AFFORDABLE HOUSING NEWS: Inclusionary Zoning Bylaw To Go In Front Of Voters, But NOT At This Year’s Town Meeting

WILMINGTON, MA — One of the tools communities have at their disposal when attempting to increase its affordable housing stock is adopting an inclusionary zoning bylaw.

As explained by Wilmington Planning Director Valerie Gingrich, “inclusionary zoning bylaws are zoning requirements to provide affordable housing units as part of a housing development. Typically, the zoning bylaw will require a specified percentage of the units in a housing development be deed restricted as affordable to count toward the town’s subsidized housing inventory.”

“Inclusionary bylaws are also helpful in maintaining a percentage of affordable housing units as new units are proposed and built since they typically require at least 10% of the units in the development be affordable,” said Gingrich.

At their February 26, 2018 meeting, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen asked Town Manager Jeff Hull to have Gingrich prepare an inclusionary zoning bylaw to be considered at the May 5, 2018 Annual Town Meeting.  The request was last-minute in nature as the warrant was already drafted and just two weeks from being finalized, and stemmed from comments made by a resident in the audience — former Selectman Frank West — at the end of the meeting.

At the March 12, 2018 meeting, Hull reported that it had not been possible for an article to be drafted, adequate consultations to occur with the development community, and consultations take place with the Planning Board prior to March 12. The Selectmen, later in the meeting, would go on to close and sign the Town Meeting warrant without an article calling for an inclusionary zoning bylaw.

“The effort to put forward this zoning article should be the Town’s best effort and not simply an effort to get an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant,” said Hull in a memo to Selectmen. “Due to the fact that Ms. Gingrich and I were proceeding with the expectation that an inclusionary zoning bylaw would be prepared for the 2019 Annual Town Meeting, some developers have been told the same when inquiring… As a consequence, developers have made decisions with respect to their projects that do no include the cost for affordable housing units… Such an article could have an adverse economic impacts on those projects.”

“As the Department of Planning & Conservation develops a bylaw over the next year, close coordination with the development community and Planning Board will be necessary in order to craft a bylaw that works for both the Town’s interests and the development community,” Gingrich wrote in a memo shared with Selectmen.

Gingrich provided Selectmen with a long list of considerations surrounding inclusionary zoning bylaws that could not be decided within a tight two-week window, including:

  • Applicability — Will the requirement for affordable units apply to all zoning districts, of certain districts? Will the requirement apply to expansions as well as new development?
  • Threshold — What size development (number of units) will trigger the requirement for affordable units?
  • Percentage Requirement — What percent of the units will be required as affordable? Will there be a minimum affordable requirement? How will the requirement be rounded if not a whole number?
  • Affordability Requirement/Incentive — Will there be an incentive to provide deeper affordability? How will this be incentivized?
  • Density Bonus — Will a density bonus be given to offset the cost of building affordable units?
  • Siting and Construction Standards — Will minimum design and construction standards be established in the bylaw? Will there be a requirement for how the units are situated/mixed on the site?
  • Timing – When will the affordable units be required if the development is phased?
  • Offsite Option — Will the bylaw provide an option for affordable units to be constructed on a different site? How will this be regulated? Would it require a special permit?
  • Payment In Lieu Of Option — Will there ben an option for providing a payment in lieu of building affordable units? If so, who would manage those funds and how would they be used? What amount would be appropriate per unit?
  • Marketing Plans — The bylaw will need to require/specify that the units will be marketed in accordance with all state and federal requirements.
  • Restriction — What is required to be included in the affordable housing restriction (deed rider) regarding resale, rent, monitoring, conversation to ownership, etc.?

Resident Frank West, whose recommendation spurred action at the February 26 meeting,  was also in attendance at the March 12 meeting.  Upon hearing the news that an inclusionary zoning bylaw article was not going to be placed on the Town Meeting warrant, he encouraged Selectmen to have an article ready for later in the year in case a Special Town Meeting happened to be called for a different issue.

“I, personally, will stay on top of this issue. This is something the town needs. I will hold the Town Manager to keep his promise,” Selectman Ed Loud told West. “I don’t know if there’s going to be a Special Town Meeting, but it’s better to be prepared. I want [the bylaw article drafted] and ready to be talked about by late fall at the latest.”

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