North Attleborough to review smart growth zoning plan

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Cars drive up and down Kelley Boulevard, a road that will receive funding for lights, improvements, and safety upgrades. Staff Photo/Adam Bass
Coin show Sunday November 20th at 9:00 AM 52 Bulfinch street

By Adam Bass-abass@northstarreporter.com

Town Council took another step forward to create a Smart Growth Overlay District on 582 Kelley Blvd.—the site of a proposed 300-unit apartment complex.

The council, on the evening of Oct. 24, referred the draft plan to the Bylaw Subcommittee and Planning Board by an 8-0 vote. The two will review and decide whether it meets approval for final passage.

The Smart Growth Overlay District is part of Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40R. This encourages communities to create dense residential or mixed-use smart growth zoning districts—including a high percentage of affordable housing units—located near transit stations, in areas of concentrated development.

This differs from a 40B project, which allows developers to bypass certain parts of the approval process if 25 percent of the housing qualifies as affordable.

According to Town Manager Michael Borg, the proposed district is approximately 13.7 acres in total, located off Kelley Boulevard and George Leven Road. The compact design is due to North Attleborough being an MBTA transit adjacent community–meaning the town is required to have at least one zoning district of reasonable size in which multi-family housing is permitted. This requirement is part of the MBTA Communities Act of 2021, a law promoting the development of multi-family housing.

Borg told the council that the proposed overlay may attract other developers to build affordable and mixed-use projects aside from the apartment complex.

“This district would promote the use of other mixed-use development in and around that overlay unit,” Borg told the council. “It outlines the scope and the responsibilities that this Town Council has to pass this bylaw.”

The overlay district plan was approved by the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in a letter sent to Borg dated Oct. 5. The DHCD determined that the district would allow for 311 as-of-right units. These are able to proceed under a zoning ordinance or bylaw without the need for a special permit, variance, amendment, waiver, or other types of approval.

Borg, along with members of the council, agreed the town needs a different approach to housing, moving away from three to four-bedroom units and instead encouraging developers to work on affordable housing projects for working families or those who just graduated college.

A concern for residents living on or near Kelley Boulevard is the increase in traffic a proposed housing project would create.

During a public meeting this summer, community members said if traffic on Route 152 were to rise, the risk of accidents would also increase. In response, Borg announced at the council meeting that North Attleborough was selected to receive $3.9 million for repairs to Kelley Boulevard. The grant from the MassWorks Infrastructure Program would be spent on fixing traffic lights and safety improvements.

“We understand that safety and traffic is the number one concern,” Borg said. “This is such big news and I am very excited.”

While the traffic improvements may answer some concerns, some residents, such as Mark Cobb, still say they have some worries.

“When I look at Smart Growth Zoning as a directive from the state, as a way to try to help create mixed-use or affordable housing near transit stations or concentrated lands of development, this type of site is unique in that it doesn’t fit that criteria,” Cobb said. “It’s ok, I’m just saying it doesn’t fit those criteria.”