Tonight’s Planning Board meeting will include a discussion about state housing legislation that could impact some neighborhoods on the south side of town. The state will financially pressure Southborough to add/rewrite zoning to increase multi-family housing options near the Commuter Rail.
In January of 2021, Governor Baker signed the housing act into law. Our town is one of at least 175 “MBTA Communities” impacted. Communities that don’t comply will become ineligible for any funding from the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, or the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.
The law called for communities with MBTA stations to include at least one zone within a 1/2 mile of the station that allows multi-family housing by right.
A year ago, many details were still unclear. Nothing even specified how large a new zone would have to be.
In December, the state posted draft guidelines. The packet for tonight’s Planning Board meeting includes an update from Town Counsel to its municipal clients. According to the memo, the guidelines are still open for public comment through the end of March.
As written, the guidelines will require the zone to be at least 50 acres, with at least half of within a ½ mile of the train station:
To comply with Section 3A’s “reasonable size” requirement, multi-family districts must comprise at least 50 acres of land—or approximately one-tenth of the land area within 0.5 mile of a transit station.
An overlay district is an acceptable way to achieve compliance with Section 3A, provided that such an overlay district should not consist of a collection of small, non-contiguous parcels. At least one portion of the overlay district land areas must include at least 25 contiguous acres of land. No portion of the district that is less than 5 contiguous acres land will count toward the minimum size requirement. . .
Absent compelling circumstances, at least [one half] of the land area of the multi-family district should be located within 0.5 mile of the transit station. The multi-family district may include land areas that are further than 0.5 mile from the transit station, provided that such areas are easily accessible to the transit station based on existing street patterns and pedestrian connections.
In unusual cases, the most appropriate location for a multi-family district may be in a land area that is further than 0.5 miles of a transit station. Where none of the land area within 0.5 mile of transit station is appropriate for development of multi-family housing—for example, because it comprises wetlands or land publicly owned for recreation or conservation purposes—the MBTA community may propose a multi-family use district that has less than one-half of its land area within 0.5 miles of a transit station. To the maximum extent feasible, the land areas within such a district should be easily accessible to the transit station based on existing street patterns, pedestrian connections, and bicycle lanes.
Within the zone, density of at least 15 units per acre must be allowed. To qualify for the by-right zoning, multi-family housing must be suitable for families with no age restrictions.
The guidelines also specify:
A reasonably sized multi-family district must also be able to accommodate a reasonable number of multi-family housing units as of right. MBTA communities seeking a determination of compliance with Section 3A must provide to DHCD an accurate assessment of the number of multi-family housing units that can be developed as of right within the multi-family district, referred to as the district’s unit capacity. A compliant district’s multi-family unit capacity must be equal to or greater than a specified percentage of the total number of housing units within the community.
Southborough’s minimum percentage of total housing stock would be 15%. (That’s based on our Town containing a Commuter Rail Station, but not MBTA rapid transit or Bus Service.)
According to Town Counsel’s advice, since the specific guidelines aren’t final, there is no need to put zoning changes on the Warrant for upcoming Annual Town Meeting.
However, the Department of Housing and Community Development will expect Town officials take the following steps by May 2nd to stay in compliance:
- Include a presentation of the Draft Guidelines in a Board of Selectmen meeting
- Complete and submit the MBTA Community Information Form
- Submit updated GIS parcel maps to MassGIS (if the most recent updated parcel maps were submitted prior to January 1, 2020)
For Town Counsel’s memo (and the agenda for tonight’s meeting), click here. For more info and to submit a public comment on the Draft Guidelines, click here.
A subcommittee for Capital Planning and Southborough Housing Opportunities Partnership Committee has been looking at possibilities for a linked Affordable Housing project on the Town’s property near the Commuter Rail, 21 Highland Street. That’s the current site of the South Union Building with the Arts Center playground. The last time they met was in mid-December when they were still uncertain what the state’s zoning requirements would be.
Some (inexactly) related thoughts on transit-served communities: https://www.governing.com/context/the-fascinating-rise-and-fall-of-streetcar-suburbs
Sewerage would also be an issue near the train station, not only in downtown!
Good luck, the south side is already built out, the town planner should already know that. Why does everything get dumped on the south side? out of site out of mind may be. everything no other neighborhoods want it ends up down the south side.
This isn’t something that was selected by the Town Planner. It’s a state initiative to increase housing within walking distance of public transit.
To bump on log, try living with 495 in your neighborhood. Unlike the areas south of Route 9 at 495, which are commercial, the north side of town at Route 9 and 495 abuts neighborhoods. This area is stuck with never ending congestion, loud traffic noise and dirty truck and car emissions. Consider yourself lucky to not be hearing 18 wheelers down shifting in the middle of the night, so loud it wakes the neighborhood. All areas are overbuilt, or getting there, not just the south side.
Also, if the town is planning ahead to retire a school, Finn is located near public transportation and could potentially accommodate affordable housing.
Northsiders…did you buy a house on the North side near 495 or Route 9 before the highway was built? If not, then that is on you. The South side has Mass Pike in the backyard of many neighborhoods as well as Route 9 too. I am in the middle of Route 9 and the Mass Pike and I hear trucks all night long as well as the train. When you buy a house it is up to you to investigate the area. If you don’t want the convenience of being near a main traffic route, move to a place like Rutland. Route 495 didn’t just show up out of the blue once you moved in. I understand you may not like it but nobody is holding a gun to your head to stay where you are. The nice thing about Southborough is that it is centrally located to all the major highways for easy access to major metropolitan areas.
Your logic isn’t sound. You act like nothing can or should be changed for the better. I knew the downtown of Southborough wasn’t very vibrant either, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve it.
Fixing traffic noise is hard, but to deny that it’s bothersome and to ignore ideas to alleviate it is narrow minded.
Regardless the noise of Rt 9 has definitely gotten considerably worse over the many years I’ve been here. I don’t know what the biggest contributors really are but some recent changes are the widening to three lanes, general other increased traffic patterns on 90/495 causing more trucks to cut through, GPS maps thinking Rt 9 is a shortcut, everyone driving faster than ever, and the increase in those darn kids and their loud antimufflers and loud motorcycles.
As someone who has lived in town my entire life (35 years) and went to the “old” Finn School, Finn isn’t old. It has been remodeled within the past few years and provides a nice playground, tennis courts as well as Mooney Fields for baseball and soccer. Plunking big apartments in that area would be crazy. Also the idea of knocking down a school that has a fairly new gym as well as recent updates would be a complete waste of money, in my humble opinion.
@Southsiders: Exactly. That and the area around Finn does not have the road infrastructure to support dense housing. Baker’s plan to bully communities into accepting this one-size-fits-all policy is wrong. Why should Southborough have to put all that stress on small neighborhoods that are not structurally equipped to handle this type of new housing when it has lot after lot and commercial buildings sitting either empty or underused on Route 9?
I took Northsiders’ suggestion to mean that Finn could be renovated into housing, not knocked down.
Incidentally, Finn was renovated in the mid 90’s.
This is only an overlay district, it doesn’t mean any housing is to be built, it just has the opportunity to build by right should someone want to sell their land. If homes are built, it will be great for the town since the houses would be new and taxed appropriately. We almost assuredly would have more families moving to the area which would increase our public school population which is a good thing since the schools are what keep our property values high.
Your logic re revenue and schools is faulty.
Whenever a new home is built in Southborough, the revenue from the property taxes doesn’t come close to the extra cost to educate the students.
That’s not necessarily accurate. If the kids themselves don’t require additional special resources, then adding some kids can lower the cost per child. But there’s a tipping point where it adds more overhead, especially since Southborough tries to keep student to teacher ratios low.
It’s true for other Town services as well. A few families doesn’t add to the Town’s Operating Budget. But population growth certainly does over time.
Is this one example of the “harmful bills” that Rep. Dykema voted for that Beth has been imploring from “Cheerful Resident”?
The state now threatens to deny citizens a fair share of their own tax money for “funding from the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund, or the MassWorks Infrastructure Program” in order to coerce “communities with MBTA stations to include at least one zone within a 1/2 mile of the station that allows multi-family housing by right.”
Made worse by the fact Rep. Dykema’s abrupt departure to join the “public affairs” shop at a regulated and taxpayer subsidized business will likely leave the district unrepresented and without constituent services for close to a year while this coercive mandate – not “guideline” – is rammed down the town’s throat by the state.
Instead of new incentives, this bill threatens funding for programs passed under prior legislation. So, you see the tyrannical legislative ratcheting effect here: each new seemingly happy-face program innocuously passed for one ostensible purpose can be used later as a mailed fist to coerce the next mandate.
Yet, I quibble with Cheerful Resident. Rep. Dykema’s voting record aside, perhaps it’s her own self-orchestrated disqualification and abandonment of elective office for a job meant to influence public policy in pursuit of private gain in the meanwhile that is most unflattering to Dykema.
But don’t worry: we’ve got Jamie Eldridge in the State Senate to represent the town’s interest. Sheesh.
To Resident: I was going to write the same thing as you, Thanks for saving me time, Well said !
It gets old these people who are complaining about things they should have realized when they moved in. It isn’t like the highways appeared out of the blue! I can guarantee the roads were there first. :)
It is possible that the amount of traffic and the the noise level has increased since someone first lived there.
I think it’s mean of you to pick on someone who simply voiced their opinion.
Totally agree, and very well said.
I want to preface this by saying I’m preaching to myself. Why do we always focus on what The government authoritarian bureaucrats project for us to do rather than, Who the heck are they telling us what to do with our property?. Why are we allowing authoritarian bureaucrats to tell us what to put in our town. Can you imagine? Apartment buildings at the Finn school or anywhere. We have to maintain the thought, this is our town. Not authoritarian government officials. Rather than argue amongst ourselves, we need to push back on. me, you, my neighbors, our towns people are not the enemy, the government always has been and always will be. They love to divide us.
So much is wrong here, but mainly this: Zoning code by definition is a set of restrictions imposed by government on the free development of real property. This bipartisan change reduces the restrictions in a small area, so that a developer is permitted to build more densely in a mass-transit-served locale.
Why does Massachusetts need this sort of additional economic freedom? Have you looked at housing prices lately? We drastically need an increase in supply, especially at lower price points, and the fundamental way to meet this demand is to build more units on the same area of land, that is, more density. The neighborhood I live in off of East Main cannot legally be built nowadays in Southborough because its single family homes and two families are too dense for Residence B. Something’s gotta give!
Any legislation that is called bipartisan is a joke in this state. My proof: Governor Baker who gives RINO’s a bad name.
The question to ask is: Who benefits if dense housing projects are allowed to go forward in Southborough and why is this coming up now? Does it have anything do with the discussion about reducing the number of schools we have? Who loses if the number of schools is reduced? Who is one of the biggest contributors to the Democratic Party?
And there you have your answer.
An “answer” full of made-up nonsense you have no evidence for and rhetorical questions whose only purpose is suspicion…
I knew Charlie Baker in college, and he was very conservative.
Who benefits? We all do. People have places to live, companies have people to hire, and yes developers make money.