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Is The MBTA Communities Zoning Plan Realistic?

Is the MBTA Communities Zoning Plan Realistic?

From communities required to create high-density zoning districts

Former MA Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a requirement for all Eastern and Central MA communities served by public transit (MBTA, commuter rail, or bus station) to create a high-density zoning district by right, within a half-mile of a train or bus station. The high density districts must be of at least 50 acres, 25 of them contiguous and allow multi-families by right.

Charlotte Kahn published an excellent analysis of the problem with this plan back in March 2022, while the public comment session was still open.

Some of the main critiques are:

  • The plan calls for massive numbers of new residential units in towns that are already quite dense. For example, Somerville is required to construct 9,067 new units. 13,477 are required in Cambridge, and 12,642 in Worcester.
  • There is no requirement about affordability of these units, so towns that are already prone to high-end market rate units will just get more, which may push out lower earners.
  • “Upzoning” to these densities will mean displacement of existing residents and businesses and the destruction of green space and historic buildings.

From MassLive, crowded MBTA train

When first proposed, towns were allowed to opt-out, with the understanding that they would not be allowed to access funding through the Housing Choice, Local Capital Projects, or Mass Works streams. These are major public funding sources for some communities and not used at all by others.

But this year, Massachusetts has a new Governor and a new Attorney General, who have now ruled that there is no opt-out option. “Compliance with the MBTA Communities Zoning Law is mandatory,” said AG Andrea Joy Campbell.

The AG press release goes on to say how important safe and affordable housing is to the state government, yet the MBTA law says nothing about affordability or the rational behind the plan.

This topic seems to be flying under the radar of major news organizations, but we at Daly Appraisal Services will continue to monitor it and share updates.

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