Letter to the Editor: Information on MBTA Communities and Effect on Bedford

Submitted by Chris Gittins

Information regarding MBTA Communities zoning and how it affects Bedford:

  • The MBTA Communities zoning requirements came about through the Economic Development Bill of 2021.  The bill passed the Senate 40-0 and the House 143-4. 
  • The requirements apply to 177 communities in eastern MA.  
  • MBTA Communities zoning requirements state that Bedford must designate an area where multi-family housing may be built by-right, i.e., without requiring a Special Permit or meeting other special conditions. 
  • The designated area must be large enough to allow construction of at least 750 multi-family units and a density of at least 15 units/acre. (For reference, the development at 54 Loomis St is ~17 units/acre; Avalon is ~20 units/acre.)
  • The requirement is that property owners be allowed to build multi-family housing in the area(s) Bedford designates, not that they must build it.
  • The Planning Board will recommend which area(s) to designate for by-right multi-family housing. Town Meeting will vote in 2024 on whether or not to adopt that recommendation. 
  • As of 2020, there were 5424 “housing units” in Bedford. That includes all types of housing: single-family, multi-family, etc. 
  • If all 750 multi-family units enabled under MBTA Communities zoning eventually get built, the total number of housing units would increase 14%. 
  • Bedford added 378 housing units between 2010 and 2020:
    – 183 of those were multi-family.
    – It would take ~40 years to build 750 multi-family units at recent multi-family build rates. 
  • School enrollment: Town wide average for all types of housing is 0.5 students per housing unit.
    – Across eastern MA as well as for Bedford, the average number of students per housing unit is higher for single-family dwellings than for multi-family. 
  • If all 750 multi-family units get built, we could expect ~15% increase in the number of students enrolled in Bedford schools:
    – 750 units * 0.5 students/unit = 375 students in addition to the 2535 currently enrolled.  
    – For reference, school enrollment increased by 232 students (10%) between the 2010-11 and 2020-21 school years; it has decreased by 80 students between 2020-21 and present.
  • Bedford received at least $4 million in MassWorks funding over the last two years.  Future funding will require that we comply with MBTA Communities zoning requirements.

You’ll hear much more about multi-family zoning for MBTA Communities from the Planning Board in coming months.  We also need your input.  Please be on the lookout for a community survey at Bedford Day.  

Editor’s Note: Chris Gittins is Chair of the Planning Board, but this letter has not been reviewed or endorsed by the Board.

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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Richard Madison
September 17, 2023 9:24 am

Thank you. There are two more pieces of information that I would find interesting. First, does the State kick in money for our schools, such that even if we add students, property taxes don’t cover the whole bill? Second, are there any published numbers for students per unit in multi-family housing or for new arrivals? I’ve seen the 0.5 students/unit number before, and I believe it as an average even in my neighborhood: but when I look at _new_ arrivals, I see 2 students/unit. It stands to reason that a town with good schools will attract families with school children.

Chris Lennon
September 15, 2023 10:11 pm

Thank you. That was useful and helpful information.

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