Mayor Greg Verga says draft guidelines for MBTA communities to create multifamily zoning districts should not be a “one size fits all” proposition, especially when it comes to a historic seaport that already has plenty of congestion around its downtown train station.

“The one-size fits all, that’s my biggest gripe with this,” Verga said.

Verga submitted his concerns in a letter to state Housing and Economic Development Secretary Michael Kennealy on Thursday.

Gloucester is already densely populated, there’s no affordable housing requirements and the state is threatening to withholdn state infrastructure grant money if the city does not create the new multifamily zoning district, which makes no sense when it comes to the need to invest in more housing, Verga said in his letter.

While Verga appreciated the work done by the state to address the Bay State’s housing crunch, he added: “I cannot, however, support the current framework presented in the draft guidelines.”

Verga’s letter follows a March 22 letter from the City Council that also raised issues with the transit-oriented development zoning. “The TOD is too overly simplistic to have any effect on the current crisis,” the council letter states.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development is drafting requirements for 175 MBTA communities based on an economic development law from January 2021.

The multifamily district must allow such housing by right, and be at least 50 acres with a minimum gross density of 15 units per acre. It should be no more than 1/2 mile from a transit station, have no age restrictions and be suitable for families with children. Gloucester’s minimum multi-family unit capacity as a commuter rail community would be 2,270 units.

The creation of these guidelines at the state level is entirely separate from proposed zoning amendments regarding housing that have come before the City Council in recent weeks. This has created some confusion about the two processes.

“The timing of MBTA and our zoning amendments is just terribly coincidental,” said Verga during an interview last week, “and unfortunately so.”

While Verga said he agrees with the broad principles of the state requirements, he points out the resulting zoning should be “of a scale, density and character that are consistent with a community’s long-term planning goals” and “differences in community” must be taken into account. He says the draft guidelines do not accomplish this.

The calculation of the proposed district’s unit capacity “has made it difficult to initiate meaningful community discussions” with no way to account for existing housing on undersized lots with structures that do not conform to zoning.

“This in aggregate already greatly surpasses the 15 units per acre gross density target of the draft guidelines,” Verga wrote.

Verga said the biggest concern he’s heard is a lack of affordability housing goals in the draft guidelines. In recent years, Gloucester has revised inclusionary housing requirements, adopted an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance and supported more than 100 units of deed-restricted affordable housing. This should be recognized, he said.

Verga also noted that the state should continue to invest in MBTA communities, and that the loss of grants for communities that don’t comply with the final guidelines are for programs that have been instrumental in the creation of multifamily housing in the first place.

“If in the end it means we lose these sources of funding, these grant opportunities, so be it,” Verga said in an interview.

Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or

Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-675-2714, or

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