ZBA appeals state decision, putting Mugar hearing on hold

Wicked Local Arlington | By Bram Berkowitz
November 30, 2016

It could be awhile before the public hearing on the proposed 219-unit Mugar affordable housing project resumes.

The town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday, Nov. 29 unanimously voted to appeal a recent state decision denying the town safe harbor status on affordable housing projects, a move that could delay the public hearing up to eight months.

Safe harbor status

Safe harbor status allows local zoning boards greater autonomy over the design and footprint of affordable housing projects that they have to approve. It also makes ZBA decisions on affordable housing projects appeal-proof.

To achieve safe harbor status, the town has to show that it has affordable housing on at least 1.5 percent of the total land in the town. On Nov. 17, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development sided with the Mugar developer, Oaktree Development, and ruled that the town fell short of this threshold.

The decision has big ramifications because safe harbor status creates a much easier path for the ZBA to deny the Mugar project, an outcome that many residents and the Board of Selectmen desire, or potentially reduce the project’s size.

Despite the setback, however, town officials continued to assert that the town does have safe harbor status.
“The town maintains that our data, our methodology and our legal reasoning are sound,” said Arlington Town Counsel Doug Heim.

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