MBTA Communities: Requirement for Multi-Family Zoning

In 2020 Massachusetts amended its General Laws to add a new Section 3A to Chapter 40A. This section requires that MBTA Communities have a zoning district where multi-family housing is allowed as-of-right. ("As-of-right" means development that may proceed under a zoning bylaw without the need for a special permit, variance, zoning amendment, waiver, or other discretionary zoning approval.)

Westford is an MBTA Adjacent Community and is subject to this requirement. The deadline to adopt such a zoning district is December 31, 2024.

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About the Requirements

What is an MBTA Community? A community that is served by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) or is adjacent to a town or city served by it. Westford is an MBTA Adjacent Community, bordering the towns of Acton and Littleton which have commuter rail lines. This means Westford is subject to the requirement.

What is required for the zoning district?

  • Multi-family housing must be allowed as-of-right. This means that a multi-family project is not prohibited nor does it need any discretionary permits (such as a special permit or variance) to be allowed. The typical review process of Site Plan Review before the Planning Board would still be required, but no special relief is needed for the use.
  • It must be of "reasonable" size. A minimum of 50 acres is required. While the district does not have to be contiguous and can contain parcels in different areas, a minimum of 25 acres must be contiguous. No portion of the district can be under 5 acres.
  • It must have a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre. For Westford, this translates to approximately 924 units total. However, it may be possible to include some existing multi-family housing in the new district.
  • There cannot be age restrictions.
  • It must be suitable for families with children.

What criteria might be used to choose parcels to include in the district?

  • Proximity to major routes and thoroughfares such as Route 110 (Littleton Road), Route 40 (Groton Road), I-495, Route 3.
  • Proximity to pedestrian and biking infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike lanes.
  • Proximity to shopping areas and/or places of employment.
  • Proximity to schools.
  • Proximity to recreational opportunities such as sports fields, trails, fitness centers, and commercial recreation (such as playing fields, Kimball's Farm, or Nashoba Valley Ski Area).
  • Protection and preservation of the environment, such as wetlands or wooded open spaces.
  • Inclusion of affordable housing.
  • Potential for redevelopment of abandoned, vacant, or underutilized buildings and building lots.
  • Presence of site constraints that may make development more difficult, such as wetlands, ledge, or steep slopes and grade changes.

Why might this be a good thing for Westford?

  • Provide a greater variety of housing stock.
  • Create additional housing that is priced lower than new single-family dwellings.
  • Provide more options for people who want to move to Westford, or who want to stay in Westford but downsize.
  • Multi-family housing near schools, shopping centers, pedestrian infrastructure, major routes, etc. means the families and individuals living there may be more likely to walk or bike and have easier access to employment and amenities.

What happens if Westford does NOT adopt such a district?

We become ineligible for several state grants: 

mbta_communities_by_category_2022_august_04

Have questions, feedback, or want to learn more?

Please contact Director of Land Use Management, Jeff Morrissette, at 978-692-5524 or jmorrissette@westfordma.gov