A Full Plate of Land Use Issues
By Gregory T. Federspiel
We are in the midst of a lot of activity on various land use proposals and potential amendments to our zoning regulations. The Zoning Board of Appeals continues its careful review of the proposed 40B project on Shingle Hill. A new proposal from Cell Singular Technologies, a bio-tech company, is being developed on lands adjacent to the MAC. The Planning Board continues to work on a re-write of our zoning regulations and plans to present voters amendments at the Annual Town Meeting this spring. And the State is advancing new transit-oriented development for every town with an MBTA rail station.
The ZBA’s comprehensive permitting process for the proposed 40B enters into more detailed review of the issues now that the peer reviewers have been selected. The upcoming meeting on the 9th will take a deeper dive into public safety and traffic. The process will continue for the next few months at a minimum.
The Selectmen will hear an initial presentation on the proposed research campus Cell Singular Technologies is considering constructing on land near the Manchester Athletic Club. Proponents of the project will attend the Board’s February 7th meeting and provide an overview of what they hope to construct. There are many steps that will need to be taken before such a project could move forward, including voter approval of amended zoning regulations for the Limited Commercial District.
The Planning Board will host public hearings in the coming weeks for proposed amendments to the LCD and other sections of the zoning regulations. A re-write of the regulations have been underway for a couple of years and the Board is working hard to bring proposals to the voters for final debate and possible approval at the spring Annual Town Meeting. More details on the proposed changes will be released very soon.
Lastly, later this year after the Annual Town Meeting, the Planning Board will turn its attention to the new State law impacting communities with a commuter rail station. The law seeks to advance multi-unit housing near transit facilities. The law is set up to incentivize municipalities to create zoning that allows multi-unit housing as a by right use (meaning no special permitting is required.) The law does not mandate the actual production of this housing, but it does seek to encourage towns to adopt zoning that will allow such production to take place if property owners wish to do so.
Housing costs in Massachusetts are amongst the highest in the country. The State legislature approved the new law as a means to try to increase the supply of housing. In the thirty-year period from 1960 to 1990 some 900,000 housing units were constructed. Since 1990 only some 470,000 units were constructed. The State estimates that at least 200,000 new units are needed statewide to better meet demand and prevent housing costs from continuing to climb out of reach for a large segment of the population. The State is wanting to focus new development near transit facilities as part of a larger “smart growth” policy it seeks to implement.
The law promotes creating zoning districts within a half mile of transit facilities that add up to at least 50 acres (about a tenth of the land area with a half mile wide circle). The 50 acres is part of the draft guidelines being circulated by the State. The minimum density of 15 units per acre is similar to what we allow in the village area currently, but we do not allow multi-unit structures by right.
Towns do not have to comply with the new law. Communities that decide not to would no longer be eligible for various state grants. We have until the end of 2024 to decide whether complying makes sense for Manchester. The first deadline we face is that the Selectmen must host a public meeting explaining the new law and discussing how it would possibly fit into our long-range goals for the village by May 2 of this year. The Board is aiming to host this meeting at their February 22 or March 7 meeting.
As always, stay tuned for updates and more details on these various projects as they continue to be advanced.