About Planning and Zoning

The Planning Division develops recommendations that allow us to best utilize our available land resources in meeting the needs of our residents and businesses. We seek to develop more and better community focused spaces while preserving the character of Somerville and incorporating the vision residents have for their neighborhoods. The Planning Division pursues these goals by administering and implementing the SomerVision comprehensive plan; which addresses the City's goals, policies, and actions for the years of 2010 to 2030. SomerVision and our neighborhood planning projects help us understand the needs of residents, while our zoning code aims to keep development aligned with our long-term planning goals.

You can learn more about SomerVision at www.somervillebydesign.com/planning/somervision

You can learn more about our Neighborhood Plans at www.somervillbydesign.com

You can learn more about our Zoning Code, and our proposed overhaul at somervillema.gov/zoning

The Planning Division also administers the Historic Preservation ordinances by providing review and recommendation of cases before the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Historic Preservation Commission. You can learn more about the Historic Preservation Commission HERE.

Information about projects reviewed by the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is provided further down the page.

General responsibilities of the Planning Division include:

  • Planning, organizing, directing, and coordinating planning activities for the City of Somerville, including updating and implementation of the City's Zoning Ordinance.
  • Administering planning and zoning activities before the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals, including preparation of reports and memoranda on matters before each Board.
  • Administering planning and zoning activities before the Design Review Committee on permit applications subject to design review.
  • Maintaining Somerville's historic resources and its unique character will ultimately benefit all members of the community by bolstering pride and drawing visitors to the City.
  • Coordinating the flow of information and procedures with other related City departments and offices.
  • Performing duties as directed by the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, including maintaining current and historical statistics, reports, analysis relevant to the activities and needs of the Boards.
  • Serving as liaison with the other metropolitan, state and federal agencies and private institutions on matters pertaining to planning and zoning regulations and best practices.
  • Supporting sustainable growth that expands job opportunities, improves services and contributes to the City's tax base.
  • Strive to enhance relationships with residents and neighborhood organizations and to expand participation in the planning process.
  • Zoning Approval

  • Studies & Proposed Amendments

  • Reports & Decisions

  • Regulations & Policies

  • Forms & Information

The Planning Division facilitates the review and approval of several types of permits. For definitions of permit types, please see MA Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit Glossary and Modules.

Type of Permit

Special Permit Granting Authority (SPGA)

Special Permit (SP)

ZBA in Residential, Industrial, Business, University & Open Space Districts

Planning Board in Assembly Square Mixed-Use District, Arts Overlay District, Corridor Commercial District, Transit Oriented Districts

Special Permit with Design Review (SPD)
Special Permit with Site Plan Review (SPSR)
Site Plan Approval (SPA) Planning Board
Planned Unit Development (PUD) (SPSR for Phases) Planning Board
Variance Zoning Board of Appeals
Administrative Appeals Zoning Board of Appeals
Revision to Permit SPGA that originally granted approval

 

Zoning Application and Review Process

#1
  Determine Need for Zoning Approval


Applicant determines the need for a Special Permit or Variance through a Building Permit denial letter and/or zoning analysis.

 

#2
  Preliminary Review


Applicant is encouraged to set up a meeting with Planning, other applicable staff, neighbors, and sometimes with the Design Review Committee.

 

#3
  Zoning Application


Applicant completes and submits an application form to the City Clerk's Office with the appropriate fee.

 

#4
  Review/Advertisement


Staff mail notice of the hearing date to abutters, advertise in the newspaper, and write a report to the Board. The Design Review Committee may also want to review the proposal.

 

#5
  Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or Planning Board (PB) Hearing


Applicant presents at the public hearing. Case will open within 65 days of filing a complete application.

 

#6
  SPGA (PB or ZBA) Decision


A vote is taken within 90 days of close of hearing . Staff file decision with the City Clerk and mail to abutters within 14 days of the vote.

 

#7
  Appeals May Be Filed with the City Clerk


Decisions made by the SPGA may be filed with the City Clerk within 20 days of the decision filing.

 

#8
  Document Decision


Applicant certifies decision with the City Clerk, picks up stamped approval plans with the Planning Division, and records decision with the Registry of Deeds or Land Court (as appropriate).

 

#9
  Applicant Applies for Building Permit Through ISD


Construction must comply with all building, electrical, etc. codes as well as zoning approval.

 

#10
  Applicant Calls Planning Division & ISD for Final Sign-Off


Applicant obtains final sign-off of permit or Certificate of Occupancy.