Public Consultation Open for State Law Zoning Guidelines for South Side Multi-Family Dwellings

Above: For those who live in neighborhoods within about a mile of the station, you may want to keep up to date with state guidelines that will impact zoning reviews for multi-family housing that the city will likely pursue. (image edited from Google Maps)

Tonight’s Planning Board meeting will include a discussion of state housing legislation that may impact certain neighborhoods on the city’s south side. The state will put financial pressure on Southborough to add/rewrite zoning to increase multi-family housing options near the commuter train.

In January 2021, Governor Baker signed into law the Housing Act. Our city is one of at least 175 “MBTA Communities” affected. Communities that do not comply will become ineligible for any funding from the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund or the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.

The law required communities with MBTA stations to include at least one area within a 1/2 mile radius of the station that by law allows multi-family housing.

A year ago, many details were still unclear. Nothing even specified the size of a new area.

In December, the state released draft guidelines. The package for tonight’s planning council meeting includes an update from the city council to its municipal clients. According to the memo, the guidelines are still open for public comment until the end of March.

As written, the guidelines will require the area to be at least 50 acres, with at least half within a ½ mile of the station:

To comply with the “reasonable size” requirement of Section 3A, multi-family neighborhoods must consist of at least 50 acres of land, or approximately one-tenth the land area within 0.5 miles of a station. public transport.

An overlapping district is an acceptable means of complying with Section 3A, provided that such overlapping district does not consist of a collection of small, non-contiguous parcels. At least a portion of the land in the overlay district must include at least 25 contiguous acres of land. Any part of the district that is less than 5 acres of contiguous land will not count towards the minimum size requirement. . .

In the absence of compelling circumstances, at least [one half] of the territory of the multi-family neighborhood must be located within 0.5 miles of the public transit station. The multi-family neighborhood may include land located more than 0.5 miles from the transit station, provided these areas are easily accessible to the transit station based on existing street patterns and pedestrian connections.

In unusual cases, the most suitable location for a multi-family neighborhood may be in a land area more than 0.5 miles from a transit station. Where no part of the land area within 0.5 miles of the transit station is suitable for multi-family housing development – for example, because it includes wetlands or government-owned land state for recreation or conservation purposes – the MBTA community may nominate a neighborhood for multi-family use that has less than half of its land area within 0.5 miles of a transit station. Wherever possible, land in such a neighborhood should be easily accessible to the transit station based on existing street patterns, pedestrian connections and bicycle paths.

Within the zone, a density of at least 15 units per acre must be permitted. To benefit from legal zoning, a multi-family dwelling must be suitable for families with no age limit.

The guidelines also specify:

A multi-family neighborhood of reasonable size must also be able to accommodate a reasonable number of collective dwellings. MBTA communities seeking to determine Section 3A compliance must provide DHCD with an accurate assessment of the number of multifamily housing units that may be developed as of right in the multifamily neighborhood, referred to as the neighborhood unit capacity. A compliant district’s multifamily unit capacity must equal or exceed a specified percentage of the total number of housing units within the community.

The minimum percentage of Southborough’s total housing stock would be 15%. (This is based on our city containing a commuter rail station, but not MBTA rapid transit or bus service.)

The City Solicitor’s advice is that since the specific guidelines are not final, there is no need to add zoning changes to the Terms of Reference for the next Annual Municipal Meeting.

However, the Department of Housing and Community Development will expect city officials to take the following actions by May 2 to stay in compliance:

  • Include a presentation of the draft guidelines at a selection committee meeting
  • Complete and submit the MBTA Community Information Form
  • Submit updated GIS plot maps to MassGIS (if most recent updated parcel maps were submitted before January 1, 2020)

For the memo from city council (and tonight’s meeting agenda), Click here. For more information and to submit a public comment on the draft guidelines, Click here.

A sub-committee of Capital Planning and the Southborough Housing Opportunities Partnership Committee reviewed the possibilities of a linked affordable housing project on city property near the Commuter Rail, 21 Highland Street . It is the current site of the South Union Building with the Arts Center playground. The last time they met was in mid-December, when they still didn’t know what the state’s zoning requirements would be.

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