HARVARD — There’s a rule that Chapter 40B developments are limited to no more than 1.5 percent of a community’s total zoned acreage, but that won’t help Harvard.
Only affordable units and immediately-surrounding infrastructure are counted toward the 1.5 percent figure, said local housing guru Bonnie Heudorfer. In fact, she said only the densely populated communities of Weymouth and Malden are at or near the 1.5 percent figure — and both are over the 10 percent affordable housing threshold needed to ward off hostile 40Bs.
“You look at the affordable piece, and that’s it,” she said. “There’s no way is Harvard going to reach the 207 acres needed.”
Heudorfer is a housing and planning consultant with 30 years experience in the commonwealth. Her expertise has been tapped by numerous communities and the governor’s office, which commissioned her to write a definitive history of Chapter 40B in 2003.
The focus of those reports is facts and figures — neither of which favor Harvard making a strong case for blocking Chapter 40Bs on the issue of density, she said.
“Statewide, Harvard has the sixth lowest density and the 18th lowest percentage of its housing stock qualifying for its affordable housing inventory,” she said. “That suggests to me that we’re not a likely candidate to say that too much of our land areas are consumed by affordable housing.”
Enacted in 1969, Chapter 40B is part of a larger law that focuses on regional planning, said Heudorfer. It allows developers to bypass local zoning in communities that have less than 10 percent affordable housing — provided that at least 25 percent affordable units are included within the development.
“It was intended to increase the supply and improve the distribution of housing for low- and moderate-income families by making it easier to develop affordable housing, especially in communities where local restrictions hinder development,” she said. “It’s been controversial since day one, but the debate increases in direct proportion to its use.”
That pattern has held true in Harvard, which is currently facing four Chapter 40B developments, including a proposal for 140 units at Shaker Hills Golf Club. Heudorfer said Worcester County in general is currently on the front lines of the debate, but cautioned that similar scenarios took place in the Merrimack Valley in the late 1980s and on the South Shore in the 1990s.
“This debate has played out in other areas of the state,” she said. “While modifications have been made (Chapter 40B) continues to drive much of the affordable housing and market-rate development in the state. It’s not likely to change.”
Chapter 40B opponents cite so-called inclusionary zoning — which requires standard developments to include affordable units — as an alternative to Chapter 40B. While it’s something the town should look into, Heudorfer said its legality is something of an open question. It’s also likely to have limited returns in a community like Harvard, which typically permits approximately 10 units of housing per year.
Heudorfer said she’s more optimistic that a proactive approach of negotiating with Chapter 40B developers and taking other steps to increase the town’s affordable stock will work. While Chapter 40Bs are almost universally unwelcome when filed, she said compromises are often reached between developers and the town.
“It’s controversial at the time it’s being permitted,” she said. “Once the units have settled into the community and the noise abates, they have become valuable community assets. I think Harvard Green and Foxglove are examples of that.”