MBTA Communities Multi-Family Zoning




In 2021, an amendment to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Zoning Act (Section 3A of MGL Chapter 40A) was passed into law.  This new law requires that so-called "MBTA Communities" as designated by the Commonwealth, shall have at least one (1) zoning district of "reasonable size" in which multi-family housing is permitted as of right and meets other criteria set forth in the statute, such as:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre
  • Located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, ferry terminal or bus station, if applicable*
    • *This provision is not applicable to North Andover because of its status as an "Adjacent Community" - more information on this below
  • No age restrictions and suitable for families with children (cannot restrict unit size)

Click here to view guidance provided by the Commonwealth for implementation of this law.

Draft Zoning Bylaw

Click here to view a DRAFT bylaw, developed by Town Staff in consultation with the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC), which is serving as a consultant to the Town.  On February 21, 2023, the Planning Board opened a public hearing to review this bylaw in preparation for bringing it (or a revised version of it) forward for consideration at Annual Town Meeting 2024.  The Planning Board continued the public hearing to its next meeting on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 - 7pm.

The zoning bylaw amendment would also be accompanied by an amendment to revise the Town's Zoning Map, which would also require a vote at Town Meeting.

Fact Sheet and FAQs

Click here or the below images to view a fact sheet and frequently asked questions about MBTA Communities.

Fact Sheet 1     Fact Sheet 2

What does this mean for North Andover?

North Andover is considered an "MBTA Adjacent Community" due to its location directly next to the communities of Andover, Haverhill, and Lawrence, which are all served by the MBTA's Commuter Rail.  In order to comply with the State law, North Andover must create a zoning district that adheres to the following requirements:MBTA Communities Map

  • Minimum of 50 acres or 1.5% of developable land, whichever is less*
    • *North Andover's district will comply with the 50 acre minimum 
  • Must allow for a minimum of 15 units per acre
  • Must have a capacity for multifamily units equal to either 10% of the community’s entire housing stock, or equal to the unit capacity in the district given the 15 units/acre requirement, whichever is greater*
    • *North Andover's housing stock is 11,914, which is drawn from the 2020 U.S. Census.  The Town is required to zone for (not produce) a minimum of 1,191 units, which is 10 percent of North Andover's housing stock.
  • District should have reasonable access to a transit station

**It is important to emphasize that the State law is a zoning mandate and not a production mandate.  In other words, the Town is required to create a zoning district that adheres to the above parameters, but is not required to ensure that new multi-family units are actually produced.  It is incumbent upon private property owners and/or developers to put forward proposals to develop multi-family housing projects within any future MBTA Communities compliant zoning district.  Those proposals will require plan review and approval by the Town's Planning Board and will be required to adhere to any other applicable local approval processes (i.e. Conservation Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, etc.).**

How can North Andover comply with this State law?

After publicly engaging and conferring with the the Select Board and Planning Board, Town staff in partnership with regional planning agency the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC), is proposing to locate a compliant MBTA Communities zoning district in two (2) locations:

  1. 1600 Osgood Street (Osgood Landing)
  2. 350 Winthrop Street ("Market Basket Plaza" / North Andover Mall)

To learn more about why these locations were identified, scroll down to the "Outreach and Public Engagement Section".  You may view the various recordings of public meetings that informed the decision to focus on these areas, which goes into more detail.

Does North Andover need to comply with this State law and why?

As an MBTA Adjancent Community, North Andover is required to comply with this State law by the end of calendar year 2024, which means that the Town is targeting the approval of a Zoning Bylaw amendment to achieve compliance at Annual Town Meeting 2024 (May 2024).

On March 15, 2023, Massachusetts’ Attorney General Andrea Campbell issued an Advisory concerning the enforcement of the requirements imposed on cities and towns by Chapter 40A, Section 3A.  The Attorney General’s Advisory states “All MBTA Communities must comply with the Law.”  In addition, the Advisory cautions that “Communities that fail to comply with the Law may be subject to civil enforcement action” and, “Communities that fail to comply with the Law’s requirements also risk liability under federal and state fair housing laws.  The Law requires that MBTA Communities “shall have” a compliant zoning district and does not provide any mechanism by which a town or city may opt out of this requirement.”

The law 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 that meets other criteria set forth in the statute. Failure to comply with the law results in a loss of eligibility for the community, for certain funding programs.*

*In recent years, the Town of North Andover has been awarded over $6.2 million from some of these programs, in order to fully or partially fund priority projects, such as:

  • MassWorks Infrastructure grants in 2017 and 2019, totaling $5 million for creation of new sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure along Route 125 in front of the Princeton North Andover development, and for installation of new sewer service along Route 125, from Sutton Street to the Haverhill line, as well as additional improvements.
  • Housing Choice Action Grants totaling over $140,000 for planning projects related to rezoning downtown and reusing the former senior center behind Town Hall.

Outreach and Public Engagement


Town Staff began working with the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (MVPC) in 2022 in order to develop an approach on how the Town can comply with the State's MBTA Communities Zoning mandate.  Since that time, there have been at least 14 public meetings in which MBTA Communities / Section 3A Compliance has been discussed:

  • Starting in 2022, initial conversations were conducted with the Select Board and Planning Board about compliance guidelines;
  • Focused feedback was received from the general public at four (4) separate meetings, starting in 2023:
    • February 15, 2024: MBTA Communities Forum (remote)
    • September 13, 2023: MBTA Communities Forum (in-person at Senior Center)
    • September 28, 2023: Housing Production Plan Regional Forum (remote)
    • December 7, 2023: Housing Production Plan Local Forum (in-person at Senior Center)
  • July 17, 2023: Joint Meeting of the Select Board and Planning Board provided first introduction of proposed district locations; feedback was received from both bodies
  • At the July 25, 2023 Planning Board meeting, the Zoning Map was reviewed in its entirety.  Some of the specific sites that were discussed internally, publicly, and before the Planning Board/Select Board were: 
    • Royal Crest
    • Eagle Tribune
    • Downtown / Sutton Street area
    • The Mills
    • Princeton Properties
  • Discussed at seven (7) Planning Board meetings since July of 2023 meeting

The Planning Board opened its required public hearing for proposed zoning bylaw amendments on February 20, 2024.  The public hearing has since been continued to its March 12th meeting, and it is anticipated that it will be continued at least once more, to its March 19, 2024 meeting. The public is encouraged to participate in this public hearing process - to ask questions and provide feedback.

Please direct questions and/or input to Jean Enright, Planning Director: jenright@northandoverma.gov or (978) 688-9535