January 29, 2023
BROOKLINE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION
1017 Beacon Street, #18 Brookline, MA. 02446
Town of Brookline
Brookline Town Hall
333 Washington St, 6th Floor Brookline, MA 02445
Re: Letter Supporting MBTA Communities and Form-based Zoning
Dear Select Board:
The Brookline Community Development Corporation (BCDC) believes that abundant and affordable homes are central to achieving Brookline’s core values—including our deep commitments to climate sustainability, a thriving local economy, and racial and social equity. In 2021, the Massachusetts legislature passed the MBTA Communities Act, requiring communities like ours to create well-planned multifamily zoning districts around transit stations. To comply with the law, those zoning changes must be adopted in rapid transit communities, which include Brookline, by December 31, 2023.
The Brookline Planning Department, using already developed criteria and policies, values and vision, has advanced a proposal to create new base zoning along the Harvard Street Corridor. Conventional zoning currently utilized by Brookline focuses on the separation of uses—commercial, residential, industrial— which were considered incompatible in the early 20th century. Form-based codes offer an alternative or complementary regulatory framework that instead focuses on the form of buildings. These codes primarily regulate the shape and exteriors of buildings—heights, facades, placement on the lot, set-backs, and building lines. In turn, form- based codes provide more support to shaping what happens outside of buildings, with the opportunity to enhance walkability, human scale, mobility options, architectural diversity, and a mix of uses.
Form-based zoning may actually address many of the fears that some in the community have about increasing affordable housing. Form-based codes can ensure new development matches the look and feel of a given neighborhood, and can allow for more flexible forms of housing and commercial development. The model form-based code you will create will enable Brookline to lower the cost of housing development by make the permitting process more predictable. At the same time, Brookline will have more control over how its neighborhoods develop. Shifting to form-based zoning is both timely and urgent.
Several cities and towns in Massachusetts are already adopted or exploring form-based codes.
Massachusetts communities that have adopted FBCs to regulate development include the City of Lowell and “Southfield” (the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station region) managed by the South Shore Tri-Town Development Corporation. This corporation has cross-jurisdiction with portions of the Towns of Abington, Weymouth, and Rockland. Also, Lowell has adopted it as has Somerville (using a hybrid). These have come in the form of either special design or mixed-use districts. MBTA Communities is a natural partner for form-based zoning. Using form-based zoning,
it would be the norm for various types of residential, commercial, and civic uses to cluster together harmoniously under a form-based code. And this versatility of space is key to bringing the necessities of daily life closer together, which is a crucial step in lowering transportation costs by shortening trips and providing other modes of transportation.
As one of the most transit-rich places in Greater Boston, served by three branches of the Green Line and the #66 bus, this district would be the centerpiece of Brookline’s strategy to comply with the MBTA Communities Act. As have the four land use boards you have appointed (EDAB, HAB, Planning Board, and Preservation Commission), we strongly support the work of the Planning Department and their request for funds to hire a Form Based Zoning consultant.
The Harvard Street Corridor Plan:
Maintains the existing four-story height limit on Harvard Street without up-zoning, reinforcing
Harvard Street’s traditional “Main Street” character;
Incorporates a community engagement process to develop appropriate design forms for the
different Harvard Street neighborhoods;
Adopts form-based zoning concepts, establishing for the first time design standards promoting
predictability of design outcomes that open opportunities for small and non-profit developers;
Addresses regulatory barriers to four story multi-family housing, new commercial development,
and mixed-use buildings in a transit- and pedestrian-friendly environment;
Dovetails with Brookline’s new Comprehensive Planning process by providing a real-time
template for thoughtful new development.
BCDC appreciates the work that went into the Planning Department’s Harvard Street Study and strongly supports this proposal. We urge the Select Board to fully fund the Departments request for additional funds for a form-based zoning consultant which can increase housing affordability, historic preservation, and economic development.
Brookline Community Development Corporation