Developer buyout option could be removed from Marlborough zoning regulations

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Developer buyout option could be removed from Marlborough zoning regulations
A look at downtown Marlborough. (Photo/Maureen Sullivan)

MARLBOROUGH – The city is amending its regulations regarding mixed-used and affordable housing.

During the City Council’s Urban Affairs Committee meeting on Feb. 23, members discussed some of the proposed zoning amendments within Chapter 650, which governs mixed use and affordable housing. This could include dropping the “buyout” option for developers and having affordable units remain in perpetuity.

Councilor Kathleen Robey, who chairs the Urban Affairs Committee, has been spearheading the effort to amend the Marlborough zoning code.

She said her goal with the amendments “was to remove the buyout developers could use instead of providing affordable units; make housing built under site plan approval also require affordable housing; and to offer affordable housing to a range of incomes.”

According to Council President Michael Ossing, there are 1,857 affordable housing units in Marlborough – about 100 units above the 10% threshold that would otherwise allow developers to use Chapter 40B to build housing in the city.

Under Chapter 40B, developers can override local zoning bylaws in order to increase the number of affordable houses in communities where fewer than 10% of housing is defined as affordable.

Ossing said that some affordable units could switch to market rate before 2030, when the next U.S. Census is taken.

“We don’t have to worry until 2030,” he said.

Ossing joined other committee members in support of having affordable units remain in perpetuity.

Committee members also discussed the “buyout” option, where developers could offer cash in lieu of building affordable units.

The committee would like to drop this option.

“I like not having their contractors buy their way” through a project, said Ward 1 Councilor Laura J. Wagner. “The buyout has to go.”

There was also a discussion on a change to the minimum number of units required before developers need to set aside units for affordable housing. After much discussion, the committee agreed to amend the regulations from “20 or more units” to “eight or more units.”

Housing units of eight or more would be required to have 15% of total units sold or leased to families meeting specified guidelines. For any development with more than 18 units, 20% of total units must be sold or leased to families meeting guidelines.

Additional language would clarify that the units would be targeted for households earning less than 80% of the area median income as set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) within the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area that includes Marlborough, and that at least one-third of the units sold or leased would be to households earning less than 50% of the median income set by HUD.

The proposed amended regulations may also remove a developer’s option to find alternate sites, with City Council approval.

The changes discussed at the Feb. 23 meeting will be updated by the city’s solicitor, Jason Grossfield. The proposed Marlborough zoning amendments was approved by the Urban Affairs Committee on March 6. The amendments will go before the full City Council on Monday, March 13.

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