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Citywide Child Care Zoning

Overview + Latest Updates

The Citywide Child Care Zoning Text Amendment, which makes it easier to create child care facilities in all neighborhoods of Boston was adopted on October 18, 2023 by the Boston Zoning Commission. This action has updated the definitions and language throughout the Zoning Code related to child care and has made child care centers and accessory family child care homes an allowed land use in all zoning subdistricts throughout Boston’s neighborhoods.

These changes were made with support from and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Early Childhood (OEC). OEC and Zoning Reform staff identified barriers within the Zoning Code that needed to be removed to reduce the cost and administrative difficulties of developing child care in several parts of the City. These observations were supported by research conducted by the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement (MOWA) in their 2021 report Making Child Care Work: Results from the 2021 Child Care Census Survey and the Boston Opportunity Agenda (BOA) in their 2023 report (Re)Building Boston’s Early Education and Care Sector: Supply, Affordability and Quality Needed.

Goals and Impacts

  • Bring the Zoning Code up-to-date with state level definitions of child care facilities
  • Make it easier for child care providers to create child care facilities in all neighborhoods, particularly those with large communities of color and immigrant communities where demand for child care is concentrated
  • Enable the creation of more home-based child care facilities through the addition and allowance of “accessory family child care homes” in all residential areas
  • Support the creation of more affordable child care options by reducing zoning barriers that can add to the cost of care

Key Changes from this Text Amendment

  • Update the terms and definitions related to child care facilities in Article 2 and throughout the Zoning Code
  • Make “child care centers” and “accessory family child care homes” allowed uses in all Boston neighborhoods in the use tables of each neighborhood district zoning article*
  • Remove restrictions to the development of child care facilities above the ground floor and other barriers related to the amount of space they can take on a property
  • Remove off-street parking minimum requirements in the parking regulations of each neighborhood district zoning article for child care centers

*with the exception of Maritime Economy Reserve districts.

Background on Child Care in the Zoning Code

Prior to the adoption of the Citywide Child Care Zoning Text Amendment, there were terms and definitions in Article 2 (Definitions) of the Boston Zoning Code for child care facilities that were outdated and did not align with the terms used by the state regulatory body for child care, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC).

While the Boston Zoning Code still used the terms “day care center” and “accessory family day care,” EEC uses the terms “child care center” and “accessory family child care” along with updated definitions which differentiate them from other types of day care, such as day care for seniors.

Additionally, the citywide land use regulations in Article 8 (Regulation of Uses) and the neighborhood district-specific land use regulations that are throughout the Code listed “day care center” and “accessory family day care home” as conditional or forbidden uses in certain subdistricts.

This means that child care facilities could not be built in those places at all or would have to go through the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) process to receive a conditional use permit, thus presenting an administrative and financial barrier to developing these spaces.

Certain neighborhood subdistricts also had limitations on “day care centers” and “accessory family day care homes” that prevented them from being developed beyond the ground floor or limit how much space they can take on a property. These dimensional restrictions do not align with state regulations and make it difficult to increase the size and amount of service that child care providers hope to offer to Boston’s children.

Lastly, many Boston neighborhoods have minimum off-street parking requirements for “day care centers” that require them to build a specific number of parking spaces based on the size of their property. This can be an expensive barrier for developing child care centers especially if certain facilities do not require parking spaces to provide their services. This current requirement also does not align with the City’s goals to reduce reliance on private vehicles and limit parking minimum requirements.

Process + Timeline

  • Drafting Period (July–August 2023)
    • The zoning text amendment was drafted with support and insight from the Mayor’s Office of Early Childhood (OEC).
  • Public Meeting (August 28, 2023) - Meeting Recording + Presentation
    • The zoning text amendment draft was presented to the public, with OEC providing additional background information on child care supply and demand and the impacts these zoning changes will have on that issue.
  • Public Comment Period (August 28, 2023–September 15, 2023)
  • BPDA Board Meeting (September 28, 2023)
    • The zoning text amendment draft was presented to the BPDA Board and approved for petition to the Boston Zoning Commission.
  • Zoning Commission Presentation (October 18, 2023)
    • The zoning text amendment draft was presented to the Zoning Commission for approval. The amendment was approved and adopted into the Boston Zoning Code at this hearing.