3A Housing Mandate Opposed

Tuesday May 14, 2024

No 3A

REGIONAL – Several North Shore towns appear to be girding for battle with the state government, opposing the mandate for MBTA communities to build multi-family housing.
At their Town Meetings last week, Rowley, Georgetown and West Newbury were among towns across the state that refused or postponed a decision to adopt new zoning overlay districts, which would allow builders to construct apartments and townhomes by right.
By right means town planning and zoning boards have less authority to regulate projects. In this case, builders could design and construct multi-family homes with less oversight from the municipalities.
The state’s goal is to speed up and make less expensive for private construction firms to add thousands of middle-income housing in hopes of easing the housing shortage that plague many communities. Many of the new housing districts would be near MBTA stations, such as the one in Rowley.
The controversial MBTA Communities Act Section 3A requires 177 communities to create zoning districts of at least 50 acres in size and permit multi-family projects with a density of at least 15 homes per acre. Larger towns and cities with better transit access are being required to allow more housing.
The communities have until Dec. 31 to adopt changes in local zoning laws or face a lawsuit from the state forcing them to comply.
The state government is also threatening to cut off some funds for municipalities that do not comply with the MBTA measure including money for local road, bridge, water and sewer improvements. This is funding that would be needed for additional housing.
Towns might also lose state Housing and Economic Development grants and Local Capital Projects funds, plus some discretionary aid.
Rowley SelectBoard Chair Clifford Pierce warned the Town Meeting members who gathered at the Pine Grove Elementary School that, “You don’t want to get into a lawsuit you are going to lose. And that is a lawsuit we would lose.”
Pierce’s warning fell on deaf ears. The 311 Rowley Town Meeting members were so opposed to the zoning change that the moderator saw no reason to hold a roll-call vote.
In Georgetown, Town Meeting Moderator David Surface passed over the warrant article that would have approved the Planning Board’s vote to implement the new zoning overlay districts without explanation. He said only that the town had until December to vote on the measure and could wait until the fall Town Meeting.
West Newbury also postponed a decision on the zoning change.
The concern is that towns that delay a decision until the fall Town Meeting will have too little time to make changes to the overlay districts before the December deadline.
Some towns like Newbury have agreed to implement the zoning changes, but fear the additional housing will create significant financial challenges, such as more students to educate and more infrastructure.
Like many small towns in the state, Newbury is concerned creating an additional 154 units of multifamily housing in the town will force it or the builders to construct a public sewer or wastewater treatment plant it currently does not have or can afford.
All eyes are on how the courts rule on a suit by the town of Milton to stop the state from implementing the measure. Gov. Maura Healey called the Milton suit “unfortunate.”

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