The mission of the Planning Division is to facilitate development of an appropriate mix of uses, protect and enhance the physical environment, and shape the built character of the City of Somerville by implementing the Somerville Zoning Ordinance. Zoning is a police power that allows cities to regulate size and density of development and the use of land. To some extent it also allows for design review.
The Planning Division works with the residential and business communities to improve the quality of life and living environment through supporting sustainable growth that contributes to the tax base, expands job opportunities for residents and ensures a high level of services. The Staff strive to enhance relationships with residents and neighborhood organizations and to expand participation in the planning process by providing information and technical assistance to the City's residents, property owners, neighborhood groups, and developers. To view long range strategic plans, please see OSPCD Home. For reports and decisions for individual zoning cases, see Reports and Decisions.
Planning Division's responsibilities 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; and
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.
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
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)
Planned Unit Development (PUD) (SPSR for phases)
Revision to Permit
SPGA that originally granted approval
Zoning Application and Review Process (Click image to enlarge.).
Please note: For revisions to ZBA permits, and Comprehensive Permits, the procedure is slightly different. For more detailed information please see the application information sheet.
Information for Abutters/Interested Parties:
Regulatory Boards and Committees
Design Review Committee assists the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals by providing design criteria, guidance and recommendations for those applications specifically referred to the Committee by either Board or as requested by the Applicant.
Planning Board is the special permit granting authority (SPGA) for some applications and districts in the City as shown in the above table of permit types. The Board also provides recommendations on zoning amendments to the Board of Aldermen.
Zoning Board of Appeals is the special permit granting authority for some applications and districts in the City as shown in the above table of permit types.
Although the following boards are not staffed by the Planning Division, a project may also be subject to their review.
Historic Preservation Commission reviews projects within Local Historic Districts (LHDs) if the proposed construction will affect the appearance of the property as seen from the street. It also reviews applications for demolition permits and permits to substantially alter structures that are over 50 years old, even if they are not within an LHD.
Conservation Commission reviews projects within 100 feet of the Mystic River or Alewife Brook, as well as other projects that impact wetland resources.
Projects subject to Historic Preservation Commission or Conservation Commission review and approval should secure those approvals before submitting for a zoning permit.
Proposed Developments: Reports and Decisions
For reports and decisions on cases that have been or are being heard by the Design Review Committee, Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals, see Reports and Decisions.