Board Considers Affordable Housing Bylaw Update

Looking at a possible uptick in affordable housing in Marion, Planning Board members are now examining the future of the town’s affordable housing bylaw.

            The current bylaw requires developers to add affordable housing into their plans when building in Marion. While the bylaw has been effective in bringing affordable housing to Marion, some citizens and board members are concerned that continuing to enforce the bylaw after Marion meets its minimum affordable housing requirements will cost the town valuable revenue.

            “Putting in affordable housing instead of regular-rate housing when we’re likely to go above the required amount of affordable housing and we don’t have a lot of land left – that worries me,” said resident Sherman Briggs during the January 6 Marion Planning Board meeting. “I don’t want this town to miss out on that revenue.”

            The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has mandated that at least 10 percent of all homes in each town within the Commonwealth be classified as “affordable.” Marion’s current affordable housing rate sits at 7.5 percent. However, a 40B housing development on Wareham Road has been proposed; the planned development includes 96 affordable housing units. Adding the proposed units would bring the total affordable housing percentage in Marion to 12.5 percent, if the development is approved and constructed.

            “At that point, it would take 470 additional regular-rate houses being constructed to push us back below 10 percent affordable housing,” said Planning Board member Chris Collings. “Is there even that much space left in Marion? Would we even need that bylaw any more if this development goes through?”

            Planning Board Chairman Will Saltonstall asked Marion Town Planner Gil Hilario if he had looked into what other towns had done with their bylaws after reaching the 10 percent requirement, and what Hilario thought might be the right course for Marion.

            “I’ve found that many of the towns are using the affordable housing bylaw as a ‘density bonus’,” Hilario explained. “The towns lower their maximum density of houses per acre and offer a waiver where developers can exceed that maximum if the units built are classed as affordable.”

            The problem in Marion, he said, is that Marion’s maximum density per acre (12 units) is so high that developers do not need to take advantage of a density bonus. Hilario suggested that the affordable housing bylaw be retained even if the town meets the 10 percent requirement, but that it should no longer be required.

            “This is my own personal opinion,” Hilario clarified. “But I think we should instead treat affordable housing as a density bonus. If we reach 10 percent affordable housing, we could no longer require that developers build affordable housing. Instead, we could lower the maximum density per acre in town and allow developers to exceed that maximum if they want to add affordable units.”

            Saltonstall noted that the discussion is still in its very earliest stages, and there is far more work to be done. He added that members of the Planning Board are still working to have a joint meeting with members of the Affordable Housing Trust, as well as other town government officials, to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding affordable housing in town.

            The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board will be on January 21, at 5:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Planning Board

By Andrea Ray

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