The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 4, 2005


State Chapters 40R and 40S offer new zoning options for housing

Last year Governor Romney signed new legislation called 40R, to encourage Massachusetts communities to build more affordable housing using principles of "smart growth." Financial incentives are paid to towns that adopt 40R zoning overlay districts, and a proposed amendment now before the legislature, 40S, would make 40R more financially attractive by having the state assume the additional education costs for students living in new 40R housing.

40R zoning overlay districts promote "smart growth" by concentrating high-density housing near transit stations, in existing town centers or other approved areas. At first glance, it would appear that Carlisle might be ineligible, because it has no mass-transit, but Carlisle resident Greg Peterson is more optimistic. Peterson served as a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee that helped draft the legislation. He believes Carlisle may qualify for 40R because the town lies near Lowell, the Concord train station and Routes 3, 2, 495 and 95. It all depends on how broadly the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) interprets the regulations.

Details of 40R

If a town wishes to create a 40R overlay zoning district, it must first describe the proposal in an application to DHCD. Besides DHCD approval, any zoning district requires a 2/3 majority vote at Town Meeting,

Within a 40R overlay district, developments must have a minimum of 20% affordable housing, but towns may require more. High-density housing is allowed as-of-right, with reduced local review. Owners of land within a 40R overlay district can develop their property according to the 40R regulations or follow the original underlying zoning. Towns with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants may request a waiver for lower housing density requirements; normally eight single-family homes per acre, 12 units of two- or three-family, or 20 units of multi-family housing per acre. Lack of a public water supply is one reason towns may seek a housing density waiver.

Towns might use 40R to focus future high-density housing in areas with the best aquifer or access to commuter routes. Alternatively, a town might design a 40R overlay district in conjunction with a single large parcel to facilitate or improve planned development, such as the town's Benfield Land.

State aid under 40R and 40S

The state will pay towns according to hthe number of potential housing units that may be built in an approved 40R district ($10,000 for up to 20 units, $75,000 for 21to100 units, and $200,000 for 101 to 200 units), and will also pay a bonus of $3,000 when each unit is built. For example, if the town's planned 26-unit development on the Benfield Land were qualified under 40R, state aid would total $153,000.

But this aid does not address the cost of municipal services for new homes, especially education for the children who move into town. Carlisle's average K-8 per pupil spending (including special education) was $9,438 in FY04. Chapter 40S legislation, or Smart Growth School Cost Reimbursement, would provide additional long-term aid, based on the number of new students who live in a 40R district and the cost of educating them, minus the new tax revenues from the district. The exact state reimbursement would vary yearly. Aid under 40S would be calculated separately for each 40R district, since tax revenues would be greater from those 40R developments containing a mix of affordable and market-rate housing.

It has been estimated by the Center for Urban and Regional Policy (CURP) at Northeastern University that implementing 40S would cost the state about $35 million by the year 2014, which CURP stated is relatively small compared to the overall state aid to schools.

Both Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini have spoken in favor of the 40S ammendment. The current legislative session will end in mid-November.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito