Somerville City-Wide Zoning Overhaul

Client Challenge | Somerville had compiled a set of disorganized zoning regulations over the last half century that limited development and forced the most minor of additions to existing homes through a difficult approval process. The team's challenge was figuring out how to navigate a major change to zoning in the densest city in New England while addressing growth pressure and concerns related to rising costs and displacement.

Team Approach | Principle provided strategic and tactical support for the City’s planning department, including the “Somerville By Design” process in which we engaged the community with a robust action-oriented planning process. This approach improves upon a typical charrette by integrating big-idea policy brainstorms and on-the-ground tactics. In addition, we tested the code at key development parcels and with various hypothetical development projects to provide key feedback on code metrics, functionality, and structure; gave critical feedback and review at key stages of the proposed code's various drafts; produced illustrative renderings of all of the proposed code’s character districts and building types for inclusion in the code document; and facilitated the review of the proposed code by technical experts to determine economic, fiscal, and market impacts.

Project Impact | The first public draft of the code was released in 2015. Over the course of 2016, a series of public workshops and hearings were held to address comments and public concerns. A second draft of the proposed code was released for public review in the spring of 2017. Following a series of open house meetings in the summer of 2017, the code is projected to go before the City’s Board of Alderman for adoption in 2018. The project is expected to provide Somerville with a responsive, fair, efficient, user-friendly, predictable, and flexible system to regulate development across the city.

City of Somerville, Mass.

City of Somerville


Union Square: Adopted 2017
City-Wide: Under Review

Zimmerman Volk Associates

Urban Design
Zoning & Coding
Community Engagement

More Info




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