What’s up with Brookline’s 40Bs

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The approval of 275 affordable units in 2018 has put Brookline into a safe harbor, and while that means temporary relief from 40B development applications, the town already has 16 projects on the books.

Chapter 40B allows developers to bypass local zoning if more than 25 percent of the units are affordable and the town has less than 10 percent affordable housing. In Brookline, developers are lining up.

The strong housing market and Brookline’s proximity to Boston, make the town a desirable place to develop, according to Brookline’s Director of Planning and Community Development Alison Steinfeld, but it is Brookline’s strict zoning that make it a hot spot for 40Bs.

Under the town’s existing zoning, none of the proposed 40Bs would be allowed even with a special permit, Steinfeld explained.

Of the 16 40B projects submitted for Brookline, 15 have come within the past five years, according to Steinfeld.

“It’s probably a record in the state,” she said.

Most of the projects are concentrated between Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue, with a number of them located in and around Coolidge Corner on Beacon Street and Harvard Street. Other streets with proposed 40Bs are Babcock Street, Crowninshield Road, Centre Street, Boylston Street, Marion Street, Waldo Street, Pleasant Street and John Street - one of Chestnut Hill Realty’s four projects, Waldo-Durgin, sits at the intersections of Waldo Street, Pleasant Street and John Street. That project is currently on hold as it works with the Town’s Coolidge Corner Study Committee on a refined plan, according to Steinfeld.

In response to projects like Chestnut Hill Realty’s Waldo Street project, the town formed The Coolidge Corner Study Committee to look at existing parking, zoning and other conditions in Coolidge Corner that may be impacted by the proposed 40Bs. The committee may bring a related warrant article to Town Meeting for approval this May, according to Steinfeld.

40B – Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Law allows developers to bypass local planning and zoning regulations if more than 25 percent of the units are affordable and the town has less than 10 percent affordable housing. Although other boards can provide opinions, the zoning board of appeals is the only body that has to approve of the project.

Currently Brookline’s subsidized housing inventory, is at 9.87 percent, just shy of the 10 percent threshold. However that number could change.

When the Zoning Board of Appeals granted comprehensive permits for 275 affordable units, it earned Brookline a two-year safe harbor from new applications until October 2020. Two projects - Puddingstone in South Brookline’s Hancock Village, and Babcock Place at 134-138 Babcock Street - provided the 275 affordable units, according to Steinfeld. If the developers who received the permits do not pull building permits within a year, then the units are taken off the SHI.

The 2020 census could also impact Brookline’s SHI. According to the 2010 census, Brookline had 22,601 housing units, Steinfeld said, but the loss or addition of housing units between 2010 and 2020 could change Brookline’s total housing units, thus impacting its affordable housing percentages.

“Right now it’s a very volatile number,” Steinfeld said of Brookline’s SHI.

The status of each 40B project can be found on the Town’s website under Chapter 40B Status.