MBTA Communities Zoning
The Commonwealth is in a housing crisis. Many people who want to remain in or move to Dracut, cannot afford to do so based on the current housing options and costs. Additionally, high and fast-growing home and rental prices threaten the economic competitiveness of our region and state. Housing is the top challenge for economic growth and retention of existing businesses and industries.
By allowing multi-family housing in communities located generally near transit, new housing can eventually be created with more walkable neighborhoods. This is not just good housing policy, it is good climate and transportation policy. The goal is to make it easier to create more housing closer to the places that residents and visitors go every day, such as local shops, jobs, schools, restaurants, parks, etc.
In 2020, the Commonwealth added Section 3A to MGL Chapter 40A, and titled it “MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) Communities Zoning Law.” This new law applies to all MBTA Communities, as defined in Section 1 of MGL Chapter 161A. As Dracut abuts Lowell, which has a commuter rail station, Dracut is classified as an “Adjacent Community.”
The MBTA Communities Zoning Law requires a zoning district where multi-family housing is allowed by right without age-restriction or mandates around unit size or bedroom count. As an Adjacent Community, Dracut has until December 31, 2024 to comply with the new law.
While this Zoning Change is a mandate from the Commonwealth, it does come with opportunities to provide positive impacts in Dracut. Future development under MBTA compliant zoning will likely diversify the housing stock with additional types of housing – including rental options. Constructed housing will likely provide more options for first time homeowners and residents looking to downsize in Dracut. It will also support local businesses and restaurants – providing both employees and customers. Lastly, multi-family housing near amenities or transportation means families and individuals that live in the district may be more likely to walk or bike to destinations.
Zoning Bylaw Review Committee (ZBRC)
This is a standing committee of the Town of Dracut to review periodic zoning updates for Town Meeting consideration. As MBTA Compliance will require changes to the Zoning Map and Zoning Bylaw Language, this Committee will lead this effort. Here is a link to their page on the Town’s website -Zoning Bylaw Review Committee | Dracut, MA (dracutma.gov)
Grant funding has been awarded to the Town of Dracut for Technical Support from both the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG) and Barrett Planning Group, LLC.
The Zoning Review Committee and the Planning Department will be holding several information sessions to answer questions and get feedback from the community. These are anticipated to be held in January of 2024.
A public survey is planned for release in January of 2024 as well, with online and paper versions available. This survey will focus consideration in on specific areas of Dracut.
Public participation is also welcomed at meetings of the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee – typically the second Thursday of each month at 7pm at Town Hall.
Since this requires amendments to the Zoning Bylaw and Map, public hearings will also be scheduled prior to Town Meeting to finalize the language for Town Meeting Warrant.
The State required that each MBTA Community submit an Action Plan of anticipated steps to create and adopt compliant zoning. This was submitted on January 9th of 2023 and approved by the State on January 27, 2023. This approval confirms our Interim Compliance until the end of 2024. As an Adjacent Community, Dracut has until December 31, 2024 to comply with the new law, by submitting Town Meeting approved zoning changes.
The Zoning Bylaw Review Committee, Planning Board and Board of Selectmen have scheduled a joint meeting for December 12th to discuss logistics and the pathway to compliance.
In early summer of 2024, the ZBRC will draft recommended Zoning Map and Bylaw Language that will then go to the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen. The Planning Board will hold a Public Hearing on the drafts, and finalized documents will be placed on the Warrant for Town Meeting. The Planning Board will review Zoning Related Warrant Articles and make recommendations. The Board of Selectmen will review and make recommendations during their Public Hearing on the full Town Meeting Warrant.