Haverhill Council to Get Briefing on New State Law Requiring Multifamily Districts Near MBTA Stations

Haverhill Economic and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr. greets Gov. Charlie Baker at new homes along Gilbert Avenue. (WHAV News photograph.)

Click image for Haverhill City Council agenda.

Communities serviced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, including commuter rail, are required to set aside one or more zoning districts of multifamily housing not more than a half mile from T stations.

City Economic Development and Planning Director William Pillsbury Jr. is scheduled to address the Haverhill City Council tonight, presenting as the state requires, an overview of draft guidelines.

“The brief presentation will summarize the draft guidelines and present a schedule to achieve final compliance,” Pillsbury said in a note to councilors Friday.

The Housing Choice law, part of an economic development bill signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in January of 2021, requires multi-family housing be allowed by right with a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre and without age restrictions. Area MBTA communities, such as Haverhill, North Andover, Andover and Lawrence, that do not comply risk losing such state grants as the Housing Choice Initiative, Local Capital Projects Fund or MassWorks Infrastructure Program.

Cities hosting an MBTA service must designate districts that would accommodate a minimum 15% of its total housing stock for multi-family units. For Haverhill, the state estimated a minimum of 4,189 units. There are also 10% minimum requirements for so-called “MBTA adjacent” communities such as Methuen, Groveland and West Newbury. Draft guidelines, however, note, “It is important to understand that a multi-family district’s unit capacity is not a mandate to construct a specified number of housing units, nor is it a housing production target.”

Regulations were released by Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development at the end of last year. A letter accompanying the rules details the goals.

“We think this can be another tool in our larger effort to confront the state’s housing crisis. This new requirement will complement existing efforts to encourage transit-oriented housing development. By allowing multifamily housing near transit, we can create new housing in walkable neighborhoods closer to transit, which is not just good housing policy, it is good climate and transportation policy, too. It is important that Massachusetts continue to leverage housing best practices to meet the state’s housing needs and this new requirement does that by setting the table for more housing near transit centers,” wrote Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy and Department of Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Jennifer D. Maddox.

In an unrelated action, councilors are expected to place on file for the required 10 days plans for a new business park on the north side of Route 110. Access would be from Interstate 495, exit 110, Amesbury Road, across from Elliott Street. Pillsbury said traffic signals would be placed at the intersection which also serves as access to Northern Essex Community College.

The Haverhill City Council meets at 7 p.m. remotely and in-person at the Theodore A. Pelosi Jr. Council Chambers, room 202, Haverhill City Hall, 4 Summer St., As a public service, 97.9 WHAV plans to carry the meeting live.

MBTA communities with service type.

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