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Arlington wants to be among 10 communities statewide participating in a pilot program that plugs electrical power and bans natural-gas hookups in new homes.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Outlining some complexities

Whether it can depends on a number of factors, including the town's level of affordable housing.

YourArlington asked Kelly Lynema, interim planning director, what is involved, and she has explained.

She agreed that the “Electrify Arlington” campaign is definitely in step with the state's new climate law, just signed by Gov. Baker. The town's sustainability manager, Talia Fox, “has designed the program to help residents and property owners more easily navigate the decisions they may need to make when choosing to electrify their apartments, houses or properties,” she noted. 

See those steps here >> 

Comply with 'MBTA Communities'?

Provisions of the state climate law support electrification of buildings and vehicles broadly, she wrote, including through enhanced incentives and investments in the electricity grid.

Now comes the rub. She wrote: “Whether Arlington can qualify for the climate-law pilot program is still to be determined and will likely depend on the town's compliance with the multifamily zoning requirement for MBTA Communities.”

These are guidelines, proposed last December and just updated, which call for new multifamily zoning for areas near MBTA stations in some 175 cities and towns across eastern Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe reported Aug. 11 that in its final rules, the state Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development “takes a more nuanced approach, particularly trimming requirements for smaller towns with no train stations. Those towns would be exempt from a rule mandating at least 50 acres zoned for multifamily units and as a result could get by with as few as 53 such units, in the case of tiny Plympton.”

The 50-acre minimum for multifamily units would remain for about two-thirds of cities and towns, including Arlington.

One of 3 standards

Lynema explained that eligibility for the pilot program in the climate law requires that a community meet one of the following standards around inclusionary-housing policy:

  • Ten percent of the municipality's housing units must be deed-restricted affordable to households that make an income of 80-percent area median income or below (as of April, 2022, Arlington is at 6.54 percent); 
  • The municipality has an approved and certified housing-production plan, which is done by increasing the supply of deed-restricted affordable-housing units by at least 0.5 percent of the municipality's total housing units in a calendar year In Arlington, she wrote, “this means we have to add 99 units to our subsidized-housing inventory in a calendar year to get a one-year certification, or add 199-plus units in a calendar year to get a two-year certification (see page 71 of the housing plan); or
  • The municipality must adopt zoning allowing at least one district of reasonable size in which multifamily housing is permitted as of right, per recently released state Department of Housing and Community Development guidance within 18 months from the passage of the climate law, or by Feb. 11, 2024. See the requirements here >> They are also detailed within the text of the climate bill
Mugar issue a different matter

YourArlington also asked about “safe-harbor” provisions under Chapter 40B, the 1969 law aimed at easing affordable housing, but often a target of critics who say it helps developers avoid zoning restrictions.

Lynema made clear that “there is a distinct difference between the climate law's requirement for participation in the pilot program and the ways that a community may be qualified to invoke safe harbor in response to a comprehensive permit application, commonly referred to as a "40B development."

The issue became a key one in the long-running battle over the proposed Mugar project near Route 2 in East Arlington, now tied up in court

As to that proposal, some residents believe Arlington has met the 1.5-percent general land area minimum requirement to comply with Chapter 40B and qualify for safe harbor. Broadly, she wrote, the mi mum requirement means that 1.5 percent of a municipality's land area zoned for residential, commercial or industrial is dedicated for use as housing for those with a low to moderate income.

A 2019 Housing Appeals Committee decision, as reported here, established the town's minimum at 1.37 percent. The 1.5-percent minimum is not an inclusionary housing policy and, she wrote, and that level “would not qualify us for participation in the climate law's pilot program.”

Watch the Aug. 22 Select Board meeting for more, under agenda item related to MBTA Communities >>

Aug. 15, 2022: 'Electrify Arlington' in step with new climate law


This news analysis was published Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022.