May 11, 2004

Mass. Senate ‘Smart Growth Zoning’ Plan

Mass. Senate President Robert Travaglini and Worcester Sen. Harriette Chandler have an op-ed piece in the Globe today promoting a plan to give financial incentives to communities that adopt "smart growth zoning districts" around public transit stations, town centers, comercial centers and "underutilized industrial properties."

So, the state would pay "density bonuses" of up to $4K per unit (I assume above normal zoning allowances), give such communities "a priority" for state grants and capital funds, and "establish a foundation for the state to absorb payment of additional school costs that communities may incur as a result of increasing student enrollment from these districts." The goal is more affordable housing.

Obviously, I'm in favor of smart growth. However, I see a couple of problems with this sort of plan.

* I'm in favor of smart growth to make communities more livable for their residents. I'm NOT in favor of willy-nilly turning middle-class inner-ring suburbs into urban areas while allowing richer communities to continue building more McMansion developments unchecked, so they can dump more SUVs on everybody's roads. Traffic in Framingham and surrounding communities already suffers when exurban communities build nothing but expensive housing without enough commercial development to support it. (Those people need to go elsewhere in order to work and shop). Suburban sprawl needs to be addressed in wealthier towns that can't or won't create smart-growth zones.

* No offense, Sens. Travaglini and Chandler, but towns like Framingham, which have been shafted by cherry sheet aid formulas and unfunded special needs mandate, are not going to be comforted by promises of state funding for additional school costs. The new housing is forever; the added funds can be taken away at any time. Someone is going to have to think of a better way to compensate communities that assume more of the state's affordable-housing burden. Funding a massive, pedestrian-friendly revitalization of downtown might be nice....

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