MBTA Communities FAQ

Please find below MBTA Communities Frequently Asked Questions

What is the MBTA Communities Act?

The MBTA Communities Act was adopted in January 2021.

The act was designed to address a statewide housing crisis and aims to build family friendly multi-family housing units near MBTA stations.

The policy makes it a legal requirement that Woburn implement a non-age specific multi-family zoning ordinance within half a mile of MBTA stations.

Each of the 177 communities impacted by this legislation have a town/city specific calculation of what the zoning ordinance requires of them.

Woburn is one of the communities included in the law because we host a commuter rail station.

How many housing units must the Woburn zoning ordinance support?

For Woburn, the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC), requires by law that Woburn rezone at least 50 acres of land to allow for the by-right construction of as many as 2,631 apartments and multi-family housing units. The city must also be able to demonstrate that at least 75 percent of those potential new housing units can be erected within a half-mile radius of Anderson Regional Transportation Center.

One of the factors being studied will be how many acres we need to implement 2631 in practice. 2631 units on 50 acres may provide to be impractically dense. This, along with other factors will be included.

What is Woburn doing to comply with the law?

Woburn is working on a draft ordinance that will add a zoning over-lay around Anderson Station. That ordinance will be vetted by the Planning Board and City Council which ultimately needs to approve it. Public hearings will be held to collect community input. Further down in this document you will find a timeline of the steps we are taking. It’s important to note that the underlying goal of this work is to limit disruption to existing neighborhoods in every way possible.

When will multi-family homes be built?

While the spirit of the law is designed to encourage the development of new multi-family units, the law only requires that we implement a by-right zoning ordinance. However, the city, nor the state, will be building any buildings under this law. Interested developers would need to bear the burden of building and would be required to follow standard permitting processes.

A by-right zoning ordinance makes it easier for a developer to get approvals rather than require special permits which carry more uncertainty. You can think of it like removing the need for a variance – you still need a building permit, but you don’t need special permission to construct the building in question.

What are the consequences if we didn’t comply with the act?

If we don’t comply, we are breaking the law. In addition, we would be disqualified from accessing several state funding sources we depend on to serve the community.

Communities that fail to comply with the MBTA Communities Act automatically lose certain state funding, including funding: for local infrastructure generally, such as road, bridge, water and sewer improvements (known as MassWorks); for local infrastructure projects that support housing (known as HousingWorks); for EOHLC grants to communities with a “Housing Choice” designation; and state funding under the Local Capital Projects Fund.

In addition, communities which do not comply with the law are ineligible for Community Planning Grants, the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative, Urban Agenda, Rural and Small-Town Development Fund, Brownfields Redevelopment Fund, Site Readiness Program, Underutilized Properties Program, Collaborative Workspace Program, Real Estate Services Technical Assistance, Commonwealth Places Programs, Land Use Planning Grants, Local Acquisitions for Natural Diversity grants, and Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Planning and Project Grants.

Why don’t we have credit for recent building?

Woburn recognized that there was a housing crisis years ago, and hundreds of new multi-family apartments have been built around the Woburn Villages and Anderson Station in collaboration with developers and City Council support. While we don’t get credit against the 2631 goal, it does demonstrate our commitment to planning. Our high occupancy rates and high average rent are economic indicators that we can support additional housing in Woburn. The location of that new housing will be selected as not to disrupt existing neighborhoods.

What happens next?

On May 7th a first, early draft of the zoning ordinance will be presented to City Council at a public meeting. This is the first step in the process outlined below. While we would like to finalize the ordinance sooner, the law allows us until December 31st 2024 to implement our local zoning overlay. Below you will find an overview of the process we will complete.

Timeline of delivery

April: Finalize contract with consultant which is EOHLC funded to ensure that the recommended ordinance is in compliance with all legal requirements.

May:

  • May 2nd Town Hall – Mayor Town Hall available to answer process questions as raised by residents
  • May 7th – City Council Public Meeting and Presentation (A recording of the meeting can be found here. You may also link to presentation materials here.)
  • Planning Board Public Hearing Review of DRAFT ordinance

 

June:

  • Planning board recommends a version of the ordinance to City Council
  • Once a draft ordinance is presented to City Council, public hearings will follow

 

July: Goal for city council adoption of revised ordinance. Note: We have until December 31 2024 should the council want to add additional public hearings or subcommittee reviews.

 

 

 

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