MBTA Communities Zoning (also called "3A" Legislation)

Multi-Family Zoning Requirements for MBTA Communities

Join Town Planners and Merrimack Valley Planning Commission staff to learn more about the State requirements for compliance with the MBTA Multi-Family Housing legislation and the zoning bylaw amendment that residents will vote on at Town Meeting. Information Sessions will be held in the Newbury Town Offices, 2nd Floor Meeting Room, 12 Kent Way, at the following times:

  • Saturday, April 13, 9:30-11am - drop-in office hours, Q & A 
  • Tuesday, April 16, 5-6:30pm - drop-in office hours, Q & A
  • Wednesday, April 24, 6:30-8pm - MVPC presentation at 6:30pm and Q & A following

The Newbury Planning Board worked for the past seven months to prepare this Zoning Amendment for the April 30, 2024 Town Meeting, for the Town to comply with the State's Section 3A/Multi-Family Zoning legislation. The proposal was discussed in public working meetings in October, November, December, and January. Public Hearings were held on February 21, February 28, and March 6, 2024. The amendment was revised and re-noticed for a Public Hearing held on March 20, 2024. Following public input and comments, the Planning Board approved the revised bylaw amendment as shown here:

MBTA Communities Multi-Family Overlay District Bylaw - FINAL

Map - MBTA Communities Multi-Family Districts

You can view the public hearing comments and discussion on the Archived Planning Board meeting videos, accessed here

Here is a FACT SHEET about MBTA zoning and the current Newbury proposal for compliance. Here are presentation slides that describe the Town's proposal.

The zoning amendment is Article #14 on the Warrant for the 2024 Annual Town Meeting being held on April 30, 2024, 7pm, at the Triton Regional High School. 

"MBTA Zoning" or "Section 3A": What is it?

In 2021, Massachusetts passed a new law, Section 3A of MGL c. 40A, requiring 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. Multi-family housing is defined as 3 or more dwelling units in one structure. "As of right" or "by right" means that the use must be allowed without any special conditions or waivers. Other criteria for compliance are: 1) a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre, 2) being located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station; and 3) there are no age restrictions in the zoning bylaw. (There can be age restrictions in any future multi-family development).

It is important to note that this is a zoning mandate NOT a housing production mandate. The legislation only requires that communities provide for multifamily housing zoning in their communities, not that they build it. There are many other factors that go into housing production including road, sewer, and water supply and infrastructure. Any housing production using the Multi-Family Overlay District will have to comply with all state and local infrastructure requirements, including wetlands protection and Title V septic requirements, as well as assuring the provision of sufficient water supply for the residences

What is an "MBTA Community"? Newbury is an "Adjacent small-town community", located near to the Newburyport MBTA train station. Read more about how the regulations apply to Newbury here

What will happen if Newbury does NOT comply? If Newbury does not comply with the 3A legislation, the Town risks several penalties as outlined in the statute and in guidelines written by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities. Section 3A states that non-compliant communities will be ineligible for certain grant programs: MassWorks Infrastructure Grants, Housing Choice Community Grants, and the Local Capital Projects Funds. In addition, non-compliant communities will be less competitive when applying for 12 other categories of state grant programs. In recent years, Newbury has received more than $1.7 million in State grant funding. For further explanation, read the memo from MVPC consultants here

How is Newbury planning to comply? An amendment to the Town's Zoning Bylaw will be considered by the voters on the Warrant for the 2024 Annual Town Meeting on April 30, 2024. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing & Livable Communities (EOHLC, formerly DHCD) has issued guidelines for compliance with Section 3A. Read the letter sent to each MBTA Community from Secretary Mike Kennealy and Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox. These are the guidelines that towns, including Newbury, must follow to be in compliance.

Newbury applied for and received a grant from Mass Housing Partnership to hire consultants for technical assistance. Staff from the from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC) have been providing this technical support since the Summer of 2023 through the Spring of 2024. Initial ideas around districts and parcels to include in Newbury's multi-family zoning overlay district were presented to the community during the October 18, 2023, Planning Board meeting. Click here to see the slides from this October 20233 presentation by staff from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission.

Additional meetings have included two Planning Board in-person workshops with technical support from MVPC staff on November 13, 2023 and January 3, 2024; a joint Planning Board and Select Board meeting on December 6, 2023, where an updated presentation was given by MVPC; and a Public Forum at the Newbury Library on December 11, 2023, which reviewed these 12/11/23 slides. Planning Board meetings in January and February continued the discussions, and multiple Public Hearings were held in February and March as described above. To review the discussions held at any of these meetings, please visit the Town's recorded meeting videos archived here. Written minutes also are posted on the Town website as they are approved. 

WHY DO WE NEED MORE MULTI-FAMILY HOUSING? Why is building this housing near transit important?

  • Massachusetts is in a housing crisis, with some of the highest, and fastest growing, home prices and rents of any state in the nation.
  • Rising costs have dramatically increased financial pressures on low- and middle-income families, forcing them to sacrifice other priorities in order to pay housing costs. High housing costs are a primary driver of homelessness.
  • These high costs are a disadvantage as we compete economically against peer states. The risk of future job growth moving outside Massachusetts is rising due to the high costs of living.
  • The lack of zoning for multi-family housing is a barrier for new housing development in Massachusetts. 
  • By allowing multifamily housing near transit, we can create new housing in walkable neighborhoods closer to transit. This is not just good housing policy, it is good climate and transportation policy, too.   

What happens when zoning reform allows for more housing to be built? HOUSING BECOMES MORE AFFORDABLE. In local communities across Massachusetts, as MBTA/3A Zoning is being discussed, we should keep this in mind. One outcome of approving the zoning changes will likely be future more affordable rents for everyone! Check out the research from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

How does the production of multi-family housing affect school enrollment? The concern that constructing new housing will drive up school enrollment is long-standing and widespread in local debates about new residential development and zoning reform in Massachusetts, especially in suburban communities. Many local officials and residents assume that new housing, and especially new multifamily housing, will attract families with children who will inevitably increase enrollment in the local public schools, thus burdening school budgets and municipal finances. A recent report by MAPC (February 2024) helps answer these questions: AN UPDATE ON HOUSING PRODUCTION'S AFFECT ON PUBLIC SCHOOL ENROLLMENT

Interested in learning more the MBTA legislation? Visit the State's MBTA Communities website here.

Interested in Newbury's Housing initiatives? Learn more here. Please reach out to Newbury Director of Planning Martha Taylor with any questions, at planningboard@townofnewbury.org