Info Sessions on zoning for denser housing

The Planning Board is holding forums to educate residents on what MBTA Communities Multi-Family Zoning means in Southborough and get their input.

Above: The Town is seeking public input on a significant zoning change to be voted on in the spring. (images cropped from flyer)

The Planning Board is asking the public to learn about and provide feedback on zoning to be written for by-right denser housing in town. The board will hold two information sessions this month.

The forums are to help the board make decisions on the multi-family zoning is “Coming to Southborough” under the state’s MBTA Communities regulations.

As I’ve previously written, the state is pushing for cities and Towns with MBTA stations to create zones with by-right multi-family housing. Under the guidelines, 50 acres in Southborough would be zoned to allow up to 15 housing units per acre by-right.

Along with some of the zoning details, the Planning Board needs to come up with a map for where those acres are sited.

There has been a lot of discussion among Town officials about what should be done. Before drafting anything, the Planning Board wants to find out what the general public thinks.

Planning Board Flyer for MBTA Communities Info SessionsThe board is promoting:

Help us make this happen and come to our Information Sessions . . .

Come let us know your thoughts!

  • What is the process?
  • How will this impact our town?
  • What is under our control as residents?
  • What does this mean to you?
  •  Where should this By Right Multi-Family zoning be located?
The Sessions

The Info Sessions will be held in the Public Safety Building training room at the following times:

  • Thursday, September 21st at 6:30 pm
  • Wednesday, September 27th at 5:30 pm
More Context

The action plan the Planning Board filed with the state targets asking voters to pass a bylaw at the Annual Town Meeting in March. If that fails, a Fall Town Meeting would be held for a second attempt.

Normally, passing zoning changes require a 2/3 approval by Town Meeting. But under state law, zoning that is specifically focused on increasing multi-family permitting only requires a simple majority. Still, even that is a high burden when it comes to big zoning changes.

Some readers near the Commuter Rail may have been tuned into this issue, since 10 Acres must be within 1/2 mile of the train station. (That is to encourage greater use of public transit and fewer cars on the road.) But anyone’s neighborhood could be impacted since the other 40 acres can be sited elsewhere.

In previous meetings, some officials raised the potential for using vacant, commercially zoned land away from houses. The intent would be to avoid opposition from residents worried about impact to their neighborhoods. The downside discussed was the likelihood of rapid development and a spike in school enrollment.

Alternatively, siting in residential neighborhoods could raise objections from residents worried that developers will purchase and demolish abutting residences to build a project that changes their neighborhood’s character.

Some officials on the Select Board and Advisory discussed possibilities for not complying with the state regulations. Advisory Chair Andrew Pfaff publicly argued that the mandates would increase residents’ tax burdens.

The Select Board and other officials have advocated for increasing truly affordable housing in Southborough. But the state’s regulations limit the Affordable Housing requirements that can be imposed as part of the MBTA zoning. The intent is to increase affordable housing options by filling in a gap in the market of “Missing Middle Housing” for people ineligible for income-restricted affordable housing but who still can’t afford current market prices.

The Select Board and Advisory agreed that while they consider options, the Planning Board should move forward with the intent to cooperate.

In the Planning Board’s action plan to comply with regulations, the board identified January 2024 as their deadline for drafting the new zoning bylaw(s). The board would then be required to open Public Hearing on the proposed bylaw at least 21 days prior to the March 30th Town Meeting. (Based on past practice, they are likely to try to start that process much earlier to allow time for revisions based on public comments.)

For more details, you can read my past coverage of the zoning initiative and check out the Planning Board’s page with links.

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