Some aspects of implementing the new mandate will require extended and careful review of options and specifics. These include the location of the new multifamily areas and, on the other side of the coin, what hard and soft means can be put in place to prevent egregious and oppressive over-building. These issues are likely to be controversial, without final choices that will please everyone.
In other key aspects, including energy requirements, the Town will have no discretion.
Inclusionary zoning requirements need further study. The Town may not require more than 10% affordable housing units – unless it can demonstrate that a proposal meets certain requirements.
Water requirements will also need further study. On the one hand, it is possible that ongoing improvements in infrastructure capacity will outpace new demand, since the new housing would actually be built only over an extended period of time. On the other hand, the total increase in demand is large and potentially worth expert assessment.
The photo above shows the Whipple House being moved over Choate Bridge. From Historic Ipswich.
There is significant agreement betweem State and Town about allowing multifamily housing downtown. The Ipswich Community Development Plan in fact proposes that the special permit requirement for this area be removed, enabling multifamily by right. – The limitation is that the downtown area was long ago built out. There are no large parcels of land to develop, so the pace of change is apt to be incremental. This is fine as far as compliance with the new law is concerned, but as a practical matter, the change is not likely to create large quantities of new housing downtown any time soon.
It is possible that all of the new multifamily zone could be within half a mile of the commuter rail station, but only required that at least 40% of it be. There are any number of other options.
"Density" includes aspects beyond simply counting the number of units. For instance, the units might be larger or smaller ones. The considerations are both hard ones, things like height that we can quantify objectively, and soft ones, such as architecture, that make structures and spaces feel comfortable or oppressive.
The State regulations explicitly allow dimensional requirements "including, for example, height limitations, lot coverage limitations, and maximum floor area ratio."
Multifamily housing must be allowed by right, subject only to site plan review. It is possible that input of the Design Review Board could, somehow, be a soft part of that process.
Ipswich today requires 15% of multifamily units be affordable. The incoming regulations cap the proportion of affordable units at 10%, but allow for a higher proportion in certain circumstances.
Coincidentally, at the same time Ipswich's Safe Harbor protection from 40B development may lapse as the Essex Pasture project languishes.
There have been a number of ideas about how the Town might increase its affordable housing stock, using approaches beyond what can be accomplished by inclusionary zoning. Review of those in this context could be of benefit.
Water has been a predictable issue in every Ipswich development application for many years. The Town has dealt with projects on a case-by-case basis. That may continue to be an option, since major improvements in infrastructure are ongoing. These might outpace the actual increase in demand for water, since additional building would stretch over a significant period of time.
On the other hand, 971 new units is a bunch. The State is clearly aware of potential water supply issues and has pointedly left open the door to hearing about them. It seems reasonable to ask, does the Town's water supply, as best we can project it, have the overall capacity to absorb this increase? There may not be an easy, responsible answer. While there are presumably objective engineering standards available, there are no such tools available to deal with questions of regional politics or of increasing climate instability.
Ipswich already has high energy efficiency requirements, and the State regulations say very explicitly that the standards for the MBTA Community zone may not exceed those the Town sets elsewhere.