By-right, or as-of-right development means that a project will require no waivers, special permits, or any other discretionary approvals. A project is still required to go through the normal development processes including Site Plan Review or Minor Site Plan Review, and/or the regular building permitting approvals.
For example, if a 5-unit Townhouse project is proposed on a 20,000SF lot, that project would come to CPDC to go through Site Plan Review; the neighbors would be notified of the project and a public hearing and revision process would take place. By-right development simply means that the CPDC and Planning Staff cannot deny the project as long as the proposal meets the criteria of our Zoning Bylaw.
By-right development is included as a specific requirement of the 3A law because of how many communities in the Boston metro area require special permits or waivers for increased density in order for multi-family housing to be constructed. In 2019 it was summarized that for the 100 communities within the Boston metro area, in the 3 years prior 86% of all multi-family units that were permitted required discretionary approvals, meaning only 14% of units were permitted by-right.
When is development not by-right?
Development is not by-right when the lot or use is determined to be non-conforming, which means it doesn’t meet the current standards of the zone. When zoning is changed over a given geography, any current lots or uses that don’t meet the new standard become considered “non-conforming”.
In Reading several of our zoning districts have a high percentage of non-conforming lots, because zoning was changed to be more restrictive after these areas were built. In our current A-40 zone that is Northeast of downtown there is only 1 lot that meets the district minimum lot size. In our S-15 zoning, about 80% of parcels are non-conforming, because they don’t meet the minimum lot size of 15,000SF. They were all built long before zoning existed and are smaller than the minimum.
For compliance with the law, non-conforming lots aren’t counted because they can’t be developed by-right. Therefore, a large portion of the decisions made about our new zoning district are simply to bring all of our lots to be conforming lots so they count for compliance in our district. You can think of it as reverse engineering the controls of our new zoning district from the actual parcels that exist today.