Mugar developer: Arlington can’t claim ‘safe harbor’ from affordable housing law

Wicked Local Arlington | By Nick Greenhalgh
September 6, 2016

In a bid to build a housing complex on one of Arlington largest open spaces, developers are challenging a key legal tool the town is using to block the project.

During an interview with the Advocate on Sept. 2, Oaktree Development spokesperson Gwen Noyes confirmed that the group had submitted a comprehensive permit application for the project to the Arlington Zoning Board of Appeals for review.

The Thorndike Place project plans to put 219 units of housing, 25 percent affordable, on the Mugar family land in East Arlington. The Mugar family has owned the 17.7 acre-site for more than 50 years.

After months of speculation, Noyes said Oaktree would, in fact, be challenging the town’s declaration last year that it has “safe harbor” from affordable housing projects built under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable housing law.

On Dec. 22, 2015, the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously voted to declare that 1.53 percent of Arlington’s land area is devoted to affordable housing.

Under the Chapter 40B law, developers are given the ability to override local zoning ordinances when building projects where at least 20 to 25 percent of the housing units built have long-term restrictions classifying them as “affordable.” This power is nullified in towns where either 10 percent of its total number of housing units are classed as “affordable” or at least 1.5 percent of the town’s land area is devoted to housing classed as “affordable.”

In an interview, Noyes said she was “pretty confident” that Oaktree had an accurate evaluation and that the town “overstated” the amount of land it had devoted to affordable housing.

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