By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The town has until December 2024 to fully comply with a new multi-family zoning law.
Former Gov. Charlie Baker signed an economic development bill into law in February 2021, which amended the state Zoning Act. The law includes requiring MBTA communities to have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right.
While the town does not have an MBTA station, the law classifies Lynnfield as an “MBTA adjacent community” because the town borders municipalities with MBTA stations such as Lynn, Peabody, Reading and Wakefield.
Planning and Conservation Director Emilie Cademartori informed the Villager in an email that she submitted an action plan to the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in January. DHCD Undersecretary Jennifer Maddux stated in a letter sent to Town Administrator Rob Dolan that the plan was accepted in February.
“I am pleased to inform you that DHCD approved the action plan, and that Lynnfield has achieved interim compliance,” Maddux stated. “This interim compliance is valid until your due date for district compliance, which is Dec. 31, 2024.”
Cademartori said Town Meeting will be required to approve a new multi-family zoning district to ensure the town fully complies with the MBTA Communities law.
“It would need to be a minimum of 40 acres and have the potential capacity for 607 units,” said Cademartori about a potential multi-family zoning district’s location. “The action plan lays out a possible timeline to bring an article to Fall Town Meeting in 2024.”
Cademartori recalled that the town is currently undertaking a new Visioning Plan called “Lynnfield 2040: Shaping Our Future Today.” The Planning Board has been working with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) on the new Mini Master Plan.
“We hope to use the Community Vision Plan as a way to engage the community to flesh out a strategy,” said Cademartori.
Cademartori has yet to identify a location where a new multi-family zoning district could be located for several reasons.
“The majority of the town is already built out with single-family homes,” Cademartori stated on the action plan. “Any new multi-family projects will likely involve a change of an existing use/redevelopment. The corridor along Route 1 has the supporting infrastructure in place, water and sewer, and is the most probable area economically to redevelop.”
A number of communities have criticized the new MBTA Communities law. Berkley, Holden, Marshfield and Middleborough missed the Jan. 31 deadline to submit action plans to the state, and the Middleborough Select Board voted last December not to comply with the law. Middleborough Town Planner Leann Bradley told the select board last December that a survey of Middleborough residents showed they “do not want large multi-family complexes.”
“For a small town, which we are still, a small and rural community designated by the state…what’s wrong with that? That’s what Middleborough is and what Middleborough wants to be,” said Bradley.
The Lynnfield Select Board criticized the MBTA Communities law when Cademartori gave a presentation about it in April 2022. Select Board member Dick Dalton called it an “ill conceived piece of legislation” and a “sham.”
“If this were ever adopted, it could cause long-term damage to this town,” said Dalton.
Select Board member Joe Connell said a multi-family zoning district would “impact” the town’s school system as well as the Police and Fire Departments.
In the wake of communities criticizing and refusing to comply with the law, Attorney General Andrea Campbell recently sent a letter to municipalities that stated, “All MBTA Communities must comply with the law.”
“Communities that do not currently have a compliant multi-family zoning district must take steps outlined in the DHCD guidelines to demonstrate interim compliance,” Campbell wrote. “Communities that fail to comply with the law may be subject to civil enforcement action. The law requires that MBTA Communities ‘shall have’ a compliant zoning district and does not provide any mechanism by which a town or city may opt out of this requirement.”
Campbell recalled in the letter that, “Massachusetts is in a housing crisis that is inflicting unacceptable economic, social and environmental harms across our state – particularly on working families and people of color.”
“The law directly responds to this crisis by implementing zoning reforms that require MBTA Communities to permit reasonable levels of multi-family housing development,” Campbell wrote. “Massachusetts cities and towns have broad authority to enact local zoning ordinances and bylaws to promote the public welfare, so long as they are not inconsistent with constitutional or statutory requirements. The MBTA Communities zoning law provides one such statutory requirement: That MBTA Communities must allow at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right.”
Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston also wrote on its website that it is “prepared to take recalcitrant towns to court to compel compliance.”
“If towns don’t comply, they will face litigation brought by LCR,” Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston wrote on its website.
In addition to the threat of legal action, Cademartori said not complying with the MBTA Communities law will result in the town being ineligible to receive grant funds from the Housing Choice Initiative, the Local Capital Projects Fund and the MassWorks Infrastructure Program. She said the town has never been awarded grants from the three different state programs.
“If the town does not comply, it makes certain state funds unavailable to the town,” said Cademartori. “One of those funds, The Local Capital Projects Fund, currently provides funds to some housing authorities in the state. Lynnfield’s Housing Authority does not currently receive any state subsidization from The Local Capital Projects Fund. Expenses are annually covered from residents’ rents and any necessary infusion from our ‘rainy day’ reserve fund. That does not mean, however, that they may not seek those subsidies in the future. The Local Capital Projects Fund isn’t an application-based grant fund with a purpose articulated in a statute or policy document. The Legislature appropriates where it goes, and for at least the last several fiscal years, it’s been appropriated to supplement subsidies to local public housing authorities.”
Cademartori said not complying with the law can also impact MBTA services.
“Although Lynnfield does not have MBTA services other than one bus stop at Lookout Terrace and Lynnfield Street, the RIDE program is an MBTA program,” said Cademartori. “There are Lynnfield residents currently using this service, and non-compliance could result in reduced and/or loss of the RIDE program.”
Cademartori said 11.4 percent of the town’s housing stock is classified as affordable housing under the Subsidized Housing Inventory of Chapter 40B.
Town Administrator Rob Dolan informed the Villager in an interview that Lynnfield has taken steps over the past decade to increase its affordable housing inventory.
“Lynnfield stands alone among the surrounding suburban communities in Greater Boston for building our fair share of units over the last decade, primarily at MarketStreet and on Route 1,” said Dolan. “Unlike other affluent communities in the region, we are above the 10 percent mark for affordable housing.”
— The State House News Service contributed to this report.