Housing bylaw coming to Whately Town Meeting

Whately Town Hall

Whately Town Hall STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-30-2024 11:16 AM

WHATELY — In an effort to promote housing diversity and affordability in town, the Planning Board is proposing a community housing bylaw that mirrors the state’s Chapter 40B process, while preserving local permit control.

The board held a public hearing last week to discuss the proposal, as well as two housekeeping changes to bylaws, to officially introduce the proposals ahead of June’s Annual Town Meeting.

In essence, the community housing bylaw allows many similar waivers to zoning regulations as Chapter 40B by relaxing dimensional requirements and allowing more units per lot, but requires projects to go through site plan review with the Planning Board and a special permit application with the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“What we’re proposing here is that the town give, in its bylaws, many of the same waivers that would be effective in 40B … but the approval would not come from the state, it would come from the town,” said member Judy Markland. “The idea here is that nobody gets any more rights than they would have had before or any fewer rights; we’re just transferring the permit-enabling process to the town so there’s some control or protections.”

Chapter 40B is a state statute enabling “local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20-25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions,” according to the state’s website. These projects also need to show that they meet health and safety standards, like adequate water and sufficient parking, while also being designed to mitigate traffic.

Markland noted any project larger than 12 units would likely see the developer go through Chapter 40B because of the size of the project.

Community housing projects would be eligible to be built in the Agriculture/Residential 1, Agriculture/Residential 2 and Commercial districts through special permit approval only. No housing projects are allowed in the Commercial-Industrial or Industrial zoning districts.

Other bylaw proposals laid out during last week’s public hearing were the elimination of the town’s growth control bylaw and removing references to the abandoned Whately Water District.

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The growth control bylaw, which was enacted in 1991, prevented the town from giving out more than 10 building permits for a total of 10 dwelling units around the town in a given year, while also allowing some flexibility for affordable housing developments.

A 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Zuckerman v. Town of Hadley determined phased growth bylaws are “only permissible to give communities breathing room for periods reasonably necessary for the purposes of growth planning” and indefinite restrictions are unconstitutional.

Housing development has been slow in Whately anyway, as the Planning Board’s proposal states the town only had five single-family homes or accessory dwelling units built in 2020, one in 2021 and three in 2022.

The removal of references to the Whately Water District cleans up work started by the Planning Board last year, in which the town amended some of its bylaws after the Whately Water District merged with the Whately Water Department in 2022.

To be accepted at the June 18 Annual Town Meeting, each bylaw proposal will need to be approved by a two-thirds majority.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.