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.

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 conferrring 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 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.*

*North Andover has benefited from some of these funding programs, including:

  • 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.

The Attorney General’s Advisory states “All MBTA Communities must comply with the Law.” The Advisory further states that “MBTA Communities cannot avoid their obligations under the Law by foregoing this funding.”

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.”

Outreach and Public Engagement

The below videos are recordings of public meetings where the Town's approach to complying with the State's MBTA Communities law was discussed.

September 13, 2023 - Public Forum:

Click here for a link to 9/13/23 presentation

July 25, 2023 - Planning Board:

July 17, 2023 - Joint Select Board and Planning Board:

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