New Transit-Oriented Development Requirements for Boston-Area Transit Stations

Cities with commuter rail stops will have to accommodate higher-density housing or risk losing access to state resources and housing grants.

January 26, 2021, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Commuter Rail

Thirty-eight cities and towns served by MBTA trains have no high-density zoning near stations. | THONGCHAI.S / Shutterstock

Massachusetts' latest economic development bill includes a rule that requires municipalities served by Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter trains to permit denser housing in at least one district within a half mile of a station. The measure is meant to create more housing near transit stations and alleviate greater Boston's growing housing crisis, according to an article Tim Logan. "The biggest barrier to building in Massachusetts is zoning and the lack of zoning for multifamily housing. People want walkable neighborhoods, and this will help us produce them," said Rachel Heller, CEO of the advocacy group Citizens Housing and Planning Association, in the article.

Some cities along the MBTA's rail lines with little or no land zoned for higher density protested the measure, insisting that local zoning decisions should stay in local hands. "Mandates from Beacon Hill are no way to build," said Massachusetts Municipal Association executive director Geoff Beckwith, adding: "New laws won’t work if they strip average citizens of their role and voice." State Senator Joe Boncore argues that the rule is a fair trade for access to state infrastructure and grants: "Suburban towns benefit from being on the regional transportation network, he said, so they should contribute to tackling the regional housing shortage."

The new rule is part of a package that includes "Housing Choice," another proposal aimed at reducing barriers to building denser housing by reducing the percent of votes needed to pass zoning changes.

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