Multi-family Zoning Requirements for Compliant MBTA Communities

Last Updated 3/10/23.

Upcoming Meetings & Deadlines 

March 15, 2023, 7:30 pm - Community Visioning Kick-off for Harvard Street Zoning

March 28, 2023 - Staff Bi-Monthly Update to Select Board  [formerly 03.21]

August 31, 2023 - Tentative deadline for draft zoning changes for Fall 2023 Town Meeting consideration

December 31, 2023 - Zoning changes to come into compliance must be adopted by Town Meeting

Resources & Past Meetings  

Harvard Street Study Webpage

2/28/23 Select Board discussion and vote on contract with Opticos regarding form-based code [jump to 57:43]

2/7/23 Select Board discussion and vote of resolution regarding MBTA [jump to 31:27], resolution (.pdf page 24) 

1/31/23 Select Board meeting discussion [jump to 1:30:30] and vote to "allocate $277,000 from the Town's currently unallocated competitively available American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Department of Planning and Community Development’s Fiscal Year 2023 operating budget for the purposes of engaging a consultant to help develop a form-based zoning district compliant with the MBTA Communities Act along Harvard Street",  memo to Select Board (.pdf page 24), and presentation slides

1/17/23 required submission of action plan to Department of Housing & Community Development and 1/17/23 approval

1/11/23 presentation to Planning Board & Preservation Commission

9/28/22 Housing Advisory Board meeting [jump to timestamp 1:40:33]

9/12/22 Economic Development Advisory Board meeting and presentation

9/8/22 State-hosted webinar on Guidelines

5/2/22 required submission to Department of Housing & Community Development

Select Board, 4/5/22 minutes and presentation

Housing Advisory Board, 1/19/22  [jump to timestamp 38:03] and presentation

Planning Board, 1/26/22 presentation

State Guidelines 

On August 10, 2022, the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) released at their final Guidelines for the Multi-Family Zoning Requirement for MBTA Communities. Multifamily is defined by DHCD as three or more units on a lot. The as of right zoning in Brookline must technically permit 6,990 multifamily units, independent of the number of housing units already in place nor how many units actually get built. The final guidelines have reduced the minimum land area for the multifamily districts from 50 acres to 41 acres, and have clarified that communities may have more than one zoning district that cumulatively meets these requirements. Additionally, the guidelines clarify that multifamily districts may permit, but cannot require, commercial use.

Enacted as part of the economic development bill in January 2021, this new regulation requires that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right (i.e., does not require a discretionary permit such as a Special Permit) and meets other criteria set forth in the statute:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Not more than ½ mile from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
  • No age restrictions
  • Suitable for families with children.

What does this mean for Brookline?

As described in the presentations above, the Department of Planning and Community Development in 2022 analyzed the differences between the Town’s current Zoning By-Law and the MBTA Communities requirements. As shown in the materials above, our staff are exploring alternative ways to potentially comply with key elements of our existing zoning (e.g., requiring affordable housing deed restrictions related to inclusionary zoning provisions without a special permit, conducting design review without a special permit). Following a series of meetings with Boards, Town Meeting members, and other residents, the Select Board agreed to move forward with a strategy that focuses on Harvard Street as the key path to compliance.

The Town of Brookline is one of five communities chosen by the state to test the state's excel-based compliance model in September and October 2022.  The purpose of this model is to demonstrate compliance for potential housing unit yield (6,990 units) related to dimensional requirements such as setbacks, parking requirements, and assumed average unit size.  The compliance model and related information was released by the state in November 2022. 

If the Town does not comply, some operations funding for the Brookline Housing Authority (BHA) could be at risk - this fiscal year the BHA is relying on $225,000 from a state account funded by the Local Capital Projects Funds, one of the funds explicitly included in the bill. And, DHCD continues to remind communities that this is a requirement independent of whether we want to have access to such funds (see question E4 at DHCD's FAQs and interview with Attorney General Campbell on February 17, 2023 - jump to timestamp 19:00).

To remain in compliance, the Town of Brookline needs to adopt zoning changes to come into compliance must be adopted no later than December 31, 2023.