City Council Committees Discuss Laboratory Zoning and Affordable Housing


The Economic Development and University Relations committees of the Cambridge City Council held a joint discussion to form recommendations on a laboratory zoning petition and related policy order Tuesday afternoon.

The two committees voted to send a negative recommendation on a petition — which aims to limit the expansion of biotechnology laboratories into Cambridge through amendments to the Cambridge zoning code — and a positive recommendation for a proposed policy order on the creation of a working group that would develop suggestions on lab and neighborhood planning.

City officials first discussed the petition in October 2022, though it was rejected by the Planning Board in December for a lack of specificity.

The petition asks to make a definition of “laboratory use” that differs from other commercial uses and inhibit the construction of new laboratories in certain areas. The petition also requests the establishment of a grandfather clause on all current instances of laboratory use in areas that would become restricted.


Areas that would have restrictions on new biotechnology laboratories include Harvard Square, Central Square, and Porter Square.

Though the items under discussion and in the policy order often hewed closely to the petition’s requests, some city councilors — including Councilors Dennis J. Carlone, Alanna M. Mallon, and Patricia M. Nolan ’80 — argued that the petition failed to connect affordable housing and restriction of laboratories.

“We need to make it very clear that even if something like this passed, there is no guarantee whatsoever that there would be more housing,” Nolan said of the petition. “There’s really two issues we’re trying to deal with. One is the regulation of labs and our neighborhoods, and the other is providing affordable housing.”

Carlone said the Council should acknowledge the impact of its past zoning decisions.

“The Council should recognize we’re the reason that land has gone up in price,” he said. “Previous councils have increased zoning. That’s what did it, so we have to recognize that we have to bite the bullet and pay the price.”

The proposed policy order includes suggestions that the city regulate disturbances like light and noise from laboratories, place restrictions on the size of commercial and laboratory buildings near certain residential neighborhoods, and explore mixed-use development of laboratories and residential units.

These recommendations are now in the hands of the Council and City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05, who must make his own recommendations in consultation with the Development Department and report back to the Council by March 2024.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at

—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at