Two state legislators have proposed a new bill that, among other things, would limit municipalities ability to block multi-family housing near transit. Bill SD.1640 would require covered cities and towns — Newton is covered — to create at least one “district of reasonable size … within .5 miles of a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal, or bus station” where multi-family housing is available by right. Alternatively, the district could be within .25 of bus or boat routes.
This bill recognizes what is becoming more and more apparent to housing and environmental advocates: we need more housing density around transit to ease demand for housing in coastal cities and to reduce carbon-intensive land use patterns, i.e., suburban sprawl. Last year, for instance, California came close to adopting a bill that would have allowed development of multi-family housing near transit, even over local objections. A new version of the bill is working its way through the California legislature.
The Massachusetts bill, filed by State Senator Joe Boncore and State Representative Kevin Honan, is not as aggressive. It requires covered communities to have a single district near transit that allows multi-family housing by right. Newton already has that around Newtonville and Newton Corner, so it would impose no change. More subtly, it reduces the requirement for a special permit to a simple majority for multi-family housing near transit. Keeping in mind that zoning restricts what’s available even by special permit, that provision would also have limited impact on Newton. The areas in Newton around transit that don’t have much multi-family housing don’t allow multi-family housing, even by special permit. It will make it a little easier to build more multi-family housing in already denser areas of the city.
Bottom line: the new bill wouldn’t lead to a bunch of new triplexes along the Green Line.