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MBTA Communities Survey Findings Begin to Clarify Resident Preferences

Ames Pond most popular option for new zoning; Town Center lands second

Staff and residents gathered last night to discuss the results of the recent MBTA communities survey, potential locations for an overlay district and how Tewksbury plans to adopt compliant zoning. Town Planner Alex Lowder and Assistant Town Manager Steve Sadwick led the virtual session, with about a dozen attendees.

The survey ran for the month of July. Tuesday was the first of three resident feedback sessions that will be held before the town submits a potential district to the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities (EOHLC, formerly DHCD) for preliminary review.

As an MBTA adjacent community, Tewksbury must zone a minimum of 50 acres to allow housing density of at least 15 units per acre by right with no age restrictions and housing suitable for families. The plots selected must be free of wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas and other excludable land as defined by law and must have 25 contiguous acres. The options presented by the town were all fully contiguous, with more than enough acreage to comply with the law.

“These new requirements are NOT a mandate to build,” said Lowder. Simply designating the zoning does not mean developers will move to add units. She also pointed out that state- and town-owned land, such as the State Hospital and Trahan and North St. school sites, are ineligible.

And, many of the proposed districts have existing developments, such as the Trull Brook Golf Course. Applying an overlay district in an area that is already built up simply means that, if a developer buys a parcel and wants to redevelop or expand it, it can do so within the zoning confines.

The areas presented were:

Zoning survey results

Among the respondents answering this question, North A, which includes Ames Pond, was selected as the most desirable area for the new zoning overlay.

“Approximately 29% of all respondents ranked North A as their first choice,” said Lowder. That district comprises 502.5 acres with 371.1 buildable. The minimum units per acre to achieve the required 1,214 units is 17.1.

Download the deck to see info on all proposed parcels.

Call participant and Planning Board member Jonathan Ciampa called out traffic concerns and questioned whether that would be the determining factor.

“I can just foresee everybody coming and trying to push it to any other district but theirs because of traffic, since we aren’t actually able to walk to the MBTA,” said Ciampa. “I’m not sure how we balance those two opposing forces.”

Resident Brad Tosto, who applied for but did not receive a retail cannabis license, suggested that the town could decline to comply with M.G.L. 40A and offset lost grants with infrastructure savings.

“If we were to lose grants, we would need a dollar amount on that, but then we would need to compare it to the additional cost and if, like, losing the grants is less than the additional costs, doesn’t it make sense to just pay the penalties?” said Tosto.

Lowder and Sadwick pointed out that this is not a viable option, for a variety of reasons.

In March, Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell notified cities and towns that noncompliance will not only make them ineligible to receive certain state funding and grants, they may face civil enforcement actions and liability under federal and state fair housing laws.

“There have already been actions taken by the state to penalize towns that have not achieved interim compliance,” said Lowder. “It is a law, it’s not an option.”

She specifically cited loss of Housing Authority funding.

A number of callers suggested bias in the survey, which asked respondents to reorder options by dragging and dropping. Tosto and other Cardigan Rd. residents suggested that the selection process was complex and may have led to respondents leaving North A in the top spot by default.

“If people didn’t reorder them, then the first, second and third should have been North A, North B and Town Center, in that order,” said Lowder. “And that wasn’t the case.”

Callers also questioned strain on the schools, a question staff considered.

“I was curious about the school numbers myself,” said Sadwick. “Between the course of 2010 and 2020, we put out about 1,200 housing units. And between 2008 and 2022, we lost about 1,200 students in our enrollment numbers … It’s almost like for every housing unit that we put on, we lost a student, which doesn’t make sense, but that’s where the numbers are right now.”

Sadwick also clarified that should the town achieve its required 1,214 units, Town Meeting could remove the remainder of the district.

Next Steps

The town will hold an in-person information session in September to discuss results of this first round of feedback and narrow the list down to a maximum of three proposed districts. In mid-October, there will be a second in-person information session to name a final proposed district, which will go before the Planning Board and Select Board for final review and discussion later that month.

In November, the town will submit a proposed district to EOHLC for preliminary approval, which is expected to take 90 days. After public hearings, the town will, if all timing works out, vote at the May Town Meeting, with the possibility of addressing the matter in October, should there be delays.

Town Meeting must adopt a compliant zoning district before December 2024

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.


  1. […] Please join the Town of Tewksbury at Tewksbury Public Library, at 300 Chandler Street, for a workshop to narrow down a site for the potential location for an overlay district compliant with the MBTA Communities legislation. Learn more. […]

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