Affordable housing is a heated topic throughout the Commonwealth, and Westford is no exception. On Thursday night, that topic was discussed in the Stony Brook auditorium with a specific focus on whether the Route 110 corridor might be a good place for multi-family housing.
In association with the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments and the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, the Westford Department of Land Use gave an interactive presentation asking what role multi-family housing should take in Westford, how it would be implemented if the town decided to embrace it and why affordable housing is economically significant for the greater Boston area.
Westford once had zoning bylaws that allowed multi-family unit housing developments through special permit in the 1990s, but after a series of multi-family unit developments began to quickly spring up, the bylaws quickly reverted after pressure from local voters.
Today, 8.2 percent of Westford homes fall under the state’s subsidized housing index or SHI. Cities and towns across the state aim to bring their SHI above 10 percent, letting them avoid 40B comprehensive permit requests that can often circumvent normal local zoning regulations.
However, after recalcuations following the 2020 U.S. Census, Westford Director of Land Use Planning Chris Kluchman warned the audience that the SHI figure is likely to be pushed downward.
There was some discussion over whether re-zoning should establish mixed-use areas instead of higher density residential zoning to preserve the commercial nature of Route 110, but Kluchman believes that adding multi-family housing stock along Westford’s major commercial road would be beneficial.
“We have very little rental housing, and that would provide rental housing. I think as a town we should have an array of housing options,” she said.
Despite added traffic congestion at Minot’s Corner in the past several years following the construction of Cornerstone Square and various other nearby projects, Kluchman noted that planning for the road as a whole is designed to withstand an additional 600,000 square feet of office space nearby that is not currently being used.
Attendance at Thursday’s event was largely targeted at town leaders, with a handful of other residents listening to the information and discussion. However, an additional presentation is expected to occur in the fall.
For now, Kluchman and the town as a whole will continue to seek feedback on how to approach the issue of affordable housing, particularly along the 110 corridor.
However, one takeaway from the evening is that the issue needs to be addressed one way or the other. Both to provide somewhere to live for the necessary workers for the local economy as well as for the 10 percent SHI figure.
“We need to keep pace if we want to maintain the integrity of our zoning bylaws and our self-determination,” said Planning Board Chairman Dennis Galvin. “We’re going to have to be fill the need for these units and we should do it in the way that we think is the best way and not in the way they are telling us it should be done.
Disclosure: The author of this article is scheduled to begin an internship with the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments on June 3, but did not have any role in the production of the presentation.