As mentioned in the Annual Report, the Planning Board has been examining the implications of state legislation passed in January of 2021, which amends the Zoning Act (MGL Ch 40A). A significant part of the new law, in Section 3A, is a requirement for MBTA communities (of which Bedford is one) to have a zoning district of reasonable size that allows multifamily housing with certain density and other attributes. The measure is rooted in concerns about the shortage of housing to meet demand in the Greater Boston area and in the benefits of concentrating development near public transit.
The law authorizes the Department of Housing and Community Development to create guidelines for the implementation of the zoning requirement. Draft Guidelines were issued in late 2021 and have been the subject of much discussion with professional and municipal groups. Some points have been amplified in a set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions. The Draft Guidelines, FAQs and other materials can be viewed on DHCD's website:
Bedford's planning staff submitted some questions during the consultation period. Since our town has recently introduced updated zoning for its business districts along The Great Road, including allowing multifamily housing in mixed-use projects, we hoped that we would be in or near to compliance. We received confirmation that mixed-use zoning can be used to satisfy the requirements, provided that it can accommodate the housing unit density. Other aspects remain less clear or are currently being interpreted in ways that seem hostile to our circumstances. Final guidelines will be issued some time in summer, 2022.
MBTA communities that do not comply with the state requirement will not be eligible for funding in future from: Housing Choice Initiative; Local Capital Projects Fund; or Mass Works Infrastructure Program. Of these, the Mass Works Infrastructure Program is the most likely to be important for Bedford. No guarantees about MBTA service levels or physical improvements are attached to the zoning law change.
As an interim measure, to maintain eligibility in 2022, it is necessary to make a presentation on the multifamily zoning requirement to the Select Board and to submit a form with basic information about compliance intentions. The presentation is scheduled for April 25 during the Select Board's regular (online) meeting. It will include PowerPoint slides.