January 11 2019,  Malden

Board supports height cap on multifamily projects

By Barbara Taormina


The Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend that multifamily residential buildings in the central business district be capped at seven stories or a maximum height of 75 feet.

The board’s recommendation will now return to the City Council, which will make the final decision on the change to the zoning ordinance. A two-thirds majority vote of the council is required.

Ward 5 Councillor Barbara Murphy sponsored the proposal for the height restriction after an earlier proposal to limit residential buildings to six stories failed to win the support of two-thirds of the City Council last year. Murphy said the concern was that Jefferson Apartment Group’s new development exceeded the proposed six-story limit because of the grade on the Exchange Street side of the project. The proposed limit would have created a batch of existing, nonconforming units.

Murphy reworked the proposal to cover the new building and presented it again this week at a joint public hearing of the Planning Board and the City Council’s Ordinance Committee. The Planning Board will review applications for buildings of up to six stories while the City Council will make decisions on projects greater than six stories but limited to seven.

“The majority of the citizens of Malden want to see this happen,” said Murphy, who cited results of the recent Growth Management Study and a citywide survey on Malden’s growth and development trends.

“I hope you recognize what our residents want,” she added.

Former City Councillor Neil Kinnon presented a slew of information on the financial aspects of residential development and its impact on city budgets and services. Kinnon said taller buildings create risks for the city’s fire department. He also said that towers of market-rate apartments have changed the city’s economic profile and limited increases in state aid for city schools.

Local resident Jon Maiara, who many know for his work recording and posting videos of city meetings, spoke against the seven-story limit. Maiara said the explosive cost in housing was due in part to community resistance to building anything new. “Rather than say we don’t want more than seven stories, we should look at each project,” he said.

Although they have voted against recommending height restrictions in the past, Planning Board members supported Murphy’s proposal. “I favor this,” said Planning Board Chairman Charles Loven. “It’s the right thing to do.”

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