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The Healey administration just improved our new housing law

The Healey administration just improved our new housing law

We're No. 5, baby!

The Boston Business Journal released its annual list of Massachusetts' Largest Chambers yesterday and your favorite chamber moved up one spot and into the top-5, behind our colleagues at the Worcester, South Coast, South Shore, and Boston chambers.

One decade ago, we (then the Newton-Needham Chamber) ranked No. 20. 

We're so grateful to you -- our members, our annual partners, and our volunteers -- for sticking with us during some very challenging years and to our new friends, including in Watertown and Wellesley, who've come along for the ride.

The Healey administration just improved our new housing law

The state's new housing law just got tougher, while also doing more to protect our small businesses and downtowns at the same time.

The 2021 law -- the most consequential housing bill in half a century -- requires 177 communities (including the four served by your chamber) to rezone parts of each community to make it easier to build more multi-family housing near public transit.

Yesterday the Healey-Driscoll administration gave the law more teeth by adding penalties for any community that doesn’t comply: Now communities that fail to follow the law will be ineligible to apply for up to 15 different state grant programs (representing potentially tens of millions of dollars), up from the prior two.

The administration also fixed a flaw our chamber and others across the region requested, reports Andrew Brinker at the Globe.

Prior to yesterday, a developer could, for example, tear down a single-story business and replace it with a multi-floor housing building. This is great because we need the housing, but not so good if we lose a business at the same time.

The new guidelines allow communities to require some ground floor commercial development in up to 25 percent of its new district. As long as multi-family housing is required too, the units can count towards a community's legal requirement.
The Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities also put in place strict safeguards so a community can’t use the rules to surreptitiously skirt its mandate, something housing advocates rightfully worry about.

Here’s why all of this matters

We urgently need to clear the way to build more housing in our suburban communities. But we didn’t want to squeeze out our restaurants, retailers, and other merchants in the process.

Yesterday’s guideline adjustments will go a long way toward protecting our mom-and-pop merchants and small downtowns while creating the vibrancy and foot traffic our small businesses need to thrive.

We appreciate that the Healey-Driscoll administration listened to the concerns many of us shared and put forth this thoughtful solution.

And for those who ask: What’s the hurry?

new report finds that Massachusetts lags behind 40 other states when it comes to increasing its housing stock, reports Colin A. Young at State House News.

Meanwhile, home prices across the region just reached another record high.

So, yes, efforts by nine Newton City Councilors to slow down the years-in-the-making plans to rezone the city's villages are frustrating. We don't have the time to waste.

The shortage and unaffordability of housing in Massachusetts are also making things harder on the state as it tries to manage a growing surge of immigrant families coming to Massachusetts in search of shelter and work, Young adds.

When Gov. Maura Healey rang alarm bells about the shrinking capacity of the state's emergency shelter system and declared an emergency last week, she said that one of the reasons that "we find ourselves in this situation" is the state's "long-standing shortage of affordable housing."

Update on Needham flooding

Some areas of Needham, particularly those south and west of Great Plain Ave., received between 5.25 to 6.5 inches of rain on the morning of Aug. 8, most of which fell over the course of 90 minutes.  

State Rep. Denise Garlick has updated her summary of activities on the local, state, and federal levels related to the Aug. 8 flash floods. There’s also a place on the Town of Needham’s flood info page to report all flooding to your property, as well as blocked catch basins.

The Needham Observer has more while Needham Local looks at the history (with photos) of past floods in town.

Friday grab bag

  • Newton biotech Abcuro just raised a $155 million round, led by Bain Capital Life Sciences and Redmile Group. The company currently has around 24 full-time employees, headquartered at Chapel Bridge Park in Nonantum. (BBJ)

  • I'm looking forward to the free Watertown Arts Market to  morrow (Saturday), noon to 5 p.m. at Filippello Park.

  • The New England-Israel Business Council hosts “Breaking into the US Market: Why Israeli companies choose Boston as their global launching pad” a virtual program on Sept. 7 at 11 a.m.

  • The Massachusetts State Treasury’s Small Business Initiative team is hosting free small business webinars this fall. Dates and registration.

  • Congratulations to the four honorees at our annual Needham Night celebration Wednesday. Thanks to Needham Bank and BID Needham for sponsoring and Tripadvisor for hosting. Photos.

  • Remember my “unless you need to know” link Tuesday to a Time Magazine article about why we eat so much at the movies? An alert reader notes that the article links to research that was discredited a few years ago, as this fascinating podcast explores.

  • We’re in the process of planning our fall schedule of Small Business Seminars and Professional Development webinars. If you’re an experienced presenter and would like to propose presenting a topic that may be of interest to chamber small businesses or nonprofits, go here to submit your idea. Priority is given to presenters who are chamber members. 

Judge: Needham Planning Board 'exceeded its authority'

Last, but not least, for today: A Massachusetts Land Court judge ruled this week that the Needham Planning Board “exceeded its authority” in its efforts to make it essentially impossible to build a new home for the Needham Children’s Center.

Judge Jennifer Roberts agreed with developer Matt Borelli's Needham Enterprises’ argument that the child care facility he wants to build for the Children's Center is a protected use under the state’s Dover Amendment, reports Peter O’Neil at the Needham Observer.

Bombarded by abutter unhappiness, the Planning Board dragged this ordeal out over multiple years before Borelli, a former select person, finally took them to court.

It held eight public hearings for the project at 1688 Central Ave over nine months in 2021, even though the project fell under the size of a special project review and was allowed "by right" in the town’s zoning.

Then the board spent nearly a half a year deliberating and ultimately slapping about 40 restrictions and requirements on the project all of which the judge now says shouldn't apply.

On top of that were questions about the Planning Board itself: Two of its five members disclosed conflicts of interests. But only one member was recused because the law requires four votes and his departure would have left only three board members to deliberate.

So let's summarize: Deliberations that should have never been allowed included one key vote with a known conflict and dragged out at considerable cost to the proponents and to Needham taxpayers who will foot the bill to defend the Planning Board's indefensible decision.

It's the kind of small town shenanigans we don't expect from a well-run community like Needham. And caught in the middle are families who just want a safe, loving, place for their kids in the midst of a chronic childcare shortage.

Judge Roberts' final judgment will be discussed at a hearing next week, O’Neil notes.

That’s what you need to know for today, unless you need to know why you shouldn't tell Bob in accounting he’s a raging jerk (even if he is).

Have a great weekend! Shop and dine local, OK?
Greg Reibman (he, him)
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