MBTA Task Force Discusses Goals, Schedule


The Manchester-by-the-Sea MBTA Task Force put together a Mission Statement and organized a schedule of topics to discuss at upcoming meetings when the group met in Town Hall on Thursday, July 20.

It was the group’s second meeting.  The advisory task force is tasked with coming up with a zoning district for the town that will meet the requirements of the state’s General Laws Chapter 40A by the end of 2024.  The Task Force is hoping to have a plan ready in time for the Spring 2024 Annual Town Meeting. 

Christopher Onley, chairman of the task force and a member of the Planning Board, put together a draft Mission Statement for the group to discuss.  Onley’s draft had four points:

      1. Determine the consequences of failing to comply with the mandate.

      2. Conduct a careful study of the downtown to determine the existing land use conditions, the current supply of housing, any underutilized land and potential development options.

      3. Consider the minimal modifications to the current Zoning Bylaw that would bring the town into compliance with the mandate and the potential impacts of these modifications on the downtown.

      4. Consider changes to the Zoning Bylaw that would best address the lack of diversity of housing types and affordability of both rental and ownership of housing as described in the Master Plan.

Task Force member Sandy Bodmer-Turner suggested that the first two items should be reversed with No. 2 becoming No. 1, since determining what lots in downtown would be acceptable for multi-family housing was the linchpin to the state’s mandate.

She also suggested a fifth point that all Task Force discussions include import from the public.

Task Force member Susan Philbrick suggested that No. 4 be reworked because as it was written, it was not part of the Task Force’s mandate set force by the Select Board.

Task Force member Sarah Mellish suggested that the section “lack of diversity of housing types” be removed from No. 4, to make it closer to the Select Board’s mandate.

Onley agreed to make the suggested edits and present an updated Mission Statement at the Task Force’s next meeting.

When the Task Force completes its findings of specific new zoning regulations, it will report those findings to the Select Board and the Planning Board, so that they may be presented to Town Meeting for a vote.

Interim Town Planner Betsey Ware presented a history of zoning, both in the state and in the Town of Manchester.

She also reminded the Task Force of requirements that Manchester faces as part of the state’s new regulations.  The new zoning would allow multi-family housing of at least 15 units per acre for 37 acres in town.  Of those 37 acres, 17 or more must be within a half mile of the Commuter Rail station at 40 Beach St.

The remaining 20 acres can be outside the half mile radius of the train station.

Multiple smaller districts are allowed however each district must be at least 5 acres in size and one of the districts must be at least 50 percent of the required 37 acres or 18.5 acres.  This prevents towns from using spot zoning to meet the state’s requirements.

The difference between zoning districts and overlay districts was also discussed.  Ware explained that overlay districts usually placed additional restrictions on groups of properties, often to protect the town’s water supply.

But an overlay district could also be used to allow the multi-family housing, as required by the state.

Onley said that a two-family house on a 6,000 square foot lot was equal to 15 units per acre.

“A lot of downtown already complies with the (multi-family) zoning,” said Onley.

But, he added later in the meeting, that the board needs to careful about which lots it includes as part of the new zoning district.

 “If we included Crosby’s, that could become a bunch of condos,” said Onley.

Ware also noted some lots were automatically excluded from being included in the new zoning. Those included schools, churches, public buildings, parks and beaches. She also noted that the Wetlands Protection Act did not allow any wetlands from being built upon.

The Flood Plain Bylaw was also discussed as a possible area to be excluded by the new zoning.

The Task Force agreed to hold its next meeting on Aug. 17 to discuss the town’s housing needs and demographics.

At future meetings this fall, the Task Force will discuss the Community Outreach Plan (Sept. 7), impacts to present and future funding (Sept. 21), what does 15 units per acres look like (Oct. 12), impacts to the town’s infrastructure (Oct. 26), potential zoning districts (Nov. 9) and a public forum on potential districts (Nov. 16).

This schedule may adjust as needed.

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