HANSON – Town Planner Anthony DeFrias updated the Select Board on projects in town on Tuesday, Jan. 23, including the MBTA Zoning District and bylaws, Main Street sidewalk improvement design (between High and Elm streets), the Master Plan, 0 West Washington St., the starter home district and Hawks Avenue with which his department has been involved for the past year.
“Each one of those projects were funded, or partially funded, by grants,” he said.
“Can we pause for a minute at the magnificence of that statement?” Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Two grants were received for the MBTA Zoning District, which funded outside consultants. All the others were through the One Stop Master Plan program, DeFrias said.
Hanson is working with a consulting company called VHB to get through the final phases.
“Our district modeling is complete,” DeFrias said of state spreadsheets into which the town’s date had to be entered to determine whether it is in compliance. “It hasn’t gone live yet, but it will be shortly.”
Old Colony Planning Council (OCPC) had begun the data entry process with VHB has added some information and made some adjustments, which made the district a little larger. A subdistrict now falls within the town’s mixed-use district, which the state must approve. Draft zoning bylaws have also been approved for that area following public hearings and now must also undergo compliance review at the state level. That mush be completed 90 days before Town Meeting.
“We’re looking to go before Town Meeting this may to get this approved,” DeFrias said. ‘The Zoning Map will change and there will be an amendment to the zoning bylaws to include this district.”
The Planning Board has closed the public hearing and DeFrias will be presenting the Select Board with the district map and draft bylaws at which time the Select Board will ask the Planning Board to submit a report.
“I know it seems strange that we’re giving you this and then you’re going to have to give it back to us, but it’s part of the statutory requirements,” he said. The Planning Board will then have a public hearing at the end of February and town counsel will have to review the bylaws before moving forward to get it before Town Meeting. The hope is they will receive a ruling on compliance from the state in time for that as well.
“If there’s a hiccup at least we’ll have October [Town Meeting] to button things up,” DeFrias said. “The deadline for this is December 2024.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked what happens if it fails to be in compliance or, for some reason, does not pass at Town Meeting.
“Failure to comply will eliminate us from grants,” DeFrias said. “It will also open the town up to liability and legal action. The Attorney General’s office has issued an advisory to all towns that have to comply, stating that it’s the law and, if you don’t follow the law, you’re going to open yourself up to possible litigation and fines under federal housing, Mass. Housing, etc.”
“Doesn’t that help us a little bit with the 40B stuff, as well?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked.
“It helps us with the affordability, yes,” he said. “All the town has to do is create the district. … They prefer it within a half-mile of MBTA [stops].”
The actual affordable housing stock will be up to the private sector. The district as it now stands would exceed the requirement of supporting 750 units.
“The tough part is the deadline,” he said. “There’s a lot to do, a lot to unpack and at state level, they have a lot of work because a lot of these are now coming in fast and furious.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said that, for better or worse, the Healey administration is incredibly bullish about housing.
The Mass. Taxpayers Foundation issued a report last year pointing to housing affordability as a major factor toward the state’s trend of “hemorrhaging people,” – the largest outward migration in 30 years – with 110,000 moving out since the pandemic, most between the ages of 26 and 35, and citing the issue as a major reason.
“We don’t have sewer,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Septic alone in this area, with the proximity of wetlands is going to be problematic.”
“This is really being forced upon us, basically,” said Select Board member Ed Heal. “It’s good to have housing, but I don’t want to be forced into doing it.”
Vice Chair Joe Weeks said a lot of people come to Hanson because they like the bedroom community aspect of it.
The way the law now stands, DeFrias said, Hanson could end up losing grants without the program, which could hurt the town.
An existing conditions survey in June 2023 on needed pedestrian improvements along Main Street, has led to 25 percent completion of a design for the project for street scape improvements including sidewalks from High Street to Elm Street, DeFrias said.
PDF of plans are available in the Planning office for review and a public hearing is slated for the first Planning Board meeting in February. Sidewalks are called for on both sides of the roadway. Additional grant money will be applied for to fund construction.
“It’s nice to have plans, but I’d like for us to get grant money and actually get some physical things off the ground,” DeFrias said.
Hanson is working with OCPS on the master plan project and there is a survey on the Planning Department website s part of the project that DeFrias is urging people to participate in it.
On the 0 Main St. project, he noted Hanson has been assigned a “House Doctor” – a certified engineering company – to examine the property, which is adjacent to the existing Water Department location, the survey work, resource location and soils to compile a preliminary plan determining the most viable plan for that property, DeFrias reported.
The grant for the Starter Home District has funded execution of the contract so a consultant can be chosen to determine if there is a place for a district where create affordable starter homes with 1,850 square feet of livable area can be built under Chapter 40Y.
Another grant of $100,000 will look into possible Brownfield redevelopment on Hawks Avenue, looking at what the town owns.
Other grant projects include culvert and Camp Kiwanee drainage projects and researching a switch to electric vehicles for some departments and charging stations under a National Grid project. FitzGerald-Kemmett expressed apprehension about EVs as public safety vehicles. DeFrias said there are options for that type of vehicle, but ultimately it is up to what the town chooses.
He said he could arrange a meeting to go over more information about the program.