A smartgrowth law gets its legs

INTRO TEXT

Two years after Massachusetts passed a law to spur housing construction while avoiding sprawl-style subdivisions, some communities are starting to get with the program.

In recent months, six municipalities—Chelsea, Dartmouth, Lunenburg, North Reading, Norwood, and Plymouth—have approved the first “40R” districts, named for the section of the zoning statute that authorizes them. More than 1,700 new housing units are slated for the smart-growth districts.

The law provides for state incentive payments to communities that approve zoning near town centers or transit stops that allows for high-density housing (at least eight single-family homes, or 20 units in multi-family buildings, per acre). Communities are eligible to receive $10,000 to $600,000, depending on the size of the district, plus $3,000 per unit when a building permit is issued.

A further carrot added last year promises to reimburse communities for additional school costs incurred from housing in smart-growth districts.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Some local officials have balked at the loss of control over development details that comes with the new zoning. Not surprisingly, most of the first 40R districts are crafted to fit proposals that were already on the table, making incentive payments to those communities state-funded icing on the cake.

But Ted Carman, a Boston developer who helped draft the new law, says these early adopters will be powerful examples for others, showing that “this is a very promising way to do development.”