Massachusetts Attorney General Sues Milton For Rejecting Re-Zoning Proposal; Milton Selectman Mentions Boston Tea Party

Printed from:

Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell has filed a lawsuit against the town of Milton in the wake of the town’s voters rejecting a re-zoning scheme that would have increased density in the town.

It’s the latest in a series of actions by state officials to turn up the heat on Milton for not complying with the state’s MBTA Communities Act of 2021, which requires towns and cities served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to set aside at least one district “of reasonable size” that allows at least 15 residential units per acre and is within a half-mile of a subway station, bus station, commuter rail station, or ferry terminal. The statute affects 177 cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts.

Supporters of the state law say it’s necessary because the state has a housing shortage and voluntary measures offering state subsidies for loosening zoning restrictions haven’t worked.

“It is indisputable that the Commonwealth faces a housing crisis, which is a key factor in the state’s exceptionally high cost of living.  The Commonwealth’s limited housing supply also forms a significant impediment to economic growth, and makes Massachusetts all too unaffordable for its residents — particularly working families, those with disabilities, and people of color,” states Campbell’s complaint, filed Tuesday, February 27 in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. The attorney general is asking a judge to issue an injunction ordering the town to create a zoning district that complies with the state law within three months.

Milton voters on February 14 rejected a re-zoning proposal in a town-wide election.

Opponents of the zoning scheme in Milton say it was flawed and put too much of a burden on East Milton, threatening the character of the town. Some also argue that Milton shouldn’t be classified as a rapid transit town because the speed and usefulness of the Mattapan Trolley that enters Milton is limited.


State vs. Town

State elected officials are taking extraordinary interest in the Milton re-zoning proposal.

Before the February 14 special election, Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll attended a pro-re-zoning campaign event. Governor Maura Healey’s political action committee sent a mass-email message to Milton voters asking them to vote for re-zoning.

Last week, after the vote, the state’s secretary of Housing and Livable Communities, Edward Augustus, sent Milton officials a letter stating that the town is no longer eligible for a $140,800 grant for seawalls and improving access, is now ineligible for state infrastructure and housing grants, and may be less likely to receive certain other forms of state funding.

Milton selectmen discussed the situation at length during a public meeting Tuesday, February 27.

Richard Wells, a selectman, said he is “very disappointed” that the state attorney general filed a lawsuit against the town.

“The voters of this town have spoken, and they spoke very loudly, and both sides spoke. But I intend to honor that vote and fight for that vote. And I don’t view it as we’re breaking the law. Heck, if we didn’t throw tea overboard in the Boston Tea Party, we might not be the United States of America today. And if some brave men didn’t stand on the Concord Bridge, who knows what would have happened? But that’s where I’m at on this,” Wells said.

Wells later dialed back his rhetoric after criticism of it by another member of the board, but he said the involvement in a local election by the governor and lieutenant governor demonstrates overreach by state officials.

“If you don’t feel that we’re being bullied a little bit on this, then you’re not paying attention,” Wells said during a selectmen meeting Tuesday, February 27. “… They’re trying to put us in a headlock, and squeeze us until we cry uncle.”

But another selectman said Milton has no proper defense against state officials.

“They have every right to take away every single discretionary grant that they have put forth,” said Erin Bradley, a member of the board of selectmen. “… They can do whatever they want, because you know what? They are the state. And we, the town of Milton, have to actually comply with state laws.”

Michael Zullas, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he plans to write a letter to state officials requesting a delay in withholding of state funds for at least three months after a judge issues an injunction against the town in the case, giving town officials time to comply.


How It Got To This Point

Milton is a town of about 28,000 that borders Boston to the south.

While a portion of Milton is served by public transportation, the vast majority of the town isn’t.

The Mattapan Trolley starts in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and runs south and then southwest into Milton, runs along the northern border of Milton, and then crosses into the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. It has four stops in Milton. All are near the northern edge of the town.

Source: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.  The Neponset River is the border between the town of Milton and the city of Boston neighborhoods of Dorchester and Mattpan.


State guidelines call for the town to allow at least 2,461 units in a district the majority of which is within a half-mile of the trolley stops.

Milton town officials say the town has limited area within a half-mile of those stops that can be developed, but that East Milton Square, which is more than a mile and a half away from the trolley, is more suitable because it has many amenities and is a candidate for redevelopment.

The Milton Planning Board balked at proposing a re-zoning plan, according to the attorney general’s complaint. In September 2023, the town’s selectmen referred a proposed zoning bylaw to the planning board, which eventually went to Town Meeting.

Milton has a representative Town Meeting form of government. In Milton, 279 elected members of Town Meeting function as the town’s legislature, while the town’s five-member board of selectmen oversees day-to-day affairs.

On December 11, 2023, representative Town Meeting approved the rezoning scheme 158-76. But opponents pressed for a townwide special election on the proposal. On February 14, Milton voters rejected the rezoning proposal; it failed, 46 to 54 percent.

State officials see much at stake in the Milton re-zoning case, because it may determine whether other towns and cities in eastern Massachusetts comply with the state’s housing requirements.

Governor Healey said Milton needs to comply with the MBTA Communities Act because of what she called “the housing crisis” in Massachusetts.

“I strongly support the lawsuit. The law is clear, and it needs to be enforced,” Healey said Tuesday during an interview on Boston Public Radio (at 28:10 of the WGBH audio).

“The referendum vote was disappointing to me. And I also was clear that there would be consequences for that — specifically, withholding of funding for state grants,” Healey said.

She said administration officials will try to work out a new plan with Milton officials.

“But the message should be clear to every community out there that we meant what we said in terms of compliance and enforcement,” Healey said.


New to NewBostonPost? Conservative media is hard to find in Massachusetts. But you’ve found it. Now dip your toe in the water for two bucks — $2 for two months. And join the real revolution.