We Help You Make Informed Decisions

“Smart growth,” subdivisions and economic potential in MA


A study finds Boomers and Millennials in Boston want more walkable communities, but developments in the urban area can face obstacles.

Builders in the Boston area of Massachusetts may be wise to consider “smart growth” and mixed-use residential developments to increase profitability. The Atlantic recently published a piece discussing the benefits and risks of these developments as opposed to sprawling suburbs, noting many developers are continuing to build suburban sprawl when buyers prefer smaller homes with greater access to public transportation and local restaurants.

Is “smart growth” profitable?

The article used the Las Vegas development debacle of the early 2000s as an example. During that time, developers built thousands of large, luxurious homes even though surveys of Baby Boomers and Millennials point towards a desire for homes with greater access to urban places. Many of the projects halted due to the recession and the development continues to have homes that are either abandoned or were never sold.

Urban planning professionals and “smart growth” advocates interviewed by The Atlantic state that builders should focus instead on “compact, walkable communities near public transit, rehabbing existing land to fit new projects.” The piece specifically points to Boston, noting residents of cities like Boston want walkable developments.

How difficult is it to complete developments in urban areas like Boston?

Making these suggestions realty can be difficult, particularly in urban areas like Boston that have strict zoning regulations. Boston is divided into zoning districts and certain regulations must be followed in each area. There are three residential districts (single family, general and apartment), two business districts (local and general) and seven industrial districts. The industrial districts are light manufacturing, restricted manufacturing, general, maritime economy reserve, waterfront, waterfront manufacturing and waterfront service. There is also an open space district, downtown districts (like Chinatown and Leather), neighborhood districts (like Beth Israel Hospital, Bay Village and Fenway), a Harbor Park district and a special district for the Central Artery. There are also subdistricts within these broader categories.

A variety of issues can arise when developers attempt to rehab existing areas in the city into more desirable locations. Two examples include issues with nonconforming uses and variances. Any attempt to change an existing structure may require review by the zoning board while plans that are not approved may attempt to receive approval for a variance from the code.

Builders who are considering “smart growth” developments in areas surrounding Boston may be wise to focus on smaller homes with easy access to public transit and mixed-use residential development.

Legal counsel can help

Due to these and other issues, builders, developers and entrepreneurs that are considering moving forward with developments in the Boston area are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Eastern Massachusetts land development attorney. This legal professional will review your plans and guide you through the process, working to better ensure a more favorable outcome.

Keywords: land development