Wellesley Compliance Model and Approach

Over the past several months a staff team comprised of the Executive Director of Government Services, the Assistant Executive Director, Planning Director, Senior Planner, Sustainability Director, and Building Inspector/Zoning Enforcement Officer have been working to develop a potential proposal to meet the Town's obligations under the MBTA Communities Law. 

Compliance Model Overview

In order to determine whether an MBTA Community is in compliance with the new law, the State has created a compliance model document. Cities and Towns can enter local zoning information into the model to establish, among other components, an estimate of how many units per acre their proposed zoning would generate and determine whether units are within a 0.5 mile radius to a transit stop. 

View Wellesley's Compliance Model Summary here.

The following zoning districts in Wellesley currently allow for 17 units per acre, which meets the density requirements identified in the new law:

  • Wellesley Square Commercial District
  • Business Districts
  • Business A Districts
  • Industrial District
  • Industrial A District 
  • Lower Falls Overlay District 

The Wellesley Square Commercial District accounts for 22.6 acres and, based on the Commonwealth's requirements, is zoned today for an additional 268 units. This excludes additional building potential at the Tailby and Railroad lots. 

The Wellesley Hills District accounts for 25.1 acres and has the potential to add 315 units. 

 The William Street 40R District complies with the Town's MBTA Communities obligations. With the recent modification at the 2023 Annual Town Meeting, the site includes 850 housing units towards Wellesley's 1392 unit requirement.

Linden Square would add approximately 26 acres, however the Development Agreement placed on this Linden Square site precludes the district from counting. 

With 40R District on William Street, Wellesley Square, and Wellesley Hills the Town can meet the MBTA obligation for density. (Note: compliance with the law does not require the total number of units needed be built. It, instead, requires zoning to be in place to allow the number to be built as-of-right should a builder or developer have interest).

Compliance Approach: Potential Zoning Amendments 

To achieve compliance with the by-right provisions of the law, the Town must amend the permitting structure to remove Special Permit provisions for MBTA Community projects.  The State does not require an affordability component, however, the Town must keep pace with 40B requirements and would like to keep residential projects subject to Inclusionary Zoning. Prior to the 2023 Special Town Meeting, Wellesley's Inclusionary Zoning provisions were triggered only by Projects of Significant Impact (PSI), which is a Special Permit (see Section 1.3 Definitions and Section 5.6 Project Approval).  Following the passage of Article 13 at the 2023 Special Town Meeting, the Inclusionary Zoning trigger was amended to include projects triggering Major Construction under provisions 1 and 2 of the definition of Major Construction, which is a by-right process (see Section 1.3 Definitions and Section 5.6 Project Approval).  

Further steps to achieve compliance will be presented at the 2024 Annual Town Meeting under Article 40. These are:

  1. Create a new definition for MBTA Communities in the Zoning Bylaw and define key districts which would be implicated 
  2. Modify definition of Major Construction project to include a trigger of projects that meet the definition of MBTA Communities 
  3. Modify the trigger for Inclusionary Zoning to add MBTA Community projects 

Separately, given the number of potential housing units, the staff team felt strongly that additional zoning measures should to be taken to expand Inclusionary Zoning requirements:

  1. Amend zones that trigger Inclusionary Zoning by adding Residential Incentive Overlay Districts, Lower Falls Village Commercial District 
  2. Consider whether 20% affordability at 80% or less AMI should continue or whether 15% at 80% AMI and 5% at no less than 80% and no greater than 140% would be a positive change 

Both of the above referenced motions were passed at the 2023 Special Town Meeting. 

The last step is to consider expanding the potential for Residential Incentive Overlay Districts. The Town could define two separate processes for as-of-right and special permit projects based upon location of RIO sites. Areas such as Waterstone at Wellesley would remain as Special Permits, but areas such as 148 Weston Road, Delanson, or others could be as of right with Site Plan Review.