Possible Areas for MBTA Zoning in Manchester Discussed


The Manchester-by-the-Sea MBTA Zoning Task Force narrowed its focus even more onto sections of town that allow it to meet the requirements of the state’s new MBTA zoning law at its meeting on Jan. 25.

The requirements of the new state law for the town are:

  • rezone at least 37 acres;
  • those acres must average at least 15 units of multi-family housing per acre;
  • allow for at least 559 units in the rezoned area, including existing residences;
  • include at least 40 percent of the 37 acres (or 14.8 acres) within a half mile of the MBTA commuter rail station on Summer Street.

The deadline for approval of the new zoning plan is the end of 2024.  The state requires a 90-day review process before the plan goes to Town Meeting for approval. Because the Task Force members thought early November should be the latest in the year a special Town Meeting should be called, they set a goal of sending their proposal to the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities by June 15.

The plan must be reviewed by both the Planning Board and Select Board as all zoning changes are required before going to a vote of Town Meeting.

Task Force member Richard Smith urged the force to stick to making the minimum number of changes to get the job done in time.

“We have areas in town that probably should be rezoned,” said Smith. “But the MBTA Zoning law is not necessarily the way it should be rezoned.”

Task Force member Garland Morse agreed.

“Just because we are not setting aside places for subsidized and elderly (housing) doesn’t mean we don’t support them,” said Morse. “All we are trying to do is follow a law. ... Does that limit us in any way from making improvements in the future? Of course not.”

Task Force members Susan Philbrick and Sandy Bodmer-Turner said that many residents are hoping the Task Force will result in more affordable housing in town.

“Can’t we use this as an opportunity,” said Philbrick. “We need to keep talking about whether there are ways we can improve our zoning. We may decide not to do that, but I don’t think we can dismiss that option.”

“We’re trying to get the best possible result for the town,” said Bodmer-Turner. “I don’t want to throw (any option) out just yet.”

But Task Force member Sarah Mellish reminded them of the deadlines the town is facing.

“Our time is so limited,” said Mellish. “We need to concentrate on the minimum for purposes of this Task Force and if we identify other areas that could be rezoned separately, that’s a separate project.”   

Consultant Emily Innes of Innes Associates provided the Task Force with several options that met or nearly met the above goals.

Using the state’s modeling program, Innes explained that the numbers she was providing included all of the town’s current zoning.

“This has all the dimensional standards on zoning, so the lot size, building height, etc.,” Innes said. “But setbacks don’t fit into the model.”

Using the areas discussed at the Jan. 11 meeting, Innes pointed out that including 1-A (Newport Park), 1-B (lower Pine Street), 1-C (between and Pine and Elm streets, north of Central Street), G-1 (an area created at the last meeting generally west of Summer Street) and A (the medical center and Manchester Athletic Club) would meet and often exceed all of the requirements.  Those districts would include 53.8 acres, 28.4 within the half mile of the train station, allow for 858 units, and include a density of 17.33 units per acre.

“It’s one option, it’s not that only option,” said Innes. “It’s higher on the unit capacity than we need to be, it’s a little higher of the density than we need to be, but it shows that there are many ways of putting this together.” Task Force members said that they believed Newport Park has an age restriction as part of its deed.  Innes said that would disqualify the 1-A district if that were true.

Innes said she had eliminated the 1-D district (Powder House Lane) because its density was so low it brought the average below 15 per acre and that board members had suggested it was a possible area for mandatory mixed-use zoning.

Adding 1-D into the mix would allow the board to drop G-1.  With that combination (of 1-B, 1-C, 1-D, and A), the numbers would be 42.1 total acres and 19.1 acres inside the station area, but the total number of units and the density would be a little low.

“Maybe we should think seriously about changing what the zoning is for 1-D,” said Task Force member Ann Harrison.

“That is certainly a strategy that communities are using,” said Innes. “They are saying, (what’s there) makes sense. Let’s zone it for what it is. Absolutely, that’s a possibility.”

Innes also said that if the number of units allowed was too high, well above the 559 required, the Task Force could place more restrictive zoning on the A district to even things out.

The only other area outside of the station area that was discussed was Gordon College’s land in the northwest corner of town.  Using 20 acres of that land would allow the Task Force to disregard the A district.

While several liked the idea of allowing housing in that area west of Pine Street and north of Route 128, especially if that meant that the other 100 acres in that area became conservation land, others pointed out that the number of things that needed to happen in the short time they had until June 15 made it almost impossible to consider.

The Task Force will next meet with Innes on Feb. 8.