MBTA Community Zoning
In 2021, the Commonwealth approved a modification to MGL Chapter 40A (Zoning Act) to add a new provision under Section 3A – referred to as the MBTA Communities Zoning Law – that requires communities with access to MBTA amenities such as Commuter Rail, Rapid Transit Subway, Ferry or Bus service to provide zoning within ½ mile of a station area. The law applies to all 177 cities and towns (excluding Boston) that have MBTA amenities or are adjacent to cities and towns with MBTA amenities. These cities and towns are designated as ‘MBTA Communities’. Wellesley, with 3 Commuter Rail stops, is designated as a “Commuter Rail Community.” This designation determines the compliance deadline - for Wellesley it is December 31, 2024.
The law aims to address Massachusetts’ housing shortage by requiring all MBTA Communities to change zoning regulations around their local transit stations to allow multifamily housing by-right. This does not guarantee that housing will be produced. However, through zoning, a theoretical capacity of units must be achieved within 0.5 miles of an MBTA station. The law’s statute outlines three critical components to the zoning changes:
- Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
- Located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, or ferry terminal, if applicable
- No age restrictions and suitable for families with children
In August 2022, the final guidelines that must be followed by MBTA communities were released and were further revised in August 2023.
Wellesley’s obligation is to have zoning for 1,392 units, of which 90% of those units must be located within a ½ mile of the transit area. Wellesley’s minimum land area for zoning must also equate to 50 acres.
In Wellesley, the Town has 4 districts: Wellesley Square, Wellesley Hills, Wellesley Farms, and Williams Street which falls within the Waban T (in Newton) designated area.
In March 2023, the Attorney General issued a clarifying advisory statement to all of the subject cities and towns which detailed rules for compliance with the MBTA Communities law and the consequences of non-compliance. Per this statement, should Wellesley fail to comply with the MBTA Communities law, the town would be ineligible to receive funds from Housing Choice Grants, Local Capital Fund Projects, and MassWorks Infrastructure Program. The Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC) may, in its discretion, take non-compliance into consideration when making other discretionary grant awards. Additionally, non-compliant cities and towns may be subject to civil enforcement action and risk liability under federal and state fair housing laws.
Links to Recorded Meetings
Recorded meetings with presentations and/or discussions regarding MBTA Community Zoning can also be viewed on Wellesley Public Media (www.wellesleymedia.org)
- Planning Board MBTA Communities Presentation 9-5-2023
- Planning Board at Select Board to discuss MBTA Communities Proposal 10-24-2023
- MBTA Communities Public Forum with Meghan Jop & Eric Arbeene 11-30-2023 (co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters Wellesley)
Presentation documents correspond to meeting dates above
- Planning Director Memo to Planning Board RE: MBTA Community Zoning for 9-5-2023
- League of Women Voters MBTA Community Zoning Presentation 11-30-23