Governor Baker recently announced a proposal to change state zoning laws to make it easier to build more housing units state-wide. The Governor’s goal is to add 135,000 housing units by 2025. To do so, he has introduced legislation that will allow municipalities to adopt certain changes to local zoning by a majority vote, instead of by super majority, as currently required by state law. The zoning changes include relaxing dimensional, density and parking requirements, as well as adopting smart growth and starter home zoning districts. The proposed legislation would also promote accessory dwelling units and the transfer of development rights to allow cluster developments.
While the Governor’s proposal makes sense, it falls far short of the more comprehensive, and controversial, zoning reform proposals considered by the legislature over the past decade or so. The current zoning laws have been in effect since the Gerald Ford administration and are woefully out of date and serve as a serious barrier to the construction of much needed affordable housing in Massachusetts. Without comprehensive zoning reform, which includes measures streamlining the permitting process and preventing frivolous appeals of approvals, it is hard to see how the Governor’s proposal will create enough housing to move the needle. Let’s hope the Governor’s proposal serves as the impetus for the legislature to adopt meaningful changes to current zoning laws that allow for quicker approvals and more flexibility and certainty to make meaningful increases to the state’s housing inventory.