Zoning, Development & Maintaining Dracut’s Rural Character ~ EYE ON DRACUT

By: Brian Genest (5-23)

There’s a lot of developments when it comes to development in Dracut. A bit of a building boom is about to begin and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the town or citizens. Officials and neighbors are trying to grapple with several development-related issues and concerns, including zoning bylaw changes, affordable housing, state mandates and infrastructure needs.

Right now, there are 12 housing developments in the planning stages in Dracut that are expected to bring about 900 new housing units to town. One of those projects is a 300-unit affordable housing development proposed for the site of the former Murphy Farm off Elizabeth Drive and Poppy Lane in East Dracut. That proposal calls for each of the 300 units to have 4 bedrooms, the potential for at least 1,200 people to be living in that housing development.

Town officials and neighborhood residents have expressed concerns about a variety of items related to the Murphy Farm project, especially public safety. Town Manager Ann Vandal told Selectmen the development will impact every aspect of town government due to its large size. And it’s not the only one.

As the result of a statewide shortage of affordable housing, Dracut faces an unfunded state mandate to accommodate more than 1,200 additional housing units in town or lose major state grant funding. State legislators included that mandate in an economic development bill passed with the intention of providing affordable housing in communities near MBTA commuter rail stations.

To comply with the law, the town must create a new zoning district that allows for 15 housing units to be built per acre. Right now, the town has a one-acre requirement for single-family homes. By the end of 2024, the new zoning district must be approved by town meeting.

Like the Murphy Farm proposal, Vandal said the MBTA affordable housing plan will have impacts on every aspect of town government, ranging from schools and sewer services to public safety and recreation.

While Boston bureaucrats and lackwit legislators apparently prefer cement city over green pastures, Dracut has been working to balance growth and development with open space, preservation, and conservation. Town officials and residents aren’t opposed to building affordable housing; the need is recognized, but so is the need for reasonable and responsible development that makes sense for the town and the desire to preserve our rural character.

It’s frustrating–to say the least–that Dracut won’t have much say about or local control of either affordable housing proposal, as most approval related to the construction will be done at the state level. The town’s involvement will be mostly of oversight, excluding some local approval that may be required at the zoning board of appeals or conservation commission, for example, depending on the details and circumstances of the projects.

While the town and voters may not have significant input and influence on the affordable housing developments, there is something you can do when it comes to local zoning. In June, in addition to dealing with the annual town budget, Town Meeting voters will also consider 17 zoning articles. Those articles are part of an overhaul of the town’s zoning bylaws, which haven’t been substantially updated since the late 1980s. The proposed changes will impact future development, quality of life and the character of our town.

That’s why it’s so important to attend Town Meeting. This is your opportunity to participate in shaping the future of our community and to have a say in decisions that will impact you, your family, and all of us.

When more of us are involved in the democratic process, Dracut is better off, especially when it comes to these types of important issues that will have long-term consequences. Make your voice heard and make your vote count. Come to Town Meeting on June 5th.



Brian Genest is the producer and host of Eye On Dracut, winner of the Hometown Media Award for News, sponsored by Lucky Oil. ◊