Things That Make You Say “Hunh?”: MBTA Communities

A Needham bridge. Photo Credit: MBTA

Yesterday, the Owl attended a webinar hosted by the Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Community Development, Michael Kennealy [note: a previous version of this story misspelled Mr. Kennealy’s name apologies]. The subject was the January 2021 state law (Section 3A of MGL c. 40A) that “requires that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Not more than ½ miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
  • No age restrictions
  • Suitable for families with children.”

You can find that exact wording on the state website here.

Now, let’s cut to the chase. Weston is a MBTA Community because we “host” an MBTA service. We are not alone–you can see on this map that we have quite a few friends (174 others to be exact). By the way, to see any of the images I am using here, please go to this link, then scroll to the bottom of the page where you can view the webinar and download the presentation.

Screenshot from webinar

Anything bother you about this map? Ah yes, here’s what bothers me. Weston is “served” by subway or light rail according to our dark blue shading. Knock me down with a feather! We have a subway here in Weston? Where? Light rail? Where? Last time I checked Riverside T-station was not in the town of Weston–though I suppose about 20 Westonians are within walking distance if they don’t mind crossing 8 lanes of I-95 oh and the Charles River. I think it’s time to invite Governor Baker to take the “T” out to Weston and see how that works out for him. Wait, I’ll send him an email now. Here from our town website are Weston’s transportation options:

Where is the light rail? We don’t even have a bus. Someone please explain.

You may wonder why it’s important to define light rail/subway versus commuter rail: “All communities served by the MBTA need to zone to allow for multifamily housing by-right, with a greater obligation for communities with higher levels of transit service.” As defined by the state, a community serviced by light rail/subway must have a designated district with 25% of its housing stock as multi-family. Or about 1,011 units in the multi-family district for Weston. If we were designated as a commuter rail community, which is what I believe we are (please feel free to correct me if you know where the T station is in Weston), that would be 15%.

In addition, all MBTA Communities must designate multi-family districts that have a minimum land area of at least 50 acres (or 1/20 of the land area within a half-mile of a transit station) with a minimum density of 15 units per acre.

Want to see what a half-mile radius from Kendal Green looks like? Well, check out my excellent map-making skills. Kendal Green parking more or less where the dashed red line radius is.

Oh, close enough.

Now, in an effort to alleviate everyone’s worries (and guess what? they took ZERO questions), they also included a slide of these multi-family districts in some Massachusetts communities. Here you go:

This brings up another list of questions. Like, Silver Hill and Hastings stations are not “online” at the moment. Is that going to change now? Kendal Green also seem to be reduced schedules but I could be making that up as I never take the train–they closed my neighborhood station. Someone tell me. Also, there has long been rumored to be a Waltham Mega Master Blaster Transportation Hub in the future which would shut down the Weston stations. And finally, every time I go over to the Fitchburg line website, there is a huge list of delays, track problems, buses instead of trains, etc. Can we vote to no longer have a train stop here? What is actually going on, MBTA? I can only be in your Community if you tell me what is going on.

Okay, sorry, I went off the rails a bit (haha) but here is what I took out of this. Someone in Weston needs to fill out some community info by May 2 and send it in, and we need to consider this new zoning district, and if we decide not to comply as a town, then we give up state money for something. Oh here’s the officialese: “An MBTA community that fails to comply with this section shall not be eligible for funds from: (i) the Housing Choice Initiative as described by the governor in a message to the general court dated December 11, 2017; (ii) the Local Capital Projects Fund established in section 2EEEE of chapter 29; or (iii) the MassWorks infrastructure program established in section 63 of chapter 23A.” Do I know if Weston cares about this? I don’t.

If you feel this is not all crystal clear, well, I have a webinar for you. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.


  • I care. The long term history is we enjoy the unfair benefits of exclusionary zoning that has kept out apartments of nearly any type, and those people viewed as undeserving of being our neighbors because of income, ethnicity,for race. We aren’t alone in this sin, so I feel the state has made an attempt to address the general housing shortage, especially for middle class and lower income people by tying public investment in transportation to encouragement for generation of more affordable housing needed by our fellow state residents. We can’t again fall victim to an “I got mine and everyone else doesn’t count” ethic if we can remotely think of ourselves as good people.
    Our town can safely and comfortably address these pressures and state pressures with proactive plans and solid action. The recent Housing Production Plan produced by the town provides a well thought out basis for our actions. It’s deserving of our support.

    • I don’t disagree (sometimes known as “I agree”) with what you say about Weston needing to address the disparities, even with our neighbor town to the east. It does take proactivity and planning, and I do wonder if this districting made it into our recent HPP. I do not recall seeing this addressed, but I will look now. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  • I take the train out of Kendall all the time. I used to take the trains out of Hastings or Silver Hill (15 minute walk). Now I go to Kendall (30 minute walk). Still better than Lincoln (a car drive). Long term, locating housing near public transportation will reduce the number of cars on the road. And traffic is a big complaint right now. Not that I see how this could be done around Kendall Station.

    • Couple of options seem possible. The old Drabington Inn can be converted and fill the bill. The Granite Brook Landscape supply operation land is already part owned by the town and could be a site for such a new development, which would be much preferable to the heavy truck traffic the current use generates. Unfortunately, the new zoning would make smaller homes within 1/2 mile of the station targets for,dll developers unless the town gets compliant with affordable housing percentages soon. Concerted town action to develop housing that we want is our best defence against housing we wint like, I think.

      • Looked up the draft guidelines for the transportation multi family zoning districts. I’m confused and have questions, but it seems we need around 50 acres of such districts within 1/2 mile of MBTA stops with 5 acre,minimum siized sub district and one of at least 25 acres to be compliant. Drabington Inn seems only 2 acres. Large areas not developed presently include Biogen site, Granite Brook Landscape supply near transfer station (8 acres, and Liberty Mutual site (near enough to Riverside T station to qualify.otherwise we seem to need to redone currently single family residential acreage to be compliant with the zoning district requirements, as far as my unpracticed first reading tells me.
        The towns HPP has maps showing the various 1/2 mile areas around nearby T and rail stations, but the compliance requirements are very different for 40b than,the zoning district law, so the HPP doesn’t directly address those requirements, it seems.

    • Joel, I agree with you on the more cars off the road. What I wish is that there was some kind of overlap of stattions and services. As in, if we are putting in a high density living district, shouldn’t it also be near grocery, gas, etc ? I would say KG is within a mile of Market Basket and the 1265 development but there is no way to get there except by car. While I appreciate that MBTA works for those going into Boston, we continue to be a metro area that works only for east-west (or north south if you are in Peabody or Hingham) and not side to side.

  • Alan, yes, agree that we need to re-zone to be in compliance. Seems that Greatland’s property (Liberty Mutual) is heading that direction. My understanding from attending the webinar is that districting does not necessarily mean that we are going to build it, but it means we are prepared to do so. And yes, on the 40B worry that if we are not in compliance there, we can have some other issues. I also understood from the call that the half-mile requirement is not hard and fast…it could hit .6 miles if you count from a parking lot or something. So yes, Biogen site would count. Granite Brook yes. Drabbington Inn will not help us, but I do dearly hope that it becomes senior housing. There will be another webinar just for metrowest on February 1 apparently…I will post on page when I get full info…

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  • Hi all- I’m not a regular to the Owl, but was happy to see you all discussing this important topic. Weston’s Housing Production Plan Steering Co. (i know it’s a mouthful) just met this week and with the guidance of our town Planner, Imai Aiu, completed the first very preliminary step of completing and submitting a required form that states some very basic information about the Town’s plans to pursue the required Re-zoning (prescribed by the new state law and regulations). This will not be easy. It appears that the former Liberty Mutual site may not be close enough to Riverside T Station to fall into the MBTA zone. Most likely, we will need to look at the area around Kendal Green. There will be lots of discussions and public forums. Ultimately any zoning changes must come to a Town meeting. I’ll report back to the Owl when we have a little more intel on how this process will unfold.

    Thanks again to the Owl and Alan Day and Joel for the interesting discussion.

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  • Why the arm-twisting to increase housing in the eastern third of Massachusetts? The answer is to not lose a US House seat in 2030 or 2040. It takes population growth, otherwise growing red states like Texas, Florida etc. will continue to increase seats during redistricting while blue states lose seats. Migrants count as residents in the US Census, so they are welcomed. Refugees from the high taxes and crime of California seeking to live in another blue state could also add to our population while expanding our tech, medical, and financial sectors.

    • Mark, keeping a Red/Blue balance in the House seems a worthwhile goal, but greater housing diversity and more affordable options allow our economy and society to operate healthily. Weston has lost so many smaller homes to tear down development, and has resisted multifamily developments over the years to the point where no town employ be they teacher, firefighter, police or those who keep our roads working can afford to live here. Long term elderly residents of Weston have very few options when their family homes become untenable but to move out of town with little housing diversity available here. Eastern Mass has had similar transitions to the point where businesses of all types find it difficult to find and keep staff as housing costs price out all but the highest paid staff. For example, our vaunted and growing biotech companies need people working the labs and running business and facilities operations. Where are they going to live and afford to commute, let alone deal with impact on family and personal lives due to the very long commutes to affordable housing?

      Lack of controls on development left us at the mercy of the profits of tear down development resulting in a housing situation among the worst in the country, with dire negative consequences for our economy and the health of our communities. To keep our community healthy and accommodating to all the people needed for that health we need to find ways of breaking or working around the pure development profit motive of those unconcerned about the health of the communities left behind.

      I live in the core of the Kendal Green area and am greatly concerned about the level of multi-family development suggested for my neighborhood. The iconic meadow below the red barn house on Church, my mid-1700’s house part of a trio of 1700’s era Hobbs family houses here, and many other unique assets in the area are at risk. The town may ignore the law given we receive little if any of the funds denied those out of compliance. But, advocacy groups may not let that stand, as evidenced by a new lawsuit accusing Holden of purposeful non-compliance. Recent Attorney General comments indicated compliance is not optional and towns can be sued to comply whether the price of loss of state funds for non-compliance appear worth it to a town or not.

      Our best defense against this law and 40b is an aggressive program to increase our housing diversity and to proactively plan for the least disruptive means of compliance with the MBTA law.

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