Boston Mayor Michelle Wu did suburban commercial property owners and developers a big favor the other day when she proposed a dramatic hike in Boston’s linkage fees for all types of new commercial projects, with a big penalty aimed at biolabs.
While building costs soar, borrowing becomes more expensive, and lab demand is cooling, Wu wants to double linkage payments for labs (to $30.78 per square foot) and raise the fees on other types of commercial developments by 50 percent. She also wants to cut the exemption threshold from 100,000 to 50,000 square feet.
This follows Cambridge which just increased linkage fees by 66 percent (to $33.34) on all commercial developments. And Watertown is next, having just received Beacon Hill’s approval to impose an $18 linkage fee.
Eighteen bucks looks enticing next to Boston and Cambridge. But it’s not good compared to neighboring communities where there are no required linkage payments.
Which is why out along Interstate 95 many developers and investors (and, frankly, me) were high-fiving each other, following Wu’s announcement.
Yes, this could be the competitive edge needed to lure tenants at a time when some suburban developments – such as the Mark Development and Alexandria Real Estate Equities lab and housing project at the Riverside MBTA station – are on pause.
Then again, smart developers realize this is only a short-term advantage. Our suburban ecosystem’s success depends on Boston’s success. Making it onerous to develop in our urban core isn’t good long-term.
Plus, let’s acknowledge why Wu wants to raise linkage fees (and raise inclusionary thresholds). It’s to fund more affordable housing – something our suburban communities have been woefully negligent doing.
And it’s not that suburban municipalities aren’t already demanding their pound of flesh. Nearly every project undergoes laborious negotiations with abutters and other stakeholders for various pet-project givebacks. Who doesn’t like pocket parks, swing sets or walking trails? But, really, we’d be better off if givebacks invested in housing.
In that way Wu is doing our region a second favor: Leading the way on developing affordable housing, something our suburbs need to become much better at.
— Greg Reibman, president, Charles River Regional Chamber (representing Newton, Needham, Watertown and Wellesley)