Correction: The new rules are aimed at created multi-unit housing, not affordable housing as stated in an earlier version of this article. Andover News regrets the error.
Losing state housing grants could be the least of Andover’s worries if it chooses to opt-out of ambitious state rules aimed at creating 135,000 multi-family housing units near MBTA stations in eastern Massachusetts by 2025.
Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell could also sue the Town.
“The planning board has held some public forums on this topic, and there has been a substantial amount of discussion at those forums as to whether or not the Town should enact such a bylaw,” Town Counsel Tom Urbelis told the select board Monday. “The Attorney General has issued a very strong directive: Town’s must pass a bylaw. She reads the statute as ‘shall enact the bylaw,’ not ‘may enact the bylaw’.”
The majority of the housing grants go to lower-income communities. Andover has received $6.3 million since 2015, but returned $6 million when a proposal for a Dascomb Road development fell through. Some wealthier communities had signaled they may forgo grants and not comply with the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s mandate. Last month Campbell warned those communities they “must comply” with the rules.
“Hopefully, after her comments, there will be less of discussion at some of these forums on whether the town should enact such a bylaw,” Urbelis said.
The law requires the 175 towns with MBTA service to enact zoning laws creating districts allowing multi-unit family housing within half a mile of public transit. At a minimum, the new, local zoning laws need to allow at least 15 units per acre, and towns cannot place age restrictions on occupancy.
The state law also requires towns to adopt rules for the new zoning districts that allow for building new housing units up to 15 percent of the existing housing stock. In Andover, that could amount to 2,301 new housing units, half of which would have to be within the half-mile zone, if developers took full advantage of the new rules. The district could be divided between the Ballardvale and Railroad Street stations.
Andover submitted a six-page form outlining its “action plan” to DHCD in January as the initial step in complying with regulations.
File photo: Dave Copeland/Andover News