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Planning Board discusses MBTA Communities Act compliance proposal with policy expert

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Planning Board at its meeting Monday night consulted with an expert on the MBTA Communities Act about the effectiveness of its draft plan to comply with the state law.

There are 177 communities that are subject to this act, also referred to as 3A. Because Hopkinton is an MBTA adjacent community (near the commuter rail in Southborough), it faces less stringent zoning requirements than those that are directly served by public transit.

Principal Planner John Gelcich introduced Emily Innes, the town’s consultant on MBTA Communities Act compliance. The Massachusetts Housing Partnership funded a consultant for Hopkinton and several other towns to help them ensure their plans comply with the law. Innes also worked with the Zoning Advisory Committee as it spent several months drafting and refining the language.

Innes raised the “common misconception” that implementing the zoning means that a community is required to meet a housing “building target.”

“It’s zoning,” she explained. “It’s up to the private market to determine whether or not they are going to submit an application under the zoning.”

Gelcich added that the MBTA Communities zoning would be considered an overlay district. This means that a developer could propose a project under either the current zoning or under the proposed overlay district.

Chair Gary Trendel commented that the latest iteration of the act’s language does not require the entire zoning to be within a half-mile radius of a station. Innes agreed, saying that it gives MBTA adjacent communities the opportunity to put the zoning “where it makes the most sense” for them.

“I think what we’ve put forth makes a lot of sense,” Trendel said. “It aligns with the intent, and it has some flexibility.”

Vice chair Rob Benson brought up Milton’s recent contentious vote not to comply with the law. Gov. Maura Healey and Attorney Andrea Campbell quickly rebuked the town, saying they would withhold state funding and could sue the town, as had been articulated in messaging regarding communities that don’t comply.

Innes disclosed that previously she had been a Milton resident and Milton Planning Board member. She did say that Campell’s letter in March 2023 “said that communities must comply with the law.”

Added Trendel: “I think it is fair to say that if only a portion of the communities comply with the law, it doesn’t work.”

“I think the reality here is that we wouldn’t be talking about a new zoning district if this wasn’t a law,” said Benson. “A lot of people are fearful of their property value and what it could do to the town.”

He added that some communities appear to be putting their districts where office buildings or apartment complexes already exist. Innes said the need for large office buildings is rapidly declining, and those apartments could be redeveloped in the future.

Innes said Hopkinton’s proposed plan appears to be sound and meets compliance standards. She noted that Trendel and Gelcich should meet with the town moderator and town counsel to see how best to explain the situation to Town Meeting members, as well as how potential changes proposed on the Town meeting floor would be addressed.

In a letter to the Planning Board, town counsel Bryan Bertram recommended “minor proposed edits” to some of the language in Hopkinton’s document, particularly regarding the special permit process.

“I would be very careful to make sure the special permit process is consistent with as-of-right [zoning],” Innes said.

Trendel noted the board’s site plan review process to ensure that a project conforms to the intended use of the parcel. Innes said conditions can’t be put on a development “that are so onerous that it would by definition deny that use.”

Innes clarified public perceptions that “as-of-right means that you can just build anything.” A project has to comply with the dimensional and development standards included in the zoning.

Emerald Drive open space donation reviewed

The board also discussed the donation of open space as part of the Emerald Drive subdivision, formerly known as Connelly Farms. It approved a motion designating the Open Space Preservation Commission as the entity receiving the land on the town’s behalf.

The development, currently under construction, is located on Hayden Rowe Street, just north of the intersection with College Street.

“We’re trying to get into the habit of when the Planning Board recommends the acceptance of open space that they identify the entity that will be the recipient of the open space,” said Gelcich.

This move came in response to the agitation expressed at recent OSPC meetings about not being included in Planning Board decisions regarding open space land donations.

The OSPC in January voted unanimously to accept the open space as previously approved by the Planning Board and recommended an easement proposal suggested by the developer in lieu of the developer being required to build a trail on that land.

Gelcich said that Monday’s vote was “an add-on” to the board’s previous vote to accept the open space donation.

The unanimous vote designated the OSPC as the recipient of the Emerald Drive and Whisper Way land donations previously approved. This information will be added to the warrant to be voted on at the Annual Town Meeting on May 6.

The discussion was continued until the next meeting on March 18 so that the board can vote on a revised bylaw document.

Priefer resigns from Planning Board

Trendel also addressed former Planning Board member Ron Priefer’s recent resignation. According to a letter Priefer sent to the Select Board, he resigned due to his dissatisfaction with the Select Board’s 4-1 vote to terminate former Hopkinton Police Sgt. Tim Brennan.

Typically, when a resignation occurs, Trendel explained that the Planning Board meets jointly with the Select Board to appoint a person to serve for the remainder of the term. But because the election is in May, Trendel said it would make more sense for the Select Board to put the position on the ballot.

The board voted to approve this request 8-0 at the recommendation of Gelcich. Gelcich said the Select Board will vote on this at an upcoming meeting.

Discussion of proposed stormwater amendment postponed

The board voted unanimously to continue the discussion of the proposed stormwater amendment until March 18. Gelcich explained that the Conservation Commission would be reviewing the amendment at its March 12 meeting and he wanted to incorporate its input.

1 Comment

  1. Eric Wieland

    I find it curious that the planning Board did not mention the letter sent by The Preserve attorney requesting that The Preserve removed from re-zoning consideration.

    It is very sad they don’t respect the families living at The Preserve.

    Reply

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