Worcester Modernizes Parking & Zoning

New Zoning Reflects Urban Appeal

Back in June of last year, the Worcester city counsel began a debate about whether to update zoning codes. With a few modifications, these changes are reported to have been adopted. Essentially Worcester has created a new zone in the downtown area to reform parking and density. I believe that the changes that will be adopted will be very positive for the city; I discussed some of the problems with the existing rules and solutions in an earlier post.

Where is the New Zone?

For starters, this new set of rules really applies to the urbanized portions of the city. According to this report by the city, the new rules will be in effect for downtown; Shrewsbury Street; Main Street; Highland Street; Chandler Street; Pleasant Street; Grafton Street; and Quinsig Village. The map shown below comes from the city website and visually shows the new urban zone highlighted in green. 

Why Change Parking?

Worcester has always proven itself to be an outlier by providing way too much parking downtown. The city has seven major lots or garages right downtown and businesses, particularly restaurants, had been required by law to provide obscene amounts of parking. For example, restaurants such as The Boynton or The Sole Proprietor have massive parking lots along busy Highland Street. In the case of the Sole, the parking lot is large enough to provide enough space to open another restaurant! When compounding this parking effect many times over, Worcester has become a city of low-density, low-development and lots of cars! The new rules seek to change this.

Key New Rules

  • Off-Street parking is no longer required downtown
  • New parking is not required for converted buildings 
  • No new surface parking lots
  • No gas stations, mechanics, car dealerships or open storage lots

Taken together, these rules will help to ensure that the city promotes downtown as a real downtown. Reducing the minimum parking requirements for restaurants will empower business owners to make their own decisions about how to best invest their money. Replacing parking areas with new businesses will help encourage growth of the urban core and will make Worcester feel like more of a true city. 

Why Change Density?

Compared to similar New England cities, Worcester has one of the lowest population densities. The city has a much larger percentage of single family homes than does Hartford, Providence or Boston. Many areas within the city, even some that are close to downtown, can feel quite suburban. In many cases, the suburban style development of the city has put a cap on growth potential. Though there has been lots of opposition from certain groups of residents, as Worcester's economy and population expands, the city needs to be able to absorb more population density. 

Key New Rules

  • New buildings will be required to have small setbacks
  • No new detached single family homes
  • Main entrance for pedestrians must face street

Together with the parking rules, Worcester is on the right track to encouraging sustainable and smart development of it's downtown areas!