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Nahant Planning Board discusses housing bylaw changes

NAHANT — The Planning Board discussed two proposed bylaw changes to facilitate housing development in compliance with state law at its meeting Tuesday evening.

Nahant is currently working to comply with two different state laws: Section 3A, which requires municipalities in close proximity to MBTA stations to establish a multi-family housing district no more than half a mile from the nearest public-transit station, and Chapter 40B, which requires municipalities to reserve roughly 10% of their residential units for affordable housing.

One bylaw change, which is expected to be presented at Town Meeting next year, would create a framework of regulations governing the town’s policy on accessory dwelling units, establish a local preference for residents of future affordable-housing developments, and create a multi-family housing overlay zoning district in compliance with Section 3A.

“We would put in some type of bylaw that would allow local preference to Nahant residents. It would really start with those who are disabled, seniors, veterans, and then residents,” Housing Advisory Sub-Committee Chair Michelle Capano said. “We would have a bylaw that says for any development, you must have 10% allocated towards non-residents based on this criteria.”

The other proposed bylaw, which Capano said would likely be subject to a Town Meeting vote in 2025, would loosen housing-construction restrictions on lots larger than 10,000 square feet in order to facilitate housing production.

“It would make sure that in locations where there are large house lots, if someone wanted to subdivide and sell the lot or build tiny homes or something, (we would) put in bylaws that allow for the creation of more housing units in a way that makes sense to the neighborhood and the community,” Capano, who is also an alternate member for the Planning Board, said.

When Planning Board Corresponding Secretary John Shannon Bianchi asked how severe the consequences of Section 3A non-compliance would be, stating that it “doesn’t seem like (non-compliance) would affect the Town of Nahant greatly,” Capano responded that it would disqualify the town from a “long list” of crucial state grants.

Planning Board Treasurer Patrick O’Reilly added that other Massachusetts towns, such as Holden, are currently facing lawsuits concerning their alleged non-compliance with Section 3A.

“The attorney general has actually come out and said that compliance is not optional, so it’s not just a matter of forgoing the grants and potential funding. It’s a compliance with the law issue at this point,” O’Reilly said.

Regarding the proposed multi-family zoning bylaw, O’Reilly said the state mandates that the town zone at least 5.6 acres for 15 affordable-housing units per acre. He said the town, ideally, should plan to zone for at least 6 acres to ensure its compliance.

Bianchi also asked the board whether the state would provide any funding for mitigation in the event that the town’s housing production causes a population spike.

“If we create 100 units, and there’s maybe going to be four people in each unit, that’s going to push us over 4,000 residents in the town and that’s never happened before,” Bianchi said.

Capano responded that while the Commonwealth had not yet notified the town of any mitigation funding, she thought it would likely support Nahant in the event of a population spike.

“We have not heard what they’re doing for communities that are increasing density, but I would expect that if that happens (and the) population in Massachusetts increases, the state’s going to have to help support communities,” Capano said. “Not all this can be done on the taxpayer. Obviously, we have a very, very small commercial-tax base. A lot of it is residential, and there’s only so much that a residential-tax base can absorb. We’d have to ask for financial support.”

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