MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning Requirement

Photo Bus 62 Photo multifamily apartmentsPhoto 2 story attached houses


A Massachusetts state law signed by the former Governor Baker in January, 2021, requires towns and cities within the MBTA service area to make provision in their zoning for multifamily housing. Now codified as Section 3A of the Zoning Act (Chapter 40A), the law requires that:

An MBTA community shall have a zoning ordinance or by-law that provides for at least 1 district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right; provided, however, that such multi-family housing shall be without age restrictions and shall be suitable for families with children. For the purposes of this section, a district of reasonable size shall: (i) have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre, subject to any further limitations imposed by section 40 of chapter 131 and title 5 of the state environmental code established pursuant to section 13 of chapter 21A; and (ii) be located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.

Since Bedford does not have any of the identified major transit facilities, its multifamily zoning district can be located anywhere in town. The thinking behind the law lay in a widespread concern that housing production is insufficient to meet the region’s needs, and a desire to promote transit-oriented development as a land-use strategy having multiple benefits.

The Bedford Planning Board is studying potential ways to bring the town’s Zoning Bylaw into compliance with the new law. 

Proposed MBTA Communities Multifamily Zoning Overlay Map

Below is the potential map under consideration for the multifamily zoning overlay, as of the January 30, 2024 Planning Board meeting. It is the subject of a public hearing which opened on February 13, 2024 at 7:00pm on Zoom and will continue on February 27 at the same time. There is a new Zoom link. If needed, the webinar # is 865 4939 6863 and the password is 313591. Access details will also be shown on the agenda.

At the first session of the hearing the Board agreed to consider requests to add two parcels to the proposed overlay district: 214 Great Road (as an addition to the Loomis/Depot East area) and 5 Lane Avenue (as an addition to the Loomis/Depot Center area).

Map of Proposed Districts for February 27, 2024 Public Hearing continuation

Proposed Text of Zoning Bylaw Amendment

Legal ad with Zoom access details

Past Map Iterations

Proposed Districts January 16, 2024 (PDF)
Proposed Districts January 4, 2024 (PDF)
4 Potential Districts November 2023 (PDF)
North Road Map November 2023 (PDF)
Shawsheen Map November 2023 (PDF)
Middlesex Turnpike Map November 2023 (PDF)
Depot/Loomis Map November 2023 (PDF)
Town Center Map November 2023 (PDF)

What Is It? - graphic that explains MBTA Communities law
What does by-right mean? - graphic that explains by-right
What are the requirements? - graphic that explains MBTA Communities law
Why does this affect Bedford? - graphic that explains MBTA Communities law
What Would MBTA Zoning Look Like? - graphic that shows examples of various multifamily housing types

The Guidelines, which interpret and amplify the text of the law, were issued by DHCD in late 2022 and a digital Compliance Model and Sample Bylaw were added in early 2023.

The Guidelines interpret the meaning of a "district of reasonable size", setting minimum acreage and housing unit capacity numbers for each municipality. For Bedford, these are set at 50 acres and 750 units. (for different communities, the numbers are based on a range of factors that include the MBTA service category, the total land area and the number of existing housing units, but for Bedford the critical factors are the 50 acre minimum that was set for most community categories and the 15 units per acre minimum that is in the statute: 50 x 15 = 750).

The Guidelines specify some categories of land that will be excluded from counting as having any capacity for multifamily housing. These include most publicly-owned land, water bodies and wetlands, protected open space, rights-of-way, Zone 1 wellhead protection areas and certain institutional land. Such areas cover 59% of the town. There are also some categories of land for which a caution is expressed. These include wetland buffer zones beyond the prohibition area, land subject to flooding, priority habitat for rare species, Zone II wellhead protection areas and prime agricultural land. (see maps of Excluded and Sensitive land in Bedford below).

The law also includes penalties for non-compliance, in the form of ineligibility for certain state grants, and authorizes the Department (originally the Department of Housing and Community Development, later the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities) to promulgate compliance guidelines.

For more information, please visit the State website

See Bedford's excluded land map (PDF) here.
See Bedford's sensitive land map (PDF) here.

Bedford's Timeline

January 2023

Any zoning amendments will need to be passed by Town Meeting, and public input will be invited along the way. The Town submitted a broad Action Plan for its process in January, 2023, as required for interim compliance. The Annual Town Meeting in March, 2024 is the target for bylaw amendment(s). Full compliance is required by the end of 2024.

September 2023

Members of the Board conducted outreach with an information booth at Bedford Day in September, 2023, an opinion survey open until late October, presentations to a range of Town committees and outside organizations during the fall, and a display in the foyer of the November Special Town Meeting with maps of some potential multifamily zoning districts to spur discussion.

November 2023

Residents who responded to the survey were asked if they wished to be part of a focus group for further discussions. A focus group meeting was held on November 16, 2023 with 30 participants. An open public forum was held on November 29 and a second session on December 5, 2023.

In the meantime, staff familiarized itself with the digital Compliance Model and used it to start to explore how various potential district boundaries, together with zoning parameters such as setbacks, height, open space and parking requirements would generate unit capacity estimates. Such understanding is useful in framing the zoning rules in detail as well as checking for likely acceptance by the state.

January 2024

Board discussions continued, covering a range of concepts and variations for the location of the district(s). Further public comments were received, together with staff analysis of aspects such as property tax revenue implications. At its January 4, 2024 meeting, the Board agreed to move forward with defined areas in two parts of town: Depot/Loomis/Great Road and Shawsheen (the latter in two pieces). See map of proposed districts at that date below.

Consultants RKG Associates began assisting the Board with further compliance testing and bylaw development work, funded through a grant. The Board chair introduced some additional geographic options to explore at the January 16 meeting and a map of four areas was produced for further study. At the January 30 meeting, the Board confirmed its intent to present a zoning proposal to the Annual Town Meeting. It agreed that geographically it would consist of two of the four areas that were shown on the January 16 map: the Loomis - Depot Corridor and Shawsheen West (including Alfred Circle and Roberts Drive). These areas are likely to be divided into subdistricts so that they can have different dimensional rules. 

February 2024

The proposed Zoning Overlay map was produced and text amendments drafted. A public hearing is scheduled for February 13 at 7:00pm on Zoom. It is also likely to be continued to allow further discussion on February 27.

Background on housing in Bedford

Results of Opinion Survey, October 2023

Related Past Meetings and Event Recordings