Planning Board Continues “Inclusionary” Discussions

            On February 3, Marion’s Planning Board dedicated the majority of the meeting to continue a discussion that began on January 30, when an assembly of boards and town departments gathered to discuss the future of affordable housing in the community.

            The January 30 meeting opened the door to creative ideas meant to find ways in which the town could comply with the state’s mandate of 10-percent affordable housing units on subdivisions and other housing plans. Currently, the town’s data shows about seven percent of housing falls into the affordable category. During that meeting, the Board of Selectmen, along with members of the Planning Board, Finance Committee, Accessors, and the Affordable Housing Trust, debated bylaw changes that might assist in bringing new solutions to an old problem – how to meet the 10-percent mark.

            The Planning Board agreed that the January 30 meeting was a good stepping-off point, but that they could not craft permanent zoning modifications without more study and expert assistance. 

            Member Eileen Marum suggested retaining an economic development consultant, “…to help new policies and ensure they are sound.” She said that Marion would be taking the lead with an inclusionary bylaw.

            Joining the discussion via telephone was member Chris Collings, who voiced concerns that the Building Department might end up having to police developments. “When we reach the (10-percent) threshold we need to confirm by counting doors,” he said. “We can’t presume permits will get us over the 10-percent goal.” Collings said that zoning changes would change the landscape.

            Rising to speak was Selectman John Waterman who said, “Current zoning isn’t viable for developers.” He said as things stand today the numbers don’t work for developers and in fact, “…are punitive.” 

            Current zoning regulations mandate that a subdivision development must have at least six units of affordable housing or the developer must pay $200,000 per unit to the Affordable Housing Trust. “We want a bylaw that will work for the developer, too,” Waterman said.

            Collings commented that he’d rather see the town reach the 10-percent mark before passing any new bylaws. “Let’s reach the goals before we change the rules.”

            Waterman countered, “But it hasn’t worked.”

            Chairman Will Saltonstall said that current bylaws, “…don’t incentivize affordable housing.”

            Resident Sherman Briggs wanted to ensure that a project he has been planning for some years, one that includes affordable units would not be adversely impacted. He was assured it would not but that his specific project could not be discussed in any depth without a public hearing notice.

            Saltonstall said that member Norman Hills had applied for a grant to secure technical guidance from Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District.

            The Planning Board agreed that at least a year of study was needed before comprehensive zoning bylaw changes that aided affordable housing could be drafted. In the meantime, they hope to have a “stopgap” in the form of modifications to the current inclusionary zoning bylaw presented at the spring town meeting. The stopgap proposal by Waterman aired at the January 30 meeting included lowering the fee paid by developers from $200,000 per unit to $70,000 per unit, along with a decrease in the number of affordable units from 10-percent to 5-percent.

            In other business, the members voted unanimously to send a letter of support to the Historical Commission as they launch a project to document all historical structures in the community. Saltonstall said such a project was in line with the town’s Master Plan.

            The next meeting of the Marion Planning Board is scheduled for February 18 at 5:00 pm in the Town House conference room.

Marion Planning Board

By Marilou Newell

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