Keeping the “40’s” straight!
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Coincidentally, the Town is working on two very different processes that both involve lands within our existing Limit Commercial District which lies to the north of Route 128. Both fall under the same Chapter of state law that deals with land use but under different sections – 40B and 40R.
The proposed 40B project is a private initiative for a new apartment complex that the Town must respond to but one that the state has the ultimate authority to approve. We will try to influence how the project proceeds, but state law dictates the process and limits the degree that we can control the outcome. The Selectmen, and then the Zoning Board of Appeals will be working very hard to steer the project in the most favorable ways possible. Many hours have and will be devoted to the Town’s responses.
A very different effort is underway to study possible new zoning regulations for a portion of the Limited Commercial District. Based on the recommendations that emerged from the Master Plan (which documented strong interest in the community for growing our commercial tax base within the LCD) and after a couple of public presentations on the what a 40R Smart Growth Overly District is, including financial incentives from the state, the Planning Board voted to proceed with a study of this land use tool. We are in the early stages of this study.
To date, grant funds have been secured to obtain technical assistance from the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the State. A working group comprised of a representative from the Planning Board, the Finance Committee, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Affordable Housing Trust, the Conservation Commission, and the Select Board has been formed to help coordinate the communication efforts with the public and between these various boards and committees as well as to provide guidance to staff as they gather information that the boards and committees will use when it comes time to debate how the Town might amend the zoning in the LCD. At this early stage, working group members keep their respective groups appraised of the efforts by the technical team as part of their respective public meetings.
A well-attended public forum was held this past summer along with a community survey. Additional public forums as well as committee and board meetings focused on the possibilities for re-zoning the LCD will be held in the coming months. The input gleaned from these meetings will be used to decide what, if any, amendments to the LCD should be presented to the voters for possible approval. It takes a 2/3rds majority vote at a Town Meeting to approve new zoning regulations.
A concern some people have is that, by state law, a 40R District must have at least 51% of the new development dedicated to housing. Housing often generates more cost in municipal services than tax revenue. One of the goals for re-zoning the LCD is to generate new revenues for the Town that can be put toward the infrastructure needs we have. If the 40B project is built, we may not want a separate 40R district with even more housing. However, if the 40R district is created before the permitting process is completed for the 40B project, it is possible to include these new apartments into the 40R district’s housing requirements and thus allow the rest of the 40R district to have mostly commercial uses. Whether we want to pursue a new 40R district remains an open question that the study and upcoming public debates will answer.
What remains clear are the three primary goals of the Master Plan: diversify our housing stock, expand our tax base, and protect our important natural resources. As the public process unfolds, we will see if a new 40R Smart Growth Overlay district can help with these goals.