MBTA Communities Law

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The MBTA Communities Law was passed in January, 2021. It applies to all cities and towns (excluding Boston) that have or are adjacent to communities that have MBTA transit stops. Needham is included among the 177 communities this law applies to. 


The law addresses Massachusetts’ housing shortage by requiring all MBTA Communities to change zoning regulations around their local transit stations to allow multifamily housing by-right. The law’s statute outlines three critical components to the zoning changes:

  • Minimum gross density of 15 units per acre

  • Located not more than 0.5 miles from a commuter rail station, subway station, or ferry terminal, if applicable

  • No age restrictions and suitable for families with children

On August 10, 2022 the DHCD provided the final guidelines MBTA Communities must follow in order to be in compliance with the law. Attorney General, Andrea Campbell, followed this up on March 15, 2023 with an advisory that further details the final guidelines and consequences of not abiding by the new law. 

Needham is considered a “Commuter Rail” community and the final guidelines require the following: 


Community category

2020 Housing Units

Minimum multi-family unit capacity*

Minimum land area**

Developable station area***

% of district to be located in station area


Commuter Rail






* Minimum multi-family unit capacity for most communities will be based on the 2020 housing stock and the applicable percentage for that municipality's community type. In some cases, the minimum unit capacity is derived from an extrapolation of the required minimum land area multiplied by the statutory minimum gross density of 15 dwelling units per acre. In cases where the required unit capacity from these two methods would exceed 25% of the community's housing stock, the required unit capacity has instead been capped at that 25% level.

** Minimum land area is 50 acres for all communities in the rapid transit, commuter rail and adjacent community types. There is no minimum land area requirement for adjacent small towns. Where 50 acres exceeds 1.5% of the developable land area in a town, a cap has been instituted that sets minimum land area to 1.5% of developable land area in the town.

*** Developable station area is derived by taking the area of a half-mile circle around an MBTA commuter rail station, rapid transit station, or ferry terminal and removing any areas comprised of excluded land.


Needham has met the requirements for interim compliance, including the submission and approval of an Action Plan in January 2023 and received a Determination of Interim Compliance Letter from DHCD

In order to remain in compliance Needham must adopt compliant zoning by December 31, 2024.

Compliance model

In order to determine whether MBTA Communities are in compliance with the new law, the state has created a compliance model. Cities and towns can enter zoning plans into the model to get a rough estimate of how many units per acre their proposed zoning would generate, as well as determine whether units are within a 0.5 mile radius to a transit stop among other components of the law.

Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group

About the Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group

The Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group was established jointly by the Select Board and Planning Board in 2023. The group will lead the community engagement process to create multi-family zoning that complies with the MBTA Communities Act (MGL c.40A Section 3A). The group will advise the Select Board and Planning Board on proposed zoning to bring to Town Meeting in 2024, informed by their individual expertise, group deliberations, and feedback received from the public.

The Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group will:

  1. Lead a broad public engagement effort for the Needham community to envision and shape zoning to allow multi-family housing that complies with the MBTA Communities Act.  
  2. Utilize the recommendations in the Town of Needham’s 2022 Housing plan as a starting point.  
  3. Evaluate build-outs, projections, and analyses of fiscal, school enrollment, and infrastructure impacts provided by staff and consultants.   
  4. Consider related zoning elements that are allowed, but not required under the MBTA Communities Act, including but not limited to inclusionary zoning (affordable housing requirements) and parking minimums. 
  5. Update the Select Board, Planning Board and Finance Committee throughout the process on group deliberations and community feedback.  
  6. Recommend draft zoning to the Select Board and Planning Board to submit to DHCD and Town Meeting.

Agendas, Agenda Packets, Minutes


The Housing Needham (HONE) Advisory Group consists of nine residents. Some are appointed by the Select Board and others are appointed by the Planning Board. Each will serve through the end of 2024. 

Seat/Appointing Body
Year Appointed
Term Expiration
Heidi FrailCo-Chair, Select Board Member/Select Board20232024
Natasha EspadaCo-Chair, Planning Board Member/Planning Board20232024
Kevin KeaneSelect Board Member/Select Board20232024
Jeanne McKnightPlanning Board Member/Planning Board20232024

Finance Committee Member/Select Board

Ron Ruth Architect, Land Use Planner, Land Use Attorney, or Real Estate Developer/Planning Board
Bill Lovett Architect, Land Use Planner, Land Use Attorney, or Real Estate Developer/Planning Board
Elizabeth KaponyaRenter/Select Board20232024
Michael DienerAt-Large/Select Board20232024