Developer pitches housing project under new MBTA community guidelines

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Developer pitches housing project under new MBTA community guidelines
This is a rendering of the potential housing project in Northborough. (Screenshot/Northborough Remote Meetings)

NORTHBOROUGH – A developer is interested in constructing a housing project in Northborough under new provisions for MBTA communities.

Northborough is categorized as an “adjacent” community.

The project, called Alexan Northborough, would be located at 333 Southwest Cutoff at the baseball fields in Northborough. The project was presented to the Planning Board by staff from Trammell Crow Residential and 333 Building One on Dec. 6.

“We’re building luxury, Class A apartment communities. That’s what we do. That’s what we know. We don’t build things to sell, and we really build to be at the top of the market,” said Trammell Crow Residential Vice President and Development Manager Mark Baranski.

MBTA communities

In Jan. 2021, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that includes a section that encourages designated communities to adopt zoning districts where multi-family zoning would be permitted by right, according to a presentation by Town Planner Laurie Connors to the Board of Selectmen in the spring.

The final guidelines came out in August. Northborough is required to zone an area consisting of at least 50 acres, and the housing density must be at least 15 units per acre. According to presentations by Connors, the overall number of housing units that need to be accommodated in the overlay district is 750 units.

Northborough would need to comply by Dec. 31, 2024. If Northborough doesn’t comply, the town would be ineligible to receive funds from Housing Choice grants, the Local Capital Projects Fund and the MassWorks Infrastructure Program.

According to Baranski, Trammell Crow has successfully applied this legislation to a project in Chelmsford called Alexan Chelmsford, which is made up of 340 units.

“There’s an advantage to working with parties on specific sites in that you can really to some extent tailor-make the overlay to fulfill the requirements of the state, but also touch on the needs of the town,” said Baranski.

What is proposed

The plans presented called for 315 units with a mix of different types of units, including townhomes and four- and three-story buildings.

In terms of demographics of their residents, Baranski said Trammell Crow primarily target young couples and senior citizens who want to remain in their community.

“There are definitely families. There will be families,” he said.

Following a question by member Millie Milton, Baranski said they have engaged a consultant who assessed the impact on schools as part of their past projects as well as having conversations with school committees.

Chair Kerri Martinek said the Planning Board has “consistently” brought up concerns about schools being overwhelmed.

“Quite a few years ago, we had the Avalon come into the community, and our schools were just rocked by that,” she said. “Especially for a lot of us with school-aged children at the time experienced that personally. So, there’s that sensitivity for sure that I think plays a role.”

Connors later told the Community Advocate that this project would not completely satisfy Northborough’s requirements because this parcel is only 25 acres and a total of 50 acres is required to be zoned.

Based on his experience in Chelmsford, Baranski estimated that this process may last about a year and could include a development agreement outlining mitigation efforts and an article before Town Meeting.

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