NEW BEDFORD — It was Ben Marshall against the Zoning Board of Appeals and dozens of disapproving neighbors.

Marshall, a housing developer from Boston, plans to redevelop a former office building site at 1061 Pleasant Street into modern one-bedroom apartments for young professionals. His challenge: convincing the zoning board to let him do the project with only 27 off-street parking spaces for 35 apartments.

“People will fight for parking spots left and right,” said zoning board member Leo Choquette at the September meeting.

“We really think, with one-bedrooms and young professionals, in general this is not a demography that’s out there buying cars or owning cars,” Marshall said. “These are people … ”

He trailed off as others in the room started to laugh.

“Really? Really?” board Chair Laura Parrish said.

“We’re not Boston,” Vice Chair Celeste Paleologos said with a chuckle. “It’s New Bedford.”

“I’d like to think I’m still a young professional, and I own two cars,” Choquette said. 

“Congratulations,” Marshall said.

To Marshall, the board’s reaction was a startling contradiction. New Bedford is nearing the end of a yearslong process to create zoning districts that foster more walkable development near the new MBTA commuter rail stations — right where Marshall’s project is located. Now, the same city government that had signaled it wanted housing developments like this one was telling him his project didn’t belong.

“You can’t live in New Bedford without a car — at all,” city resident James Clark said at the meeting.

But city planners hope to change that with the proposed “transit-oriented development” zoning districts. The districts aim to create neighborhoods with a dense mix of housing and businesses within a short walk, so residents don’t need to depend on cars. They would surround the city’s two new commuter rail stations, nearing completion at Church Street in the North End and the Whale’s Tooth parking lot near downtown.

Boston-bound trains are expected to start running next summer. Planners aim to get City Council’s approval to implement the new zoning districts by the end of next year.

“We want to plan for these corridors differently, because we don’t want them to be car-centric,” said Jennifer Carloni, the city’s planning director. “It shouldn’t be these deserts of parking lots along the street.”

The city’s current zoning requires two off-street parking spaces per apartment, but the proposed districts would allow for just 0.75 parking spaces per apartment, making Marshall’s 27-spot plan legal. Officials and experts are optimistic about the plan’s feasibility. They say there is an appetite for less car-dependent lifestyles in New Bedford.

“It’s almost an invisible population,” said Andre LeRoux, who has studied development in mid-sized Massachusetts cities as director of the Gateway Hubs Project at the think tank MassInc. In New Bedford, almost a quarter of renter households don’t have a car, 2022 census data shows. 

For people whose primary commute will be on the new MBTA route, it might make sense to not own a car, advocates say. They may prefer to walk, bike, take the bus, or a rideshare to their local destinations. Transit-oriented development is about making those options more feasible by bringing amenities closer to where people live.

Advocates for transit-oriented development envision neighborhoods with a wide range of amenities nearby. Parents could drop off their children at day care on their way to the train station and get a cup of coffee while they wait for the train. On their walk home, commuters could stop at a grocery store and return a library book. In the ideal transit-oriented district, advocates say all of those trips could be short walks. 

The proposed zoning districts are a vital part of addressing the city’s severe housing crisis, officials say. Housing costs are rising because of increasing demand for a stagnant supply of apartments. The solution, they say, is to build more housing. But in a centuries-old city with little developable land left, the only way to add units is by increasing density.


The city’s current zoning is part of the problem, said Josh Amaral, who directs the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

“We can’t say rents are too high, and then say every unit has to have two parking spaces,” he said.

Parking requirements can stand in the way of creating more housing, said Carloni, the planning director. Off-street parking spots are expensive to build, take up room that could otherwise be put towards living space, and aren’t always necessary, she said.

“From a planning perspective, are we prioritizing people or are we prioritizing cars?” she said.

Carloni encouraged skeptics of transit-oriented development to think about the parts of New Bedford that they love, like downtown or parts of the North End — they might notice that there’s not much parking. She said current zoning standards don’t allow that kind of dense, historic development anymore.

Chris Dempsey, a transit advocate who served as the state’s assistant secretary of transportation under Gov. Deval Patrick, rejects the view that transit-oriented development is a concept reserved for big cities like Boston or San Francisco.

The “historic feel” that the New Bedford prides itself on comes from old patterns of urban growth, Dempsey said. For most of the city’s history, people walked to most places they needed to go, and the local infrastructure reflected that.

“I think transit-oriented development will make New Bedford more like New Bedford,” he said. “TOD isn’t just consistent with that heritage, it’s really complementary to that.”

Unknown photographer. Tomorrow Marks 42nd Anniversary of the So Called Chapman’s Monkey Fire, November 1914. Glass dry-plate negative, 4 x 5 in. NBWM Photography Collection, Standard-Times Collection, 1981.61.341. Image courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Purchase and Union Street in New Bedford, 1914. Transit-oriented development is a return to the ways people used to get around the city, advocates say. Credit: Image courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Denser neighborhoods could be a vital part of the city’s economic development, said LeRoux, the MassInc researcher. These districts will take up a small portion of the city’s land, but they could generate significant economic productivity and tax revenue because they will have concentrated clusters of businesses.

That’s good for businesses that depend on foot traffic, but it’s also good for people, LeRoux said. Denser, mixed-use development makes it easier for people to connect with their neighbors, and he pointed to research that shows social connectivity translates to better health.

“It’s really important to have active streetscapes, and parking lots are not active streetscapes — for humans, anyway,” LeRoux said.

Transportation and housing are the highest costs for most American households. Advocates say transit-oriented development saves people money — it reduces housing costs by increasing supply and reduces transportation costs by decreasing car ownership.

Officials admit there will be growing pains. For businesses and bus routes to locate in these neighborhoods, there has to be demand, which means people have to move there first. The closest grocery store to the 1061 Pleasant Street development is Market Basket, a mile-and-a-half away.

“If you need to bike two miles to wherever you buy your groceries, that’s probably not the most convenient lifestyle,” Amaral said.

The city has paused its planning process for the proposed zoning districts because the state recently created new zoning rules for MBTA communities. The new regulations require cities in the MBTA network to create multifamily housing districts in response to the state’s housing crisis.

Carloni said the transit-oriented development districts will likely bring the city into compliance with the housing law’s complex formula, but the officials are analyzing property data to make sure. She expects the City Council to approve the proposed districts by the end of next year.

In the meantime, the zoning board can only consider projects under current zoning law, its chair said at the September meeting.

More than three-dozen neighbors signed a petition against the 1061 Pleasant Street project, which sits just across Route 18 from the Whale’s Tooth MBTA station, near the site of a planned pedestrian bridge. It would convert the existing four-story office building into 11 apartments and add another four-story residential building with 24 apartments to the lot. The existing building is a nearly 200-year-old Greek Revival mansion that until recently served as the offices of Child and Family Services.

A developer plans to turn the site of the former Child and Family Services offices into a 35-unit housing development. Credit: Grace Ferguson / The New Bedford Light
Architectural rendering of the planned apartment buildings at 1061 Pleasant St. Credit: Ganek Architects Inc.

Several neighbors spoke against it at the meeting. Parking was their main concern — few could imagine anyone living in New Bedford without a car — but some also complained that the size of the project didn’t match their neighborhood. Most other properties in the area are two- to three-story homes, some with no off-street parking, and residents said parking on the narrow streets is already tight.

“If we have more apartments built in, it’s really going to increase the traffic in our neighborhood,” said Gayle Dayton, who lives nearby. “In the search for solutions to housing shortages, let’s not create more problems by building something in this neighborhood that it physically can’t support.”

Another resident joked that the developer might need to include a disclaimer on their rental applications that “only people with bicycles need apply.”

“What I heard tonight was, first, that New Bedford — our neighbors — didn’t want the density that’s planned on the maps,” Marshall, the developer, said near the end of the meeting.

The body granted Marshall permission to delay his case so he could do a traffic study. He declined to comment further on the project in an interview with The Light, citing the pending zoning board proceedings.

Email Grace Ferguson at

Join the Conversation


  1. Amazing how these zoning boards are loaded with “let the free market decide” guys, but when private developers tell them the free market says people want to drive less & take transit more, they put the boot of big government on their necks to force them to build fewer homes & more parking. And less housing/more parking will mean less tax revenue for New Bedford, meaning everyone else will pay to subsidize this parking.

  2. Consider turning the site of the movie theater on Kings Hwy into an apartment complex and create a pedestrian bridge over the tracks. New life to that area may improve the vacant stores like the old Shaw’s into thriving businesses.

  3. There is one thing your article missed.It is the fact that all of the neighbors who will be impacted by this project have been ready willing and did meet with the developer . We are not so naive as to think there will be no changes made as regards this project but are trying to incorporate models and designs that align with the integrity of our historic neighborhood.

  4. “Nothing changes if nothing changes”

    New Bedfords perpetual crab pot mentality is impressive.
    20 sq miles is all the city we have and there is plenty of room for other ideas like live work space and walkable/ bikeable neighborhoods.
    There are many ways we can increase the livability of the city.
    You want to drive? Great, but some of us want to be able to walk or ride bike too but without taking ones life into their own hands.
    Let’s make room for other residents; yes I was born and raised here (seems to me a qualifier for change?) because people can and do live in NB without a car (ask the people at the bus stops/ taking Uber/ walking/ ask the residents who can’t afford a car/ or simply and most importantly, choose not to have one.

    There are many that champion our community in positive ways but it also feels to me that NB can’t have nice things due to generational strongholds of apathy, ignorance, fear and inertia.
    We are worthy NB – Rise Up!

  5. Where are the city councilors who campaigned on housing affordability? Prices will keep climbing in the future if new housing is not built. If we keep discouraging developers from building in NB, they’ll go elsewhere and things will remain the same or get worse.

  6. A walkable area where people live and have services nearby, is appealing but is not a reality now. In addition to planning more apartments, the city should be looking at other practical aspects of this proposed area around the train station.
    How about providing a supermarket within walking distance of this area? Something downtown residents would welcome.
    Maybe the current bus routes need to be restructured to make the bus a more appealing, functional alternative to owning a car.
    Parking is already a problem in the neighborhood where these proposed apartments will be built. With the pedestrian walkway starting here, there will be an influx of commuters looking for street parking, and this is in addition to the residents of the proposed apartments.
    At the neighborhood meetings I attended, none of the residents were opposed to developing the property as housing. A major concern is the density of the number of apartments in a small footprint, without access for emergency vehicles, as well as a reasonable amount of parking.
    It is an admirable goal to develop housing, and to want to create walkable communities. But we need to have services in place, or at least be building services at the same time as housing.
    There are indeed many residents of New Bedford who don’t own cars. I would guess that, for many, this is not a choice they have made because they have so many nearby services. Let’s make life easier for them and for new residents, by looking at what can be done to create walkable communities that include housing AND the services to support the residents of that housing.

  7. In New Bedford there isn’t much room to spread out what we need is to spread up More high rise apartments with commercial space and underground parking. We are a city with great potential if we can only stop our middle ages thinking. We need more progressives in City Hall from the Mayor to the Council.

    1. Progressives, yeah right, you mean people like Bernie Sanders, AOC, Jayapal, Presley, Omar, Bush, etc., etc., maybe they can double tax us homeowners to provide free rent for those who couldn’t be bothered to get an education, and a career with benefits instead of three part time jobs while complaining how the price of everything is too high.
      No thanks, I’ll stick with capitalism.

  8. The proposed zoning change and zoning district lines are a very reasonable attempt to 1) comply with state law and 2) encourage housing near the new train stations.

    There’s a housing crisis in many parts of the Commonwealth, New Bedford included. One councillor decries cramming housing into smaller spaces but that’s EXACTLY what has to be done in a city with a very limited amount of developable land.

    This relaxing of parking standards to encourage housing has been successfully done twice before…in New Bedford!

    First, elderly parking standards were significant relaxed by reducing the requirement to a space for every four units of elderly housing. The result was hundreds of elderly units successfully built in all parts of the city, eliminating a senior housing crisis .

    More recently the city amended its parking code to allow downtown housing developments to claim , for the purposes of zoning compliance, spaces in nearby parking garages. Recent loft conversions have benefited from this flexibility. The recently announced Keystone Apartment’s will, I am sure, take advantage of this option to gain compliance.

    If local officials are serious about solving the affordable housing crisis they need to the many respondents here who want them adopt new ways of looking at, and doing things to encourage housing.

    The City Planner’s proposal not only brings New Bedford in compliance with state law but it takes advantage of the long-awaited train to addresses the housing/parking problem in a manner consistent with New Bedford’s parking code precedents.

  9. The developer who seems to think people can get by without a car, and that’s just impossible. The 25% of residents who say they don’t have a more than likely can’t afford one with the added cost of insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc. While the bus may be a practical option for people who are retired, or otherwise don’t work, ie; welfare, disability, or otherwise, the people who will be able to afford the new one bedroom apartments will more than likely have two cars if they don’t work the same shift for the same company, and building a supermarket downtown as one of the commenters suggested isn’t realistic with since supermarkets also require a lot of parking.
    If there are some people relatively new to New Bedford, just watch and see how horrible the parking problem is when 6+ inches of snow is in the forecast and a parking ban is in effect which eliminates 50% of the parking currently being used on residential streets, and now more than ever with the liberal socialist Democrats allowing each illegal immigrant a drivers licence, the parking problem is going to be worse than ever before.
    Mr. Marshal, the developer for the project will tell you everything you want to hear, but the fact is, he won’t be living in that building with 0.75 parking spaces for each apartment, and people who may be interested in living there will change their minds quickly after finding out there’s little to no parking.
    I wouldn’t live there for free if it meant my wife and I giving up our cars, our independence, our vehicle to take is anywhere we want to go, when we want, and most of all, the ability to leave a a moment’s notice and drive to the aid of a family member of friend in need.

  10. For all those complaining about the lack of affordable housing, it just seems unaffordable to you based on your low income, what we have in New Bedford just like every other city & town is “Market Rate Housing”, and the real estate taxes, water & sewer rates, the cost of city employees, materials, health insurance, and all other expenses rise annually, that’s never going to change.
    Also, on the topic of affordable housing, New Bedford has more housing projects than any other city in the state with a similar population size, and they get free utilities, free water & sewer, plenty of parking, and many residents of those housing projects have a boyfriend or girlfriend living with them at no additional cost. Also, don’t forget how many people are living in a section 8 apartment where they pay one 34% of the rent while MA tax payers pay the balance, this is what you get for electing Democrats, nothing positive for the middle class and working poor, and you haven’t even begun to see what it’s going to look like when the illegal immigrants are all settled in amongst you.
    Enjoy New Bedford, your worst days are yet to come.

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