Town Manager Kevin Sweet and Director of Planning and Economic Development Rachel Benson wish to share information regarding the state’s MBTA Communities Multi-Family Zoning Requirements.
As of passing of the Economic Bond Bill, signed by Governor Charlie Baker in January 2021, 175 MBTA Communities are subject to new requirements of Section 3A of the Zoning Act, including Wrentham.
The intent of Section 3A is to encourage the production of multi-family housing by requiring MBTA communities to adopt zoning districts where multi-family housing can be built without a Special Permit of Variance, and that meet other requirements set forth in the statute. The law does allow for municipalities to require a limited Site Plan Review Process.
What is an MBTA Community?
An MBTA community falls under one or more of the following categories:
• One of the 14 cities and towns that initially hosted MBTA service; One of the 51 cities and towns that also host MBTA service but joined later;
• Other “served communities” that abuts a city or town that hosts MBTA service;
• A municipality that has been added to the MBTA under G.L. c. 161A, sec. 6 or in accordance with any special law relative to the area constituting the authority.
Wrentham is classified as an Adjacent Community because there are no transit stations within its borders or within .5 miles of its border, but several of its surrounding municipalities have a MBTA Station (Norfolk, Franklin and Foxboro)
What does this mean for Wrentham?
To be compliant with MBTA Communities Multi-Family Zoning Requirements, the Town of Wrentham will be required to establish a zoning district(s)/overlay(s) that allows for multi-family units, however, it does not require the units to be constructed. The zoning must allow for multi-family residential development with no special permits or other discretionary approval needed. This means that the zoning district regulations cannot impose age restrictions within the MBTA Communities district(s).
Through the process, the Town of Wrentham must establish zoning district(s) of at least 50 acres, and the district(s) must allow for a minimum density of 15 units per acre. The law does not require municipalities to upgrade or install new infrastructure to support the development of sites within the MBTA communities zoning district.
When an MBTA community has no land area within .5 miles of a transit station, the multi-family district should, if feasible, be located in an area with reasonable access to a transit station based on existing street patterns, pedestrian connections, and bicycle lanes, or in an area that otherwise is consistent with the Commonwealth’s sustainable development practices.
The deadline for zoning compliance is December 31, 2024.
What if Wrentham does not comply?
Communities that do not comply with the zoning requirement will not be eligible for certain state funding and, as the Attorney General’s Office advised in March 2023, “Communities that fail to comply with the Law’s requirements also risk liability under federal and state fair housing laws.”
If Wrentham does not comply with Section 3A’s requirements, the town risks losing eligibility to receive MassWorks funding, as well as funding the Housing Choice Initiative and Local Capital Projects fund. Additionally, as of August 2023, the law has been amended to add 13 discretionary grant programs that will consider compliance with Section 3A in making grant awards.
The Attorney General has issued a statement which clarifies, that communities who chose not to comply will be subject to civil enforcement action.
What are Wrentham’s next steps?
The Town has evaluated potential areas that could be zoned to help meet these requirements.
The Board of Selectmen will be discussing the MBTA Communities Zoning Districts as it relates to Wrentham at their Tuesday, February 6th meeting. Additionally, the Planning Board will have an opportunity for public input at their meeting on Wednesday, February 7th.
February 6, 2024 @ 6:30pm – Board of Selectmen Meeting Information (remote only)
Meeting ID: 811 6727 2742
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February 7, 2024 – Planning Board Meeting Information (remote only)
Meeting ID: 882 3810 3746
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The MBTA communities zoning district that is ultimately identified by the town and will need to be approved at Town Meeting in order to meet that state’s compliance deadline of December 31, 2024.