The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, in consultation with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, has promulgated final guidelines to determine if an MBTA community is in compliance with multi-family zoning mandate in the Zoning Act (G.L. c. 40A, § 3A). The purpose of Section 3A is to encourage the production of multi-family housing by requiring MBTA communities to adopt zoning districts where multi-family housing is allowed as of right and that meet other requirements set forth in the statute. It was a key feature of the Housing Choice Law strongly supported by the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts.
Section 3A of the Zoning Act provides: An MBTA community shall have a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right; provided, however, that such multi-family housing shall be without age restrictions and shall be suitable for families with children. For the purposes of this section, a district of reasonable size shall: (i) have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre, subject to any further limitations imposed by section 40 of chapter 131 and title 5 of the state environmental code established pursuant to section 13 of chapter 21A; and (ii) be located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
The final guidance document followed two prior drafts that were subject to public comment. Municipal officials, planners, environmental organizations and housing and real estate development groups, among others, submitted written comments to the Department of Housing and Community Development. The HBRAMA was pleased that the department had accepted several of its recommendations.
The final guidelines incorporate several changes, including:
- Revised Community Categories: MBTA Communities are now categorized as rapid transit, commuter rail, adjacent, or adjacent small town. The “bus service” category has been eliminated.
- Significant Adjustments for Small and Rural Towns with No Transit Stations: The final guidelines eliminate the minimum land area requirement and reduce the multi- family unit capacity requirement for communities with a population of less than 7,000 or less than 500 residents per square mile.
- Changes to the Reasonable Size Criteria: The guidelines establish “circuit breakers” that prevent multi-family unit capacity from exceeding 25% of a community’s existing housing stock, or the minimum land from exceeding 1.5% of its total developable land area.
- Tailored District Location Requirements: The portion of a multi-family zoning district that must be located within a half mile of a transit station now varies based on the amount of developable station area within each MBTA community. Communities with more developable station area land will be required to have more of their multi-family districts within a half mile of transit stations. A community with less than 100 developable acres within a half mile of a station will be free to choose any appropriate location.
The HBRAMA believes the MBTA community multi-family zoning mandate provides an important opportunity for its members to develop needed multi-family housing in these “smart growth” locations. Information on the MBTA Multi-family zoning mandate, including a list of the communities subject to the law, can be found [https://www.mass.gov/info-details/multi-family-zoning-requirement-for-mbta-communities].
A copy of the Final Guidance document can be found [here].