MBTA Zoning Task Force: Let’s Keep Manchester a Sanctuary from the War Around Us


To the Editor, I write in response to a recent letter asserting the districts under consideration as part of the MBTA Zoning process reflect “NIMBYism” by the MBTA Zoning Task Force. 

First, thank you members of the Task Force for volunteering and devoting substantial time and expertise to this important yet difficult process.  Second, I object to the mischaracterization of the motivations of these, or other town volunteers, as personal.  They do all residents a service through their efforts on our behalf.  It’s fine to disagree with recommendations or decisions, but please don’t cross the line and question the character of our volunteers – they don’t deserve it. 

It is important to note the mission of the Task Force, set out more fully in the town’s website:  study downtown to determine existing uses and potential opportunities and obstacles to meeting town and state goals; consider the likely minimal modifications to current zoning to bring the town into compliance with the mandate and their potential impact; consider changes that would result in compliance with 40A; and provide opportunities for input.  At the end, the Task Force will report to the Select and Planning Boards on its findings and alternative proposals and ultimately residents will have the ability to vote up or down any recommended by-law changes.

40A mandates at least half the required acres permitting conforming housing (15 or more units per acre) be within ½ mile of the MBTA station.  So, a primary focus in this area is a given.  Separately, within this zone targeting areas already more densely populated makes good sense, because fewer changes from existing conditions are required to achieve compliance.  That likely reduces the economic incentive of a developer to make wholesale changes to existing structures and potentially any significant changes.  On the Master Plan Committee, we heard loudly that the highest priority of residents was not changing the character of this community.  I’m confident the Task Force has heard the same.  In general, it’s reasonable to assume that the fewest changes to existing conditions will result in the least impact.

Just to be clear that doesn’t necessarily mean that avoiding substantial changes in any location (such as those outside the ½ mile radius) may be the best path to compliance while limiting overall impact on the character of the community.

My initial reaction to 40A was compliance very likely risked significant and adverse changes to Manchester and its character.  I recently went on the walking tour sponsored by the Task Force and found it both informative and comforting regarding what might be possible to achieve compliance, at least within the ½ mile zone, while maintaining the ‘look and feel’ of existing conditions.  Much work remains to be done, and I for one will remain open-minded and await the Task Force report and input of the Select and Planning Boards. 

Please, let the process and good work continue.  Do participate and comment as community input is welcome and will better inform us all and the ultimate recommendations of the Task Force and Boards.  But don’t just fall back and fire away – let’s try to keep Manchester as somewhat of a sanctuary from that war raging all around us.

Jay Bothwick, Manchester