Bridging History

Ipswich MBTA Community

Resources & views from community members

State mandate

The incoming regulations require that Ipswich zoning allow for 971 dwelling units of multifamily housing, at least 40% of which must be within half a mile of the commuter rail station. The zoning must permit a density of at least 15 units per acre. The housing must be suitable for families with children. The deadline for compliance is December 31, 2024.



Full text of the final guidelines, released August 20, 2022. Note separate revisions of October 21, 2022, which allow more flexibility in requirements for affordable housing.

Link to full official guidelines

Link to MGL 40A §3

Density ≥ 15 units/acre

What does 15 dwelling units per acre look like? – No, it doesn't mean midrise buildings with elevators.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Some land is not suitable for building: streets, municipal parks, rivers, and wetlands. For small parcels of land or those with odd shapes, acreage may not be a very meaningful measure.

Exploring Housing at Different Densities, SRPEDD and MHP with Judi Barrett, webinar co-presenter

15 units/acre

Link to full presentation

Visualizing Compatible Density, The Urbanist

King County, WA

Link to The Urbanist post

Metropolitan Council, Density of Development: Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Examples

twin cities examples

Link to presentation

18 Green Street (with 29 Summer Street)

18 Green Steet

The site is the property of the rehabilitated former Caldwell Nursing Home, so that many of the units were built for very limited occupancy in the first place.

Fifth Street currently is about 14 units/acre.

5th street

Approved development at 5-11 Washington Street, Ipswich

Washington Street rendering

Link to architectural renderings

Neighborhood protection

The guidelines allow zoning restrictions including height limitations, lot coverage limitations, maximum floor area ratio (FAR), and parking space requirements – as long as these are compatible with the required density.


In ordinary circumstances, a municipality may not require more than 10% of the new multifamily units to be affordable. That number may be waived by the State under certain conditions.

On August 10, 2022, DHCD released Compliance Guidelines for Multi-family Zoning Districts Under Section 3A of the Zoning Act (the “Guidelines”). The Guidelines include a section describing when an inclusionary zoning requirement would be consistent with the law’s requirement that there be a zoning district in which multi-family housing is allowed as of right. In response to feedback from municipal leaders in several MBTA communities, DHCD is today making limited revisions to the Guidelines to address the circumstances in which an inclusionary zoning requirement will be deemed in compliance with the law. Those revisions

  1. Modify the definition of “affordable unit” to eliminate the requirement that affordable units be eligible for listing on the Subsidized Housing Inventory. This modification gives communities the option to require a percentage of “workforce housing” units occupied by households earning more than 80% of area median income (AMI).
  2. Allow communities to set income limits for affordable units below 80% AMI, provided that a community demonstrates that a reasonable variety of multi-family housing types can be feasibly developed at the proposed affordability levels.
  3. Allow a community to require that more than 10% of the units in a project be affordable units (but not more than 20%), provided that the community demonstrates that a reasonable variety of multi-family housing types can be feasibly developed at the higher percentage. The demonstration of economic feasibility is now required for all inclusionary zoning requirements above the permitted 10% threshold, including those that pre-date the Guidelines.
  4. Create an exception to the 20% cap on affordable units. The new exception applies only to previously approved and adopted 40R “smart growth” zoning districts. A community may amend an existing 40R district to comply with the Guidelines and retain an existing 25% affordable unit requirement.

These revisions to the Guidelines are intended to provide greater flexibility to MBTA communities committed to increasing multi-family housing production while meeting a local need for income-restricted units. DHCD does not anticipate making further revisions to the Guidelines.


The State guidelines recognize that water supply is critical. They are explicit that municipalities do not need to install new water or wastewater infracture. They suggest that if upgrades are necessary for individual developments, funding could come from various public and private sources.

Civil and environmental engineering studies could be relevant.

d. Water and wastewater infrastructure within the multi-family zoning district

MBTA communities are encouraged to consider the availability of water and wastewater infrastructure when selecting the location of a new multi-family zoning district. But compliance with Section 3A does not require a municipality to install new water or wastewater infrastructure, or add to the capacity of existing infrastructure, to accommodate future multi-family housing production within the multi-family zoning district. In most cases, multi-family housing can be created using private septic and wastewater treatment systems that meet state environmental standards. Where public systems currently exist, but capacity is limited, private developers may be able to support the cost of necessary water and sewer extensions. While the zoning must allow for gross average density of at least 15 units per acre, there may be other legal or practical limitations, including lack of infrastructure or infrastructure capacity, that result in actual housing production at lower density than the zoning allows.

The multi-family unit capacity analysis does not need to take into consideration limitations on development resulting from existing water or wastewater infrastructure within the multi-family zoning district, or, in areas not served by public sewer, any applicable limitations under title 5 of the state environmental code. For purposes of the unit capacity analysis, it is assumed that housing developers will design projects that work within existing water and wastewater constraints, and that developers, the municipality, or the Commonwealth will provide funding for infrastructure upgrades as needed for individual projects.


The regulations are very explicit that zoning must not impose energy standards for the MBTA Community district that are more stringent than those applicable throughout.

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