Brendan Fitzpatrick

March 12, 2024

Sisitsky, City Council Dive Into Zoning, MBTA Communities Law

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FRAMINGHAM - The Framingham City Council held a discussion with Mayor Charlie Sisitsky as well as Director of Planning and Community Development Sarkis Sarkisian regarding local zoning matters and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Communities Act during their meeting on Thursday, March 7.

Sisitsky told councilors that he has been worried about the current process of dealing with zoning, adding that his administration will be working with the Planning Board to take charge of zoning and planning matters as opposed to the City Council’s Planning and Zoning Subcommittee.

Sisitsky said the subcommittee should be advising the City Council on those matters, even if the subcommittee in Framingham is a unique entity compared to other Massachusetts municipalities.

“They’re a subcommittee of our legislative body, the City Council, and they’re meant to advise the City Council on planning and zoning,” Sisitsky said during Thursday’s meeting.

“And I think that’s a proper role for them. I don’t think that they should be the ones to take on the whole issue of planning and zoning from the beginning.”

District 1 City Councilor Christine Long—who is also the Chair of the Planning and Zoning Subcommittee—pointed out that both the Planning Board and the City Council work in tandem to hold public hearings related to zoning and the finalization of those plans, as zoning ordinances can be raised by any member of the public with enough signatures.

“The City Council votes for the zoning ordinances, we’re the authority on zoning,” Long said.

“We’re elected to take care of zoning, we’re elected to take care of policy…and we’re elected to take care of financial matters. We have to be involved in this because we’re elected to our constituents, whereas the Planning Board is appointed by the mayor and the administration. So it’s two different directions, and it could be two different outcomes.”

Sisitsky and Long both pointed to state and local bylaws in their contentions of how the process should work.

The mayor reiterated his administration’s plans to review projects such as redevelopment for the Waverly Street corridor and the Shoppers World area, as well as compliance with the MBTA’s requirements for multi-family zoning. Sisitsky told the City Council that his goal is to solidify mandated permissions provided through zoning ordinances.

As it stands currently, Framingham is compliant with the MBTA Communities Act. The law requires all municipalities serviced by the MBTA to have at least one zoning district with multi-family housing permitted as of right, with additional thresholds being required as well. However, city officials have noted that the city could become noncompliant at the start of 2025.

District 6 Councilor and Chair of the City Council Phil Ottaviani expressed his concern that Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey will institute an increase to Chapter 40B of the state’s Comprehensive Permit Act, which dictates that at least 10% of housing units in a community must be listed as affordable. He said the city could be in “big trouble” if that number climbs and could result in a loss of state funding sources if Framingham cannot meet those state figures, as other councilors such as District 3’s Adam Steiner pointed to potential infrastructure problems if that threshold is raised.

“The 10% number can be changed in a heartbeat in Boston, at the State House,” Ottaviani said, “and if they change it, all bets are off in Framingham, and then anything can happen.”

“If what we need is affordable housing, we need structures in place before we just create more projects that are going to have apartments that are out of reach,” Steiner continued.

Sarkisian ensured the City Council that his team and Sisitsky’s administration would be transparent throughout the process of being in line with the MBTA law. He said that any district impacted by zoning proposals would have their respective councilors in the loop, adding that he does not want any residents “stressed” about the MBTA requirements.

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