Northborough approves MBTA zoning district

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Northborough approves MBTA zoning district
This map shows the original proposed Downtown Sub-District to comply with MBTA zoning. (Photo/Town of Northborough)

NORTHBOROUGH – Voters approved two articles at Town Meeting on April 24 that will result in the creation of two subdistricts to comply with MBTA zoning requirements.

On the floor of Town Meeting, voters approved a reduction of the amount of acres in the downtown sub-district.

There are 177 communities in the state subject to the law. Northborough is designated as an MBTA adjacent community, meaning it is adjacent to a community with the commuter rail.

For the town, Northborough must create at least one zoning district where multifamily housing is permitted by right and meet specific criteria — a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre; the units must be suitable for families with children; and the town can require site plan approval, but it can’t be used to deny a project or impose conditions that would make the project infeasible.

Additionally, the zoning district must be at least 50 acres of developable land. If there are subdistricts, at least one of the subdistricts has to contain 25 contiguous acres of land. Subdistricts cannot be smaller than five acres of contiguous acres.

Northborough’s bylaw states that 15% of all of the units in a development with a minimum of 10 units must be restricted for low-income households.

“Bringing down rents, increasing housing helps our aging population. It helps single-income families to be able to afford housing,” said Planning Board member Bill Pierce.

As part of the Planning Board’s analysis for the bylaw, the board learned that there was less multifamily and affordable housing being built in town. More single-family homes are being built, Pierce said.

Northborough is currently about the 10% threshold to be impacted by 40B housing projects, which allow developers to bypass zoning bylaws.

“As more single-family houses are being built, we get closer and closer to that 10% limit. If we go under that, now you can have housing come in that you don’t want,” said Pierce.

The first subdistrict is called the Southwest Connector Sub-District. It would be 49.2 acres and include three parcels — Avalon Northborough; an undeveloped, abutting parcel of land that has access off Route 20; and the Econo Lodge.

The second subdistrict is called the Downtown Sub-District. The district was originally proposed to contain 11.9 acres and encompass Town Hall, Matec Instruments, Heritage Village, the property at 22-24-26 Hudson Street and five acres of EL Harvey and Sons.

In total, Northborough’s district is 61.1 acres and includes 10 parcels.

During Town Meeting, several residents voiced concerns that the five acres at the Harvey property could result in 75 units. Resident Lois Vandekopple-Smith, who spoke with her neighbors that live near River and Main streets, proposed reducing the amount of the Harvey property included in the sub-district to three acres, which would reduce the number of units to 45. 

“People are still a little uncomfortable with that, but like I said, we’re trying to do some sort of a compromise so that it could be something that could be approved tonight,” said Vandekopple-Smith.

Her amendment was approved by voters, and, as a result, the total district will be 59.1 acres. Town Meeting approved the combined articles by a vote of 137-34.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information from the Town Meeting debate. 

Northborough approves MBTA zoning district
This map shows the Southwest Connector Sub-District. (Photo/Town of Northborough)

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