Days before the end of the public comment period, the MMA and the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association jointly submitted a letter to the Department of Housing and Community Development on draft rules for a new multifamily zoning requirement for “MBTA communities,” and requested an opportunity to be involved in a revision process to make them more workable.

The letter states the organizations’ support for the goals of the new Section 3A of the state’s Zoning Act (Ch. 40A) “to encourage local zoning that supports transit-oriented development with a particular focus on the creation of multifamily housing near public transit stations.” The letter also acknowledges that some of the 175 MBTA communities, particularly more densely developed ones, may be comfortable with the draft guidelines.

“Both of our organizations, however, have heard from a greater number of municipal officials who express significant, grave concerns about the draft guidelines, including, among other concerns, that they are cumbersome, contain unrealistic requirements and timeframes, and, with the very limited technical assistance that will be available, create an unfunded burden upon their municipalities,” the letter states. “Our organizations are therefore concerned that the goal of Section 3A cannot be successfully achieved through the draft guidelines in their current form.”

The letter points out that the MMA “raised significant concerns” in a letter to the governor on Jan. 7, 2021, when the legislation was pending, “and those concerns have not been resolved.”

Created by the 2021 economic development bill, Section 3A requires MBTA communities to have a zoning ordinance or bylaw that provides for at least one district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is permitted as of right.

Such a district must meet the following criteria:
• Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
• Not more than one-half mile from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable
• No age restrictions
• Suitable for families with children

MBTA communities that fail to create a zoning district that complies with Section 3A would be ineligible for funds from the MassWorks Program, the Housing Choice Initiative, and the state’s Local Capital Projects Fund.

The DHCD, in consultation with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, was charged with promulgating guidelines that would be used to determine if an MBTA community is in compliance with Section 3A.

The DHCD released draft guidelines on Dec. 15 and opened a public comment period through March 31. The DHCD also created a web page with draft compliance criteria, information about technical assistance, and other supplemental information.

During a Jan. 12 webinar, Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and DHCD officials stressed that the guidelines are focused on zoning and protecting local flexibility, and are not a mandate for housing production in MBTA communities.

For the 2022 cycle, an MBTA community will be deemed to achieve interim compliance and remain eligible for the grant programs offered through Community One Stop for Growth as long as it completes an online MBTA Community Information Form by May 2.

Written by