State Issues Final Guidelines for MBTA Communities Like Westwood for Creating Required Multi-Family Housing Districts


Image by Michael Brandtner, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

On Wednesday, August 10, 2022, 175 MBTA communities, including Westwood and its neighbors, received from the Baker-Polito Administration the final guidelines for complying with the state’s new requirement in Section 3A of the Zoning Act that each MBTA community have a district zoned for multi-family housing as of right near a train station.

MBTA communities must submit an action plan to the Department of Housing and Community Development by January 31, 2023. Deadlines for achieving full compliance vary for MBTA communities depending upon the type of community each is. Westwood is a Commuter Rail Community, along with neighboring Needham, Dedham, Canton, Norwood and Walpole. Commuter Rail Communities must comply by December 31, 2024.  Medfield is an Adjacent Community with the same compliance deadline. Dover is an Adjacent Small Town, with an extra year to comply -  by December 31, 2025.

“The multifamily zoning requirement is all about setting the table for more transit-oriented housing in the years and decades ahead – which is not just good housing policy, but good climate and transportation policy, too,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy. “Cities and towns are necessary partners if the Commonwealth is to confront our housing crisis, and through our guidelines and technical assistance, we can help communities achieve the total of the multifamily zoning requirement to unlock new, transit-oriented housing units in Massachusetts,” he said.

In a letter to local officials, Mr. Kennealy and Department of Housing and Community Development Jennifer Maddox have outlined several changes made in the final guidelines. The changes include (but are not limited to):

  • Revising how MBTA Communities are categorized. Under draft guidelines, communities could be designated as commuter rail or bus communities. The final guidelines drop the bus designation.
  • Different minimum land required for the new district, based on size of town. The draft guidelines appeared to be written to apply the same way to all MBTA Communities. In contrast, the final guidelines adjust for small and rural towns with no transit stations. For these towns, there is no longer a minimum land area requirement to designate as part of the new multi-family housing district.
  • Addressing more specifically what constitutes a reasonable size. The draft guidelines did not do much to define what constitutes a “reasonable” size for the required multi-family housing as of right district. The final guidelines specify that multi-family unit capacity need not exceed 25 percent of a community’s existing housing stock. It also clarifies that the minimum amount of land required in the district need not exceed 1.5 percent of the area of the community's total developable land.
  • Amount of developable land is now a consideration. There is recognition that some communities may have more or less developable land within half a mile of a transit station upon which to site the new district. Communities with more developable land must have more of the district sited within half a mile from a train station. In contrast, communities with fewer than 100 developable acres have more flexibility as to choosing a location for the new district.
  • New multi-family unit capacity tool. The state has also rolled out what it describes as a new multi-family unit capacity tool to help communities determine how to comply with the final guidelines.

“If Massachusetts is to remain a desirable place for individuals, families and businesses, then we need to confront the housing crisis together,” write Mr. Kennealy and Ms. Maddox.

For more on this issue:

Westwood Voters Approve Multi-Family Housing District, Agree with FinCom Recommendations in 2022 Town Meeting

Select Board to Dispute State's Draft Guidance on Multi-Family Housing District

Little Resistance from Residents to Westwood Planning Board's Proposed Zoning Changes

-Planning Board Determines Top 2 Locations for Siting Multi-family Housing District

- Delicate Balance Required in Easing Zoning Restrictions: Ground Mounted Solar and Multifamily Housing (Updated)

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