MBTA Communities Act: Requirement for Multi-Family Zoning

***Please join us for a Lunch & Learn on February 23, 2024 at the Cameron Senior Center!***

The flyer can be seen at this link.


Background

In 2020 Massachusetts amended its General Laws to add a new Section 3A to Chapter 40A, "MBTA Communities Zoning Law". This section requires that MBTA Communities have a zoning district where multi-family housing is allowed as-of-right. ("As-of-right" means development that may proceed under a zoning bylaw without the need for a special permit, variance, zoning amendment, waiver, or other discretionary zoning approval.)

Westford is an MBTA Adjacent Community and is subject to this requirement. The deadline to adopt such a zoning district is December 31, 2024.

A community survey was run from September - October 2022. Click here to view the survey, and here to view the survey results.

Another community survey was run from September - October 2023. Click here to view the survey results.

A survey of adults aged 55+ was run from November - December 2023. Click here to view the survey, and here to view the survey results.

The final Action Plan was approved by the State in January 2023. (A packet of information, draft maps, and draft Action Plan (first draft) was provided at the Planning Board's November 7, 2022 Meeting and can be seen at the linked text.)  It is important to keep in mind that the submission of an Action Plan does not commit the town to a specific course of action.   Rather, it is intended to show that the town is giving serious thought to the proposal, and that there is a logical plan in place to achieve compliance by the December 31, 2024 deadline.  It is fully expected that many changes will occur as the proposal is shaped by further engagement with the public, boards, and other stakeholders.

Explainers and FAQs

The following documents can provide additional information on the Act, what it means for Westford, what's been done so far to satisfy the mandate, and how the proposed district areas were chosen:

What is the Act and what does it mean for Westford?

What has been done so far?

Proposed overlay district areas

Advisory Committee, Consultant, and Public Engagement

Westford has created an MBTA Communities Multi-family Housing Advisory Committee (MCMAC), appointed by the Town Manager. Learn more about the Committee and see agendas, meeting packets and recordings, and more on their webpage at the link above.

Westford has also contracted the professional consulting services of Dodson & Flinker, who will assist with research, public engagement, bylaw drafting, and other aspects of the process.Dodson Flinker logo

The town will engage stakeholders and the general public in discussions, meetings, and workshops to participate in this process.

Read more about the requirements of the MBTA Communities Zoning Law and find additional helpful links below, including State Compliance Guidelines and informative webinars and presentations.

About the Law's Requirements

What is an MBTA Community? A community that is served by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) or is adjacent to a town or city served by it. Westford is an MBTA Adjacent Community, bordering the towns of Acton and Littleton which have commuter rail lines. This means Westford is subject to the requirement.

What is required for the zoning district?

  • Multi-family housing must be allowed as-of-right. This means that a multi-family project is not prohibited nor does it need any discretionary permits (such as a special permit or variance) to be allowed. The typical review process of Site Plan Review before the Planning Board would still be required, but no special relief is needed for the use.
  • It must be of "reasonable" size. A minimum of 50 acres is required. While the district does not have to be contiguous and can contain parcels in different areas, a minimum of 25 acres must be contiguous. No portion of the district can be under 5 acres.
  • It must have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre. For Westford, this translates to approximately 924 units total. However, it may be possible to include some existing multi-family housing in the new district.
  • There cannot be age restrictions.
  • It must be suitable for families with children.

What criteria might be used to choose parcels to include in the district?

  • Proximity to major routes and thoroughfares such as Route 110 (Littleton Road), Route 40 (Groton Road), I-495, Route 3.
  • Proximity to pedestrian and biking infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike lanes.
  • Proximity to shopping areas and/or places of employment.
  • Proximity to schools.
  • Proximity to recreational opportunities such as sports fields, trails, fitness centers, and commercial recreation (such as playing fields, Kimball's Farm, or Nashoba Valley Ski Area).
  • Protection and preservation of the environment, such as wetlands or wooded open spaces.
  • Inclusion of affordable housing.
  • Potential for redevelopment of abandoned, vacant, or underutilized buildings and building lots.
  • Presence of site constraints that may make development more difficult, such as wetlands, ledge, or steep slopes and grade changes.

Why might this be a good thing for Westford?

  • Provide a greater variety of housing stock.
  • Create additional housing that is priced lower than new single-family dwellings.
  • Provide more options for people who want to move to Westford, or who want to stay in Westford but downsize.
  • Multi-family housing near schools, shopping centers, pedestrian infrastructure, major routes, etc. means the families and individuals living there may be more likely to walk or bike and have easier access to employment and amenities.

What happens if Westford does NOT adopt such a district?

Failure to comply with the Law means Westford would become vulnerable to civil enforcement action by the State, and potentially risk liability under Federal and State fair housing laws.

We would also become ineligible for several state grants: 

Helpful Links

The MBTA Communities Zoning Law

Mass.gov webpage on Multi-Family Zoning Requirement

Mass General Laws: Chapter 40A, Section 3A Updates

Mass General Laws: Chapter 40A, Section 3A Final Text

Chapter 358 of the Acts of 2020: Full Text

Compliance Guidelines

Final Compliance Guidelines by Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)* (Oct. 2022)

Webinars and Presentations

Presentation on the Housing Crisis, TOD Development, Compliance Guidelines, and Technical Assistance (Sept. 2022)

Overview of the Final Compliance Guidelines, Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) (Aug. 2022)

Introduction to the Section 3A Program, Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC) Annual Conference March 2023

Mass Housing Partnership (MHP) MBTA Communities Webinar Series (Fall 2022):

*The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) became the new Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) in May 2023

mbta_communities_by_category_2022_august_04

Have questions, feedback, or want to learn more?

Please contact Director of Land Use Management, Jeff Morrissette, at 978-692-5524 or jmorrissette@westfordma.gov