Burlington officials recommend rezoning the Life Time Living apartments property on Middlesex Turnpike among five new zoning districts to comply with the MBTA Communities law/Image courtesy of Life Time Fitness

Wary of a backlash at an upcoming town meeting, Burlington officials approved a plan to comply with the MBTA Communities law by rezoning four areas for multifamily development that already include large housing complexes.

A divided Planning Board voted 3-2 in favor of creating five new overlay districts totaling 68 acres, four of which already include apartments and condominiums.

“We need this to pass Town Meeting and we need to make this as easy and palatable as we can so that it passes,” Board Chair Barbara L’Heureux said.

The proposal consists of 15 parcels totaling nearly 68 acres, and creates new garden apartment and mixed-use subdistricts where multifamily development would be allowed without discretionary reviews such as special permits. Both districts would have maximum 3-story building heights and a maximum 20 units per acre, although the mixed-use subdistrict allows 4-story buildings that contain at least 15 percent commercial space.

But four out of the five new districts already include multifamily housing, including the 167-unit LifeTime Living apartments which opened last summer on Middlesex Turnpike. Other overlays include the Heritage at Stone Ridge apartments property, and the Huntington and Tremont apartment complexes developed in recent years as part of Nordblom Co.’s 3rd Avenue project. And the largest, at 39 acres, is occupied by condominiums on Dover and Georgia Drive, the Westgate apartments and the 420-unit Beacon Village apartment complex at 26 Beacon St.

One commercial district is proposed for rezoning, spanning 8 acres along Middlesex Turnpike just north of the Burlington Mall. It includes five office and retail parcels, Planning Director Elizabeth Bonventre said during a presentation to the Planning Board on Thursday.

The Planning Board has submitted the proposal to the state Executive Office of Housing and Liveable Communities for an advisory opinion, but has not yet received a response.

Suburbs with commuter rail service or adjacent to towns with stations have a Dec. 31 deadline to submit rezoning plans to the state.

As an adjacent community to MBTA service, Burlington is required to rezone at least 50 acres where a minimum 15 housing units per acre can be built as-of-right. The rezoning is required to accommodate 1,043 new housing units, which equates to 10 percent of the town’s existing housing inventory.

Some communities, including Needham and Watertown, are reviewing plans that exceed the state requirement for potential total housing units that could be built.

Others including Chelmsford have sought to minimize the law’s potential effects by rezoning areas that already contain apartment and condominium complexes, making it unlikely the areas would be acquired by developers.

Attorney General Andrea Campbell is suing the town of Milton following a townwide referendum’s vote to overturn a rezoning plan approved in December.

In 2023, the median sales price in Burlington was $750,000 for single-family homes and $749,000 for condominiums, according to data compiled by The Warren Group.

In a separate process unrelated to the MBTA Communities law, Burlington officials in the past year have discussed encouraging more housing in areas such as the town center.

“This board and the town as a whole generally understands we have a housing problem and we want to fix it,” L’Heureux said. “This is not going to solve our problem, but we can solve our problem and stay more effectively within the character of Burlington if we do some housing changes outside of the MBTA law.”

The annual town meeting is May 13.

Burlington Officials Wary of MBTA Communities Resistance

by Steve Adams time to read: 2 min