After Milton loses funds for MBTA zoning vote, Holden does not change position

HOLDEN — With the state acting quickly to strip Milton of grant funding after voters rejected a land-use plan that would have complied with the state's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority zoning law, Holden's town manager reiterated his belief a town should have the right to control its zoning.

"Similar to the sentiment in a growing number of communities throughout the Commonwealth, as a Town Manager my feeling is that local zoning and planning should be left to local officials and local voters, not surrendered to Beacon Hill political agendas," Holden Town Manager Peter Lukes said in a statement.

The Healey administration has maintained that the 177 municipalities subject to the zoning law must comply or lose out on state funding. Signed by former Gov. Charlie Baker in 2021, the law mandates municipalities to change their zoning to allow the construction of more multifamily housing in communities with access to public transit.

Wednesday, Housing and Livable Communities Secretary Edward M. Augustus Jr. sent Milton Town Administrator Nicholas Milano a letter notifying the town that it is no longer eligible for a $140,800 grant for sea wall and access improvements because the grant was contingent on the town complying with the MBTA Communities Law.

More: Milton voters decide on MBTA Communities zoning plan. Here are the results

According to Augustus' letter, Milton is also not eligible to receive MassWorks and HousingWorks grants and the town is also at a disadvantage for 13 discretionary state grant programs.

"The law is clear — compliance with the MBTA Communities Law is mandatory,” Augustus wrote. “At this time, Milton is the only rapid transit community in Massachusetts that is not in compliance. If we do not all come together to build more housing, we will not be able to overcome our affordability crisis. We need every community to do their part.”

Feb. 14, Milton voters overturned the town's zoning plan with about 54% voting against it.

Holden is one of the towns that found fault with the law, with Lukes saying the town should have control over its zoning.

Lukes has previously told the Telegram & Gazette that the zoning requirement does not fit the character of the town, which is known for its single-family neighborhoods. The Holden Select Board also found fault with the zoning law.

Wednesday, Lukes said the town is trying to find a way to comply with the program but has not come up with a proposal.

"Holden is currently working toward finding a possible route to participation in the MBTA Community Program, but we have not yet determined a proposal that would work in the best interests of our town," Lukes said. "Ironically we do have development projects that we intend to promote in the coming years, all of which contain multiunit housing, but most of which will probably not meet the arbitrary criteria set forth in MBTA Communities legislation."

Lukes said Holden has not and does not intend to apply for any of the grants Augustus mentioned in his letter to Milton.

Saying Augustus and the Healey administration were "weaponizing" those grants against taxpayers, Lukes also added that Holden is ineligible for some of the grants based on their criteria and the town has no eligible projects for the future that would allow the town to apply for such grants.

In December, a Superior Court judge approved Holden's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance and two individuals over compliance with the zoning law.

The complaint was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Brown Rudnick LLP.

Judge Daniel M. Wrenn ruled Friday that the complaint did not prove that the town's decision had caused any direct harm or injury to the plaintiffs.

Jacob Love, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in December the plaintiffs intended to appeal the decision.

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: After Milton loses funds for MBTA zoning vote, Holden holds position