By Brenda Crowell

Staff Reporter

Despite opposition that included the Massachusetts Municipal Authority asking for a veto, Governor Charlie Baker signed House No. 5250, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth, also known as the Economic Development Bill, in January 2021. Among other things, the Act encourages certain communities to create multi-family housing districts.

Upton is specifically affected by section 3A under Section 18. Because the town abuts Grafton, Upton is designated as a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) adjacent community, since there is a commuter rail station in Grafton. Section 3A, according to a presentation given by Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission Assistant Planner Gabe Trevor to the Board of Selectmen on April 19, “encourages designated MBTA communities to adopt zoning districts where multi-family zoning is permitted by-right.”

To comply with Section 3A, a district must encompass at least 50 acres of land, with a minimum density of 15 units per acre. While overlay districts are allowed, “one part of the district must contain at least 25 contiguous acres and no part can contain less than five contiguous acres of land.”

The number of multi-family housing units must be equal to or greater than the total number of housing units in Upton. In 2020, Upton had 2,995 housing units, so the town would be required to have 299 multi-family units. Since 50 acres at a density of 15 units per acre would be 750 multi-family units, a single complying district would fulfill this requirement.

The town is permitted to require approval of site plans, but this may not be used to deny a project or set conditions that would make it “infeasible or impractical to build.” Restrictions on age, size of units, number and size of bedrooms, and number of occupants are not allowed.

Trevor displayed photos of multi-family communities in Westwood, Norfolk, Sudbury, and Lexington to show some of the possibilities for what a multi-family community might look like, along with illustrations from “The Urbanist” showing how a district might include townhouses, carriage houses, duplexes, and suburban and garden lofts.

Failure to comply with the new legislation would make Upton ineligible to apply for state funding from the MassWorks infrastructure program, the Housing Choice Initiative, and the Local Capital Projects Fund. According to Trevor’s presentation, the Division of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) “may, at its discretion, take non-compliance into consideration when making other discretionary grant awards. “The deadline for adopting the new zoning is December 31, 2023.