Correction: This article was edited on April 19 to clarify the description of MBTA housing rules, which do not, as stated in the original version, require communities to put affordable housing restrictions on units built under the rules. The rules are aimed at increasing housing density with access to public transportation.
Last week, Lexington became the first of 175 Massachusetts communities with MBTA stations to pass zoning laws that would fulfill state requirements aimed at building as many as 135,000 housing units in Massachusetts by 2025.
In Andover, the discussion is just getting started.
Andover is in the process of assembling a working group to develop the new rules and will hold the second in a series of community meetings at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Hall Library.
Under the requirements, Andover will need to change zoning rules to build up to 2,301 new housing units within a half mile of its two commuter rail stations or risk losing Department of Housing and Community Development funding that amounted to $6.3 million for the town since 2015. Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell warned communities “must comply” with the rules.
Campbell’s warning came after some wealthier communities — which receive little or no DHCD funding — missed the Jan. 31 deadline for submitting action plans. Others had signaled they would sit out the process and forgo the state funding.
Andover needs to submit a more thorough action plan to DCHD by July 31 and is currently aiming for the May 2024 Annual Town Meeting to seek approval for the new districts. Districts could be divided between the two stations in Andover. Town Counsel Tom Urbelis stressed to the select board in February there was a short window to collect public input before the July 31 deadline.
Andover Director of Planning and Land Use Paul Materazzo said in February the district could complement the existing Historic Mill District created in 2015 that allows for up to 40 units per acre by special permit.
“In Andover, I think we’re fortunate because some of the work has already been done with investment around the downtown station and Ballardvale,” Materazzo said. “We’re in the infant stages of choosing district if the town continues to move in this direction.”
But some residents worry the new rules will fundamentally change the Andover’s character. At last week’s select board meeting, Kevin Coffey, who fell 86 votes in his bid to unseat Select Board Vice Chair Laura Gregory in last month’s local election, raised questions about how the working group would be formed and its composition.
“There is an effort in the Town that has been publicized on social media and elsewhere to convene a working group which I applaud,” said Coffey, who has applied to join the working group. “What wasn’t clear when I made a follow-up call to our planning director was how and when that group was going to be made, how many people, when it would be formed, and what would be the mix of talents, outlooks, or representation that ought to be on the committee, given its importance and potential impacts to the Town.”
Lexington Sets A High Bar
The new Lexington rules, which were approved by its Town Meeting 107-63, were praised in two Boston Globe editorials. If approved by DHCD later this year, the zoning changes would allow developers to build multifamily housing in 12 sections of Lexington without going through the special permitting process. DHCD now needs to sign off on Lexington’s rule changes. Developers could build apartment buildings between three and six stories tall if they designate part of the first floor for retail or commercial use.
Lexington’s rules are “a major step toward building denser housing that is likely to be lower in cost than what most of Lexington currently has to offer, and other municipalities in Greater Boston should follow Lexington’s example,” the Globe said in an editorial after the April 13 vote. The rules were drafted over an 18-month period by Lexington’s planning board.
Photo: Dave Copeland/Andover News