40R Zoning and Methuen’s Downtown

By: Linda Dean Campbell – Feb. 2017

Methuen has made some significant strides in recent years leveraging State investment in projects to renovate the High School, build the Methuen Rail Trail, and improve infrastructure as with the replacement project for the Rotary. It is very gratifying and exciting to be working with our city leaders on these projects.

Continuing to create opportunity and jobs for the people of Methuen requires us to continue building upon these successes, bringing new business and additional investment to Methuen. To that end, we are fortunate to be able to leverage the potential of our Downtown.

Starting with the Downtown Visioning Committee in the Fall 2014, I have been a part of a process with the Mayor and community leaders to redevelop our Downtown. This process will build on historic architectural gems in our Downtown District and the amazing beauty of natural assets like the Spicket River and Falls. As with Amesbury, our Downtown area has tremendous potential for mixed use, commercial business and housing for young workers, professionals, and retirees, and is a naturally beautiful area. Like Amesbury, Methuen presents development challenges because our Downtown is not in one flat, geographically concentrated area. From my perspective, this is an asset that makes our City more interesting.

Redeveloping shall require zoning changes but collectively community leaders have coalesced around utilizing a state law named “Chapter 40R” passed in 2004 that provides financial incentives to cities like Methuen for mixed use development near transit and commercial centers in specifically designated zones.

It is worth recognizing that Chapter 40R was passed in response to the challenges that cities and towns have had in dealing with the large affordable housing developments created through the “Chapter 40B” law created to promote construction of affordable housing for all age groups. Chapter 40B developments can be pursued by a developer whenever less than 10 percent of a city’s housing is considered “affordable.” These developments frequently put a strain on cities like Methuen by bringing in additional families without offsetting support for schools or mitigating congestion.

As someone who as a concerned citizen and, later as a city councilor has considerable experience in fighting 40B developments, the only sure way for Methuen to forestall them is to have 10% of Methuen’s Housing be affordable – we have long been close to this line. As 40B developments typically offer only a paltry amount of “affordable housing,” 10%, they do very little to advance us to the 10% goal, leaving us vulnerable to further force fed projects.

By contrast, Chapter 40R is a cooperative process that provides funding from the state for pursuing additional mixed use development of approximately $3,000 per unit while also providing added funding to offset school costs if the added development is likely to lead to an increase in the school age population. It is a process far more likely to advance us to the 10% affordable housing goal.

Unlike the contentious process surrounding 40B proposals between developers and community groups, 40R projects have been community building exercises. There have been 27 development districts approved throughout the state through 40R since 2004, including Downtown Haverhill. This zoning has allowed these municipalities to build their tax bases and increase opportunities for the residents of their respective cities to redevelop their downtowns for mixed use, an environment where residents can walk to both retail stores and restaurants.

I want to thank Mayor Zanni, Community Development director Bill Buckley and the Methuen City Council for making all of these partnerships with State Government a reality.