By George Humphrey, Scituate
For the past fourteen months, NSRWA has expressed strong environmental concerns regarding the proposed development of 56 residential units on a 50-acre parcel along the North River in Pembroke – including approximately 30 acres of unique and sensitive wetland habitats that was historically known as home to an endangered species. Until recently, the project was allowed to move through the approvals process under Chapter 40B, a state law that requires all of the Commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns to set aside 10 percent of their housing stock for low and middle income households. The developer of the 274 Water Street project – River Marsh LLC – has designated 14 of the 56 condominiums as affordable.
At a public hearing on February 13, 2019, however, Pembroke officials reported that the town is already in compliance with the affordable housing requirement, thus clearing the way for a possible denial of the project by the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals under the “safe harbor” provisions of Chapter 40B. A follow-up public hearing with the developer has been scheduled for April 10. In the meantime, if the developer does not agree with the town’s safe harbor claim and they may file an appeal with the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) which is the final arbiter.
Isn’t there a better way for cities and towns to achieve both adequate affordable housing and effective environmental stewardship? In order to address this issue, many local municipalities are taking advantage of a more pro-active approach called “inclusionary zoning.” Basically, an inclusionary zoning by-law requires all new housing developments to include a set percentage of affordable units, thus ensuring that affordable housing grows in proportion to the overall real estate market in the municipality. Through careful planning in partnership with private developers, towns can achieve housing diversity goals without being forced to accept projects in environmentally sensitive areas. NSWRA members and friends are encouraged to contact their local planning and zoning boards regarding this state-sanctioned approach.