Multi-family Zoning Requirements for Compliant MBTA Communities

Last Updated 09.08.23

What is the MBTA-CA mandate for Brookline?

  • Zone a minimum of 41 acres near rapid transit to allow multifamily housing without discretionary permits or waivers 
  • Zoning must achieve a theoretical capacity of 6,990 units
  • Zoning shall be implemented by 12/31/2023 or the Town is subject to possible legal action by Attorney General
  • All uses are allowed; no uses are prohibited

State Guidelines

On August 17, 2023, the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development (DHCD) released an amendment to their Guidelines for the Multi-Family Zoning Requirement for MBTA Communities, now allowing partial compliance in districts where ground floor non-residential space is required. 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. 

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?

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 and presented those options to the Select Board. 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 as well as meaningful affordable housing production. The Select Board voted to submit two warrant articles to the November 2023 Special Town Meeting: one is a consensus article that includes Harvard Street zoning, an overlay for many Multifamily District parcels, and an amendment to the Emerald Island Overlay District; the other does not include Harvard Street zoning changes. Both will likely require a 2/3 vote at Town Meeting.

The state continues to remind communities that this is a requirement (see question E4 at State's FAQs, interview with Attorney General Campbell on February 17, 2023 - jump to timestamp 19:00, and memo from Town Counsel). The Town of Brookline needs to adopt zoning changes to come into compliance no later than December 31, 2023.