MBTA Community Initiative

Multi-Family Zoning Requirements for MBTA Communities

In January 2021, the Massachusetts legislature approved changes to the Zoning Act. The new Section 3A of M.G.L. c. 40A now requires that an MBTA community shall have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Not more than ½ miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable.
  • No age restrictions
  • Suitable for families with children

Walpole is one of 175 municipalities in the state that is considered an MBTA Community due to its access to commuter rail. The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) is overseeing compliance with these new requirements, and has issued final guidance in August 2022 on implementation. Although the implementation phase will allow for ample time for communities to pass new zoning, once it is fully operational, non-compliant communities will not be eligible for various state funding programs.

General Resources:

Walpole's Status and Updates:

*In order of earliest to most recent

April 12, 2022 - Presentation to the Select Board regarding draft guidelines

April 19, 2022 – DHCD’s 2022 Compliance Information Form Submitted

January 10, 2023 – Presentation to the Select Board regarding final guidelines

January 18, 2023 – DHCD’s Compliance Requirement for 2023

January 27, 2023 – Action Plan Approval

February 23, 2023 – Staff secured a Massachusetts Housing Partnership Technical Assistance Grant (3A-TA) - See 3A-TA Grant section below.

May 22, 2023 – Staff secured assistance through CHAPA's Community Engagement Technical Assistance Program. The program involves connections with similar-sized communities in order to discuss community outreach strategies.

September 27, 2023 - The Select Board voted to approve the formation of a MBTA Steering Committee for the purpose of providing guidance, outreach, and support in the creation and adoption of a necessary zoning map and bylaw amendment.

November 29, 2023 - Public Information Sessions 

Walpole’s Community Category and Minimum Zoning Requirements:

CommunityCommunity Category2020 Housing UnitsMinimum Multi-family Unit Capacity*Minimum Land Area**Developable Station Area***Percentage of the district to be located within the station area
WalpoleCommuter Rail10,0421,50650 acres638 acres75%

* Minimum multi-family unit capacity for most communities will be based on the 2020 housing stock and the applicable percentage for that municipality's community type. In some cases, the minimum unit capacity is derived from an extrapolation of the required minimum land area multiplied by the statutory minimum gross density of 15 dwelling units per acre. In cases where the required unit capacity from these two methods would exceed 25% of the community's housing stock, the required unit capacity has instead been capped at that 25% level.

** Minimum land area is 50 acres for all communities in the rapid transit, commuter rail and adjacent community types. There is no minimum land area requirement for adjacent small towns. Where 50 acres exceeds 1.5% of the developable land area in a town, a cap has been instituted that sets minimum land area to 1.5% of developable land area in the town.

*** Developable station area is derived by taking the area of a half-mile circle around an MBTA commuter rail station, rapid transit station, or ferry terminal and removing any areas comprised of excluded land.

Compliance Schedule:

Community CategoryDeadline
Rapid Transit Community12/31/2023
Commuter Rail Community12/31/2024 (This is Walpole)
Adjacent Community12/31/2024
Adjacent Small Town12/31/2025

3A-TA Grant Program: