For 7 years, the town of Hingham has been in a dispute with the state over the Chapter 40B affordable housing law — otherwise called the “anti-snob zoning law.”
Residents of the upscale South Shore community say Chapter 40B encourages development out of scale with the community, with one project a case in point. For over 20 years, Hingham resident Judy Kelley and her neighbors have enjoyed the secluded privacy of their backyards and they are worried that will soon change. “Can you imagine being here having a cookout and you look up,” she asks as she gestures to the lush woods bordering her backyard, “and there could be six families basically joining your cookout?”
That’s if Avalon Bay, a national development company, is allowed to move forward with its plan to clear the 18-acre wooded parcel and construct a 16-building apartment complex. Kelley says the multi-story buildings will be just 20 feet from her neighbor’s property line and loom over their backyards. “There’s 177 units that are going to be squeezed, and I mean squeezed, into that area."
Hingham’s zoning rules would usually prevent such density, but Avalon Bay is pursuing a building permit under the state’s Chapter 40B law. It allows developers to bypass local zoning rules in towns like Hingham that have less than 10% affordable housing. Sean Caron, a director at the housing advocacy group CHAPA, says the intent of Chapter 40B is to increase the supply of housing. He credits the law with creating almost 60,000 affordable homes across the state. And, he adds, “it establishes a really important goal that all communities try to make some more progress in expanding these housing opportunities that need them.” Communities like Hingham.
The Avalon Bay proposal comes as the town continues its long-running dispute with the state over its percentage of affordable housing, arguing that it has already achieved the required 10 percent. Laura Burns, chair of Hingham’s Board of Selectmen, says the percentage is critical. “What you are allowed to do under Chapter 40B is if you’re over 10%, you can permit the projects you think are right for the town and turn down the projects you think are wrong.” Burns notes that Hingham has approved around a dozen other Chapter 40B projects — including a prior Avalon Bay development — but she thinks the developer's current proposal is wrong for the part of Hingham least accessible to public transportation.
“All of those cars will spill out onto Route 3, arguably the most congested highway in the area,” all of which leads to Burn's larger concern with the law: “Part of the problem with 40B is that the developers have no reason to be concerned about smart growth, or transit. They build them wherever they can.”
While the town continues to appeal to the state's Department of Housing and Economic Development over its percentage of affordable housing, Judy Kelley seems resigned that her neighborhood will change … and for the worse. “I have no problem with developers developing it,'' she says as she looks at the woods, "but it should be in proportion to the land and the size of the community.”
Watch the conversation on Greater Boston: