AMESBURY — The city may have to add more than 750 multifamily housing units if new state regulations take effect.
The state has proposed zoning requirements that demand additional multifamily housing districts in communities with or next to those with MBTA transit service.
The pros and cons were considered Tuesday night at a joint meeting of the Amesbury City Council and Planning Board at City Hall.
Amesbury has been designated a “MBTA adjacent community” by the state and must include the capacity for multifamily housing units equal to 10% of its entire housing stock.
The new zoning district must include a minimum gross density of 15 units of multifamily housing per acre, and provide reasonable access to a transit station, according to the proposed regulations.
Amesbury Planning Director Nippun Jain explained the situation to city councilors and Planning Board members.
“Essentially, there has to be a district within the community that is of reasonable size for multifamily housing that has to be permitted by right,” Jain said.
He added that the proposed zoning district (or districts) would need to be in an area with reasonable access to a transit station.
“This allows communities to determine where multifamily developments would be most suitable in the community,” he said. “It might work in a downtown setting in one location, it might work near a commuter station in other locations.”
The proposed regulations would translate to 789 additional multihousing units in Amesbury, according to Jain. He said such housing would also be considered separate from 40B affordable housing or 40R smart growth zoning.
The city would not be eligible for certain state funding such as MassWorks grants if it declined to conform to the new regulations.
The city has more than two years to locate and report a suitable area for such housing to the state. Amesbury would need to show the ability to adopt the new zoning by the end of 2024 if the new regulations take effect.
“We are just zoning a district,” Jain said.
Planning Board member Scott Kelley said he is concerned the new zoning could become “a slippery slope” with the state. Fellow board member Robert LaPlante said the city should look to whatever gives Amesbury the “biggest bang for our buck.”
“Our attitude should be positive,” LaPlante said. “We should look at this legislation, analyze it, and come up with a program that is going to really help Amesbury.”
Planning Board member David Frick said increasing the city’s housing capacity “makes a lot of sense.”
City Councilor Adrienne Lennon is excited with the prospect of new housing in the city.
“I don’t think this is going to be hard for us to do, I actually think it is going to be an interesting and fun exercise,” she said.
But Councilor Roger Deschenes said the proposed regulations seem “unfair and punishing” to a city such as Amesbury.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.