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Select Board signs off on rezoning which could create 800 new housing units

The intersection of Beacon Street and Harvard Street. Photo by Zoe Zekos
August 15, 2023  Updated November 12, 2023 at 12:11 p.m.

Brookline’s Select Board signed off on a two-part proposal (pdf) Tuesday night which would rezone Harvard Street and the town’s existing multi-family districts. The plan is meant to comply with the state’s MBTA Communities Act, which requires 177 cities and towns to relax zoning rules for multifamily housing near transit stations.

The plan developed by town staff would make it easier for developers to build multifamily housing on most of Harvard Street, and town planners say it would lead to the construction of around 800 new housing units, 120 of which would be affordable.

Importantly, the plan mandates first-floor retail along central sections of the corridor, and includes a financial incentive for developers to keep using the ground floor for commercial uses along the rest of the street.

The other piece of the “consensus” proposal is what’s being called the “M-District+” option. That includes rezoning many existing multifamily districts (or “M-Districts”) to comply with the MBTA Communities Act. However, because those districts are already heavily built out, it’s not likely that rezoning them will lead to much, if any, new housing being built.

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The “plus” piece of that plan involves re-zoning a Brookline Housing Authority property and a small neighborhood known as “Emerald Island,” which planners say would likely lead to the development of a couple hundred new housing units.

Click here to read our previous coverage of the consensus plan.

Blending the two plans “gives us the opportunity to get what we want out of Harvard Street, which is more commercial [space], much more affordable housing and the type of transit-oriented experience we’re looking for,” said Select Board member Paul Warren at Tuesday’s meeting. “I think that’s a win all around.”

The consensus plan came about after months of work by the town’s planning department and a committee of volunteers created by the Select Board.

It now heads to a pre-Town Meeting review process, which will see it scrutinized by the town’s Advisory Committee and other town boards, before a likely final vote by Town Meeting in November or December.

The consensus plan requires a two-thirds vote at Town Meeting, which is a high bar for a contentious issue such as the development of multifamily housing.

Select Board member John VanScoyoc said he thinks passing it would be a “tall hill to climb,” and that many Town Meeting members still have concerns about the Harvard Street portion of the plan. He voted against the consensus plan, making the tally 4-1.

The town is proposing that if the consensus plan fails, Town Meeting members vote on a “fallback option” of just the M-District+ plan, which would meet the requirements of the MBTA Communities Act on its own.

State law requires Brookline to come up with a plan to comply by December 31. If Town Meeting fails to approve one, the town is at risk of losing state funding for housing and infrastructure projects.

CorrectionThis story has been updated to accurately describe the estimated number of  units which could result from the M-District+ option.