- May 25, 2006
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Policies are successfully steering new housing and commercial development near transit stations
By Andrew Caffrey, Globe Staff | June 18, 2006
It's no accident that a map outlining new and planned development in eastern Massachusetts resembles the layout of the public transit system. With the prodding of the Romney administration and urban planners, and accommodations by local zoning officials, real estate developers are making a beeline to locations that are just a short walk to train, ferry, and bus stops. The activity amounts to about 25,000 housing units and 15 million square feet of retail and commercial space. This map -- based on data compiled by the state Office for Commonwealth Development -- shows projects recently built, under construction or under review, or recently proposed. It includes only developments within a quarter-mile or so of a transit stop, and omits most projects that have fewer than 50 housing units.
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When National Development started leasing apartments at its massive new Station Landing complex in Medford last month, it rented 80 of 292 units within days, a pace ``that is unheard of," said managing partner Ted Tye .
Located on the Orange Line at Wellington Circle, Station Landing is one of the many types of mixed-use ``urban village"-style complexes developers are plonking down at transit stops in or near busy downtown districts around the eastern part of the state.
``People like the idea that they can live in places where they don't have to jump in a car" to go to work, run errands, or grab a bite to eat, Tye said.
Station Landing, for example, will include some 25 restaurants and stores, condominiums, hotel rooms, and office space on a 16-acre site near a second major development planned for the area.
Known by the moniker Transit Oriented Development, this kind of dense, compact mix of residential, retail, and commercial buildings is all the rage in Massachusetts. While a claque of urban planners has long been preaching TOD as an antidote to the subdivisions of McMansions they say contribute to suburban sprawl, it's received a powerful boost from Governor Mitt Romney.
The Romney administration has designed a package of tools that provide financial aid, incentives, planning assistance, and -- in some cases -- even surplus land to encourage developers and town officials to build on sites near transit stations, whether they be in-city subway stops or suburban ferry landings. A key development in the movement is the willingness of officials in many communities to make zoning changes to accommodate the projects.
The list compiled by state agencies includes some 25,000 housing units in varying stages of planning or completion, plus a huge number of office, retail, and other uses at those sites. But the list likely under counts actual totals, because it does not include dozens of smaller projects with fewer than 50 housing units, such as several in Canton and more on the South Shore proposed near new Greenbush commuter-line stations.
To be sure, not all 25,000 transit-side units may get built, and those that do will take several years. For perspective, there were 24,549 housing starts permitted in all of Massachusetts last year. Further evidence of the shift in housing priorities: in 2002, 22 percent of housing starts in Massachusetts were for multi family housing; by 2005, it was 40 percent.
Multi family units are ``an alternative to the type of `knock it all down' development that you might otherwise be seeing," said Andrew Gottlieb, chief of Commonwealth Development. ``If you're getting more multi family, more concentrated development around transit, that's taking capital away from other less favorable development options," he said.
.pdf map of new development