing the maximum by right height to 45 feet for multi-families in Central Business and Civic Center District to encourage mixed use and multi-family redevelopment in our downtown, specifically Main Street and the surrounding area.
While most of these changes are likely to produce deed-restricted affordable housing, they will greatly assist in creating housing in Gloucester that is, in fact, more affordable.
Like Mr. McCabe and Mr. McGurk, I encourage everyone to educate themselves about these amendments. The proposed changes can be found in the Planning and Development Committee packet here: https://gloucester-ma.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/14051
I believe these changes will improve opportunities for young families to remain in Gloucester, increase availability of options for our older residents to downsize, help revitalize our downtown by increasing the customer base for our retailers and restaurants, and ultimately aid in creating the varied housing stock that the HPP clearly states our city needs.
Shawn G. Henry
Gloucester Planning Board