North Massachusetts Avenue Improvement Study

businesses at Trolley Square

In 2010, the City of Cambridge Community Development Department began a study to explore ways to improve the character of “North Mass Ave” from Beech Street to the Arlington line, with the goal of developing recommendations for improvements that address zoning and urban design objectives, design guidelines, streetscape improvements, and enhancement of the retail environment. Neither street reconstruction nor major infrastructure work is anticipated on Massachusetts Avenue in this location, therefore changes to the physical layout of the street including the median and curb lines are not a part of this process. The study process included a series of public meetings which began in winter 2010.


The City Council did not act on the Trolley Square map change zoning petition which expired on January 15, 2013.  Community Development Department staff will continue to work on zoning language based on community input and it is anticipated that a modified petition will be filed in the future.       

The Ordinance Committee of the City Council held a public hearing on the Trolley Square map change zoning petition on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 4:00 P. M. in the Sullivan Chamber, City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Avenue.

The Planning Board of the City of Cambridge held a public hearing on the Trolley Square map change zoning petition on Tuesday, October 16, 2012. 

The City of Cambridge Community Development Department held a community meeting to discuss the Trolley Square map change zoning petition on Thursday, September 27th, 2012, 6:30 P. M, Trolley Square Community Room

The North Massachusetts Avenue Zoning Petition, was passed by a 9-0 vote of the City Council at their meeting on July 30, 2012. 

In April 2012, the North Massachusetts Avenue zoning petition, which was created as part of the North Massachusetts Avenue Improvement Study, was submitted to the City Council. There were public hearings at the Planning Board on May 15th, 2012 and July 17th, 2012 and at the Ordinance Committee on June 6th, 2012 and June 28th, 2012.   The Planning Board recommended the adoption of the zoning changes in the petition.

For more information please contact Taha Jennings at 617/349-4603 or by email at tjennings@cambridgema.gov

The City Council did not act on the Trolley Square map change zoning petition which expired on January 15, 2013.

The North Massachusetts Avenue Zoning Petition, was passed by a 9-0 vote of the City Council at their meeting on July 30, 2012.

For more information please contact Taha Jennings at 617/349-4603 or by email at tjennings@cambridgema.gov

In addition to being the primary transportation and retail corridor through North Cambridge, North Massachusetts Avenue between the Porter Square and the Arlington line is a gateway into the City with a unique mix of land uses and characteristics.

In the 1980s, due in large part to the addition of Red Line MBTA stations at Porter Square, Davis Square, and at Alewife, new planning issues emerged on Massachusetts Avenue in the area. The North Massachusetts Avenue Urban Design/Land Use Study and the Urban Design Guidelines Handbook were created in 1986 and resulted in the establishment of the North Massachusetts Avenue Overlay District and the BA-2 zoning district.

There have also been changes to the BA-2 district, which is located along most of Massachusetts Avenue in this area, that lowered the threshold for a special permit requirement from 50,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet on new development, lowered the height allowed for new development within 50 feet of a residential district from 45 feet to 35 feet, and established a 20 foot setback requirement where a lot abuts a residential district.

The North Massachusetts Avenue Improvement Study was the result of a City Council Order and recommendations from residents through the 2008 North Cambridge Neighborhood Study Update. The process involved working closely with residents, workers, shoppers, and business owners along the Avenue to understand the current issues and challenges with the character, as well as to identify and prioritize opportunities to address them.

  • retail on North Mass Ave
  • businesses at Trolley Square
  • North Mass Ave retail
  • Historic properties on North Mass Ave
  • Residential area of North Mass Ave
  • church building on North Mass Ave
  • Davis Square Lofts

    Trolley Square - Davis Square Lofts

  • Dicks Auto Body

    Trolley Square - Dicks Auto Body

  • Linear Path

    Trolley Square - Linear Park

  • MBTA Trolley Yard

    Trolley Square - MBTA Trolley Yard

For more information please contact Stuart Dash, Director of Community Planning, at 617/349-4640 or email at sdash@cambridgema.gov.