The Ordinance Committee held a public hearing on, May 7, 2009 beginning at five o'clock and twenty minutes P. M. in the Sullivan Chamber. The hearing was held for the purpose of considering proposed amendments to the Zoning Ordinance filed by the City Council to facilitate parking for shared vehicles in Cambridge (Attachment A).
Present at the hearing were Councillor David Maher and Vice Mayor Sam Seidel, Co-Chairs of the Committee, Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Councillor Henrietta Davis, Councillor Craig Kelley, Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves, Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Councillor Larry Ward, and City Clerk D. Margaret Drury.
Also present were Beth Rubenstein, Assistant City Manager for Community Development, Lester Barber, Director of Zoning and Land Use Planning, Community Development Department (CDD), Susanne Rasmussen, Director of Environmental and Transportation Planning, CDD and Nancy Glowa, Deputy City Solicitor.
Vice Mayor Seidel convened the hearing and explained the purpose. He invited staff to present the proposal.
Susanne Rasmussen described the history of the proposal. As part of the City's parking and traffic demand management, CDD encourages vehicle sharing. Zipcar, Inc. was born in Cambridge and has grown in Cambridge to the point where 200 Cambridge-based vehicles are used by 10,000 people.
Ms. Rasmussen said that car sharing supports our environmental goals to reduce pollution and green house gas emissions. Zipcar's research shows that when people join Zipcar, they either get rid of a car they own or they decide not to buy a car. CDD believes car sharing is a factor in the drop in resident parking permits by more than 3,000 permits in the last ten years. Ms. Rasmussen said that growth in vehicle sharing services is currently limited by zoning. She explained that the proposal addresses three kinds of parking: accessory residential, accessory non-residential and principal-use parking.
Councillor Kelley said that the FY10 Budget shows that the number of resident parking permits has increased. Ms. Rasmussen replied that her figures go up to 2008. Councillor Kelley said that he is troubled by the idea of people renting out their driveways to Zipcar and parking on the street.
Councillor Davis said she has a similar concern about residential areas. She is also concerned about signage. What are the limitations on signage? Ms. Rasmussen said signs are limited to non-illuminated signs with the name of company and other necessary information and must be no more than 1.5 square feet in area (12"x6"). Councillor Davis asked whether the sign could be smaller and at a height of no more than 18 inches. Ms. Rasmussen said that a smaller sign would be fine.
Councillor Reeves asked what the presumed purpose of the sign is. Ms. Rasmussen said that when there is more than one car in a lot, the purpose is to enable the driver to know where to put the car. Councillor Kelley said that the sign also keeps other cars from parking there. The shared car concept relies on the car being there when it is supposed to be there.
Councillor Ward stated that the vehicle sharing company could use online service to identify where the car is.
Vice Mayor Seidel then moved to public comment.
Marilee Meyer, 10 Dana Street, said that she basically supports Zipcar and car-sharing. Her issue is how to implement it. In her neighborhood there are a lot of small apartment buildings without assigned parking and there is a lot of on-street parking. Giving up 10 percent of neighborhood parking would be a fiasco.
Dan Curtin, 25 First Street, General Manager of Zipcar, Inc., spoke in support of the proposed amendment. The service works best when people only have to travel 3-5 blocks to access the zipcar. Parking for shared vehicles is appropriate for residential neighborhoods because vehicle sharing will reduce the number of cars to be parked. The signage is to help people to get right back to the right place to leave the car for the next user.
Terrence Smith, 21 Manassas Avenue, Director of Government Relations, Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the proposed amendments.
Joan Pickett, 59 Ellery Street, President of Mid Cambridge Neighborhood Association, described some bad experiences of a primarily residential parking lot in which she rented a parking space, changing overnight to become an entirely zipcar parking lot. She said that she rents a parking space across the street. Three neighborhood residents rented spaces there. The owner told her that he intended to raise the rent from $130.00 to $225.00 a month because that is the rent that a commercial enterprise can get and he was going to rent to Zipcar. Luckily, the residential zoning prohibited rental to a commercial business and her rent did not go up. She said that neighborhood-specific issues should be considered. The City Council needs to understand the economics, for example, her own experience. Ms. Pickett added that the question of mixing commercial activity in neighborhoods also needs exploration. She submitted a copy of an article in the May 2009 Mid-Cambridge Association newsletter (Attachment B).
Councillor Reeves asked Ms. Pickett why the owner of the parking space did not raise the rent anyway. Ms. Pickett said that what he could get from Zipcar was not the market rent for a neighbor renting to a neighbor.
Chris Robinson, Ware Street, said Zipcar is very hardnosed in the way they deal with customers. Perhaps it should be limited to commercial spaces that already exist, not neighborhood parking spots.
Steve Kaiser, 91 Hamilton Street, said this is a very good discussion. One of the purposes of the shared vehicle program is to reduce the number of vehicles. This is an economic issue as well. In some senses it could drive the cost of parking up and in some ways down. He also noted the monopoly aspect of Zipcar as well as the special permit provisions of the proposed amendment.
Heather Hoffman, 213 Hurley Street, said that for several months she was a Zipcar user. The signs are important to tell where the car is and where to return it. She has not seen Zipcar cause any increase in trash around their parking spaces nor has she noticed any increase in late-night noise attributable to Zipcar. Ms. Hoffman noted that the proposed amendment in Section 11.23.1 paragraph 8 requires that the shared vehicle display a valid residential parking permit and asked how a commercial vehicle could have such a permit.
Councillor Davis asked why not make shared-vehicle parking on the street, in spots where parking is currently allowed, but when trucks and SUV's park there instead of small cars, visibility is impaired for turning vehicles.
Francis Donovan, 42 Irving Street, said that he lives up the street from a parking lot that overnight became a parking lot for thirty zipcars. The distinction between residential and commercial parking is important. Zipcar is an aggressive company. The City needs a balanced plan. He urged the committee to take the time to develop a plan that considers all of the interests involved.
Lawrence Adkins, Hayes Street, said that he respects Zipcar, but this is an issue of commercial parking in residential neighborhoods. More conversation about this is needed without the three minute limits of public comment. More information on the impact is necessary.
Councillor Davis suggested on-street parking for shared vehicles in residential neighborhoods.
Ms. Rasmussen said that there are advantages and disadvantages to on-street parking spots for shared vehicles. Street cleaning and snow clearing are complications for the users. It is also more difficult to manage an on-street space. Even with signs, people park there when they need a parking space and then when the driver tries to return the vehicle the space has been taken. The success of vehicle sharing depends on being able to count on the vehicle being where it is supposed to be at a particular time.
Councillor Kelley asked whether other cities have vehicle-sharing services. Ms. Rasmussen answered in the affirmative. There are some on the West Coast. Also the City of Somerville has vehicle sharing. Councillor Kelley requested copies of regulations and protocols from other cities where there are vehicle sharing programs.
It was agreed without objection that the petition would remain in committee.
Councillor Maher and Vice Mayor Seidel thanked all those present for their participation. The hearing adjourned at six o'clock PM.
For the Committee,
Councillor David Maher, Co-Chair
Vice Mayor Sam Seidel, Co-Chair