Task Force takes on MBTA zoning requirements


The Manchester-By-The-Sea MBTA Task Force held its first meeting on June 8 at Town Hall.  The goal of the panel is to develop new zoning for the town to meet the state’s requirements for its new MBTA zoning laws.

“Our goal right now is to have something to put before the voters at the 2024 Annual (Town) Meeting next April,” said Selectman Ann Harrison, a member of the task force.  “We are on a very tight schedule.”

Jonathan Murray of KP Law provided the task force with an overview of the new law and the requirements for Manchester.  The MBTA Zoning Act is Chapter 40A, Section 3A of the state’s general laws.  The MBTA Zoning Act is a new section to the state’s Housing Choice Act.

“What it requires of towns is that those towns that are designated as MBTA communities … have to adopt at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as a right,” said Murray.  “That’s the basic requirement.”

Murray said “reasonable size” was defined differently for every town.  For Manchester, the multi-family housing district must be at least 37 acres, with at least 17 acres within a half mile of the Manchester trail station.

In addition, Murray said the district must have “a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre.”  Murray said that multi-family housing was defined as three or more units in the same building.

Questions were raised about the zoning district and if all 37 acres had to be contiguous. Murray explained that at least 50 percent of the district – or 18.5 acres in Manchester’s case – had to be contiguous.  But the rest of the district could be spread out over any number of parcels, if each parcel was at least five acres.

Murray said that the land included in the district must be developable land.  Any land that is wetlands, rivers, streams, oceans, or publicly owned land has already been excluded by the state.

The apartment complex at 12 Summer Street was used as an example of a parcel that already has a density greater than what the state is calling for.

“You could for example … zone districts that are already dense and count those toward the requirement,” said Murray.  “You don’t have to take an empty field and add that to the zoning district.”

Asked if there was any way around the new zoning, Murray said no. 

“There is no waiver procedure in this law at all,” said Murray.  “There is no way to opt out. There is no way to get any waiver from the guidelines.”

If the town chose not to enact the multi-family zoning district, Murray said it would face loss of state housing funds and grants. Also, the state’s attorney general towns has said that towns could face being taken to court over violation of the state’s housing laws.

Finance Committee member Michael Pratt, also a member of the task force, questioned if loss of the state housing funds and grants would be a hardship for the town.  He said they only amounted about $200,000 to $400,000 a year.

Interim Town Planner Betsey Ware noted that Cell Signaling Technology was expecting to apply for $5 to $6 million in grants in the coming years.

The task force agreed to meet on the third Thursday of each month to start with, so the next meeting will be July 20 at 6:30 p.m.

The task force elected Chris Onley of the Planning Board as chairman and Garlan Morse of the Downtown Improvement Plan Committee as vice chairman. Morse ran the meeting on June 8 because Onley was attending the meeting online.

The other members of the task force, in addition to Onley, Morse, Harrison and Pratt, are Sarah Mellish of the Planning Board, Richard Smith of the Historic District, Susan Philbrick of the Planning Board, and at-large members Sandy Bodmer-Turner and Dennison Hall.






urban planning, zoning, massachusetts bay transportation authority, ann harrison, sea mbta task force, chris onley, planning board, jonathan murray, michael pratt, sandy bodmer-turner, susan philbrick, sarah mellish, richard smith, dennison hall, betsey ware