When It Comes To 40Bs, Don't Blame The Neighbors

Hillary Hedges Rayport •

To the Editor:

There’s a line of thinking that the neighbors are to blame for the Surfside Crossing 40B development because they voted against one-acre zoning. You read it in the Current on Wednesday, and you’ve heard it before. It’s wrong.

Massachusetts’ 40B law is a cudgel the State uses to break the back of exclusionary zoning laws. 40B allows developers to override local zoning when a community has not created a minimum level of housing for its lowest income residents. Exclusionary zoning most often takes the form of one- and two-acre single-family zoning, enacted by planning boards, mainly in suburbs, to keep prices high and less affluent people out. Otherwise known as large-lot suburban sprawl, it eats up land and leaves communities starved of housing choice.

Thanks to a pattern of dense development in our historic town and villages, and a visionary approach to community planning that preserved the open countryside and encouraged cluster-development, Nantucket staved off large-lot sprawl during the 1990’s and early 2000s. These policies were part of Nantucket’s 1990 Comprehensive Plan, called “Goals and Objectives for Balanced Growth: A Broad Policy for the Island’s Future.”

But an unintended consequence of Nantucket’s tremendous success as a destination is that demand for private luxury compounds may wax and wane but has not ended, and land prices keep rising. Comprehensive community planning – and acting on those plans – is the only way for Nantucket to ensure development happens in locations and forms that make sense island-wide. For example, affordable housing near village centers and transit hubs. Surfside Crossing is the antithesis of this – it is unplanned, poorly located, and 75% unaffordable. And it happened because Nantucket’s Planning Board and Planning Department failed – for whatever reason – to encourage and realize the kind of smart growth that would keep Nantucket out of 40B.

When Linda Williams lobbied Town Meeting to rezone the parcel off South Shore Road from two- to one-acre zoning, as referenced in Wednesday’s edition of The Current, she was advising voters to slash their own tires to avoid having their car stolen. That zoning change would have only extended the large-lot sprawl that made Nantucket vulnerable to 40B development in the first place. So, if you are inclined to lay blame, don’t blame the neighbors. Blame the people who let unplanned sprawl take root on Nantucket to begin with. It’s long past time to bring back goals and objectives for balanced growth.

Hillary Hedges Rayport

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