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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Multi-Family Zoning Coming to Norfolk and Wrentham

By Joe Stewart

Both Norfolk and Wrentham are assessing where to site their multi-family housing zones to comply with the MBTA Communities Act. Under the law, Norfolk is a “host community” for MBTA service, while Wrentham is considered a “served community” that abuts a town that hosts MBTA service.

In 2021, former Governor Charlie Baker signed the MBTA Communities Act, which requires the state’s 177 communities served by the MBTA to have at least one zoning district for multi-family housing. According to the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, Massachusetts has among the highest, and fastest growing, home prices and rents of any state in the nation and those high costs are a disadvantage in competing economically against peer states.

The planning boards of both Norfolk and Wrentham have been working to comply with the law. Both towns will likely have their proposed zoning changes at their respective spring Town Meetings (Norfolk on May 15 and Wrentham on June 3).


Following nearly a year’s work, the Norfolk Planning Board voted in mid-February to recommend that the proposed zoning revisions be added to the warrant for the May 15 town meeting. The meeting was recorded and is available at (this link jumps to the MBTA Communities discussion).  

Richard McCarthy, Norfolk’s Town Planner, presented two overlay districts that best meet the MBTA Communities requirements, Town Hill and Pondville. The Town HIll overlay district is in and around the center of Norfolk while the Pondville overlay district is southeast of the 1A and 115 intersection.

In an interview, McCarthy said that while these zones allow multi-family developments, without public sewer it’s difficult to build high density housing. McCarthy also highlighted that Norfolk received $1.8m in state grant funding (MassWorks) to rebuild the Bush Pond causeway and a previous state grant helped with the downtown sidewalks and decorative street lighting. To be eligible for future grants, MBTA Communities-compliant zones must be available. 


At Wrentham’s February Board of Selectmen meeting, Rachel Benson, Director of Planning and Economic Development, presented a summary of the areas considered as well as two zones that best meet Wrentham’s needs, the downtown area and the Wampum Village business district. Downtown overlay refers to the district behind the Dunkin’ Donuts, while Wampum refers to the district at the southern end of Wampum Corner near I-495.

In an interview, Benson highlighted that Wrentham secured a grant from the Massachusetts Housing Partnership to assist with developing Wrentham’s plan. With that funding, Wrentham hired Bohler Engineering, a Boston-based land development and site design consulting firm, to help Wrentham through the process. Working with Benson, Bohler analyzed Wrentham’s existing zones to assess which might be extended to comply with the MBTA Communities Act. Following analysis, the downtown and Wampum Village business districts were deemed to best meet Wrentham’s needs.

During her presentation to the Select Board (recording available at, beginning at minute 22), Benson noted that the MBTA Communities law addresses rezoning, but does not require that housing actually be built. The law does not set a production mandate nor require set asides. There is no Chapter 40B mandate associated with the law.  

Starting with downtown, Benson described that Wrentham’s existing “Village Zone B” complies with MBTA Communities requirements, including zoning language and location. Similarly, the Wampum district would not alter the allowed uses in its existing zoning. Benson then summarized areas that had been ruled out, including Wrentham Developmental Center, Hagopian Bird Farm off of Beach Street and Taunton Street, and an area off Green Street.  

Benson reiterated that MBTA Communities does not mandate development; instead, it removes some zoning barriers to development. Benson emphasized that Wrentham may not see development for years. As with most zoning, it simply “sets the table” for future actions.  

Following Benson’s presentation, Select Board chairman Joe Botaish opened his remarks by noting that the Select Board wrote a letter to the Commonwealth stating that Wrentham would not comply and that he plans to oppose this zoning. He noted that there are vacancies at the Point at Wrentham, and while he supports the downtown Village Zone B, that is enough. Botaish noted as well that other communities have opposed this law including Holden and more recently, Milton. In a closely watched and highly publicized referendum, on February 14 Milton residents voted not to comply with the MBTA zoning law, seen by some as a potential bellwether of public response to the Beacon Hill directive.

Select Board member Chris Gallo opened his remarks at the Select Board meeting with, “Let’s call this what it is:  it is an unfunded mandate.” Gallo went on to highlight that the current development plan for downtown Village Zone B has a density of 8 units per acre, while with MBTA Communities the density would jump to 16 units per acre. Gallo pointed out that if Town Meeting adopts the MBTA Communities zoning, the developer would likely change its plan to take advantage of the higher density.

Following remarks from Botaish and Gallo, Select Board members BIll Harrington and Michelle Rouse shared their views. Harrington largely reserved judgment noting that the town wants people to move to Wrentham, particularly families. Rouse echoed concerns expressed by Botaish and Gallo but also noted that the state did not perform an impact assessment on Wrentham.