MBTA Housing Guideline Revisions Exclude Mixed-Use Projects

The final version of state-mandated housing guidelines for MBTA communities exacerbates the challenge of compliance for Bedford.

According to legislation defining the guidelines, “all MBTA communities must have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute.”

The Planning Board has planned to comply with the guidelines by showing that existing mixed-use zoning provisions in several locations could accommodate the requirements.

But according to the latest revisions, zoning will be deemed non-compliant if a multi-family dwelling is considered part of a mixed-use project.

During Tuesday’s guidelines review by the Planning Board, members Chris Gittins and Amy Lloyd expressed their disappointment with the changes, which they said exclude large sections of land. Both said that they feared that the exclusions will force the town to review the majority of lots individually rather than by assessing based on the aggregate size of the district.

Gittens highlighted the possibility that the increase in residential-only areas may create issues with town planning. Lloyd also raised concerns that implementing zoning compliant with the guidelines will damage the town’s historic and aesthetic appeal.

Lloyd suggested utilizing the Woburn Sportsmen’s Club land on Middlesex Turnpike, which is zoned residential.

Assistant Town Planning Director Catherine Perry noted that this provision would clash with the smart-growth zoning concept of mixed-use.

The guidelines specify that “as of right” means construction and occupancy of multi-family housing must be allowed in the district without any requirement for special permits, variances, zoning amendments, waivers, or other discretionary approval.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will be designated with the task of determining whether zoning provisions allow for multi-family housing consistent with the guidelines.

Per the latest revisions Bedford has now been designated an “adjacent community,” and as such the minimum multi-family unit capacity has been reduced from 1,189 units to 750 units.

Town Planner Tony Fields noted that the reduction in unit capacity will benefit Bedford, but also explained that the new designation removes the town’s previous strategy as an option for meeting the guidelines.

The final revisions were released by the DHCD on Aug. 10. The guidelines were enacted as part of a January 2021 economic development bill.

Communities that fail to comply will be penalized by loss of eligibility for a range of state grants, some of which have been targeted for local infrastructure projects.

The board will continue to discuss the guidelines as it begins the process of drafting an action plan. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

The latest guidelines also extend the deadline for a final action plan by one month to January 2023. The deadline for guideline compliant zoning bylaws to be implemented has been extended by one year to December 2024.

The DHCD has scheduled a webinar to explain the guidelines for Sept. 8.

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Ted T. Martin
August 29, 2022 3:36 pm

That means the Town is not compliant…They elimated the train long ago, they may as well say bye, bye to the bus; Of course I am being factious…sort of.