Winthrop Hosts Meeting on MBTA Communities Act

Winthrop residents Diana Viens and Vasili Mallios co-chaired a meeting March 14 about the MBTA Communities Act and its impact on Winthrop.

Attorney Michael Walsh, who is representing Rockport residents in challenging the constitutionality of the MBTA Community Act (which is state law), Clayton Soba, chair of the Cape Ann Political Action Committee, and Christine Delisio of the Manchester-By-The Sea Planning Board, were the guest speakers at the meeting. Walsh, a graduate of Suffolk University and Suffolk Law School, has emerged as a leading expert on the matter and his presentation was comprehensive and informative while pausing to take questions from the audience.

 Under the new law that was passed in January, 2021 during the Charlie Baker Administration, Winthrop, as a community adjacent to an MBTA transit stop, would be required to create zoning for 882 new multi-family units in the town.

Viens, an attorney who attended BU Law School, spoke about the impact the new law would have on the town while welcoming the large crowd to Winthrop.

“We are an adjacent community so we would have 882 units assigned to the town regardless of land size,” said Viens. “It’s very important to understand that the densest communities [such as Winthrop] are getting really truly punished for being so dense.”

Viens compared Winthrop’s size and population (1.6-square miles and approximately 20,000 residents) to the town of Wayland as an example of how the law is being misapplied.

“Wayland is 15.9 square miles and has a population of 13,882,” said Viens. They have less units that they have to add and they’re way larger and their population is way less.”

Viens also noted that the City of Boston is exempt from the MBTA Communities Act.

Mallios also spoke about the negative implications of the MBTA Communities Act. He thanked residents for their support.

“Thank you all for coming. It does mean a lot for you to come and learn about the law and also see what our concerns are and how this law is going to impact our community that we are to stay in as long as we can,” said Mallios, adding, “I know I’m going to be here as long as I can. I just bought a house last week.”

Mallios, who was JFK-esque in his eloquence and rapport with the audience and received praise from Viens for his “fantastic work” on the issue, drew applause for his personal “home-buying” decision to live  in Winthrop.

“So why does Winthrop not fit [MBTA] 3A [Law]?” asked Mallios.

“Winthrop is 36 percent made up of single-family units,” said Mallios. “The average for the state is 76 percent. Winthrop has only two ways in and out. Everyone knows that – we have East Boston and Revere. The traffic is atrocious. Towards East Boston, we’re going to start to see additional development with Suffolk Downs. Suffolk Downs [with its new housing and the projected number of residents who will be living there] is actually going to be close to almost the size of Winthrop. There will be congestion and traffic, and they expect us to use the ‘T’.”

Mallios also said that if 882 units were to be added to the town’s housing stock, “the town is going to have to cover the [infrastructure] costs if we have developers coming in and building.”

Citing another impact of having additional families living in Winthrop, Mallios said the Winthrop Middle/High School that opened in 2016 “was built for 970 students and is over-capacity as of today.”

Town Manager James Letterie attended the meeting, citing his opposition to the MBTA Communities Act in an interview this week.

“I’m against the law based on my feeling that the law is unconstitutional,” said Letterie. “I do not feel the state should be telling us how to run our town. And I think we have been pro-active with this. And what the state is trying to get cities and towns to do is something that Winthrop has done over the last 15 years. We have created zoning for well over 800 units. We are one of the most dense communities in the Commonwealth. The average number of single-family homes in Massachusetts is 76 percent. Winthrop’s only at 36 percent. So Winthrop is what the state is hoping that other cities and town would emulate. We should be commended, not made to do more.”

Letterie credited Viens and Mallios for putting the spotlight on such a crucial issue that would greatly affect the town.

“I think Diana and Vasili did a tremendous job putting this meeting together,” said Letterie. “I think the attendance was fantastic. This is a situation where knowledge is king. This was a three-paragraph law that was signed three years ago. And now it has transformed more and more as time goes on. I think we all need to be very well-educated on the process, and that why’s these meetings are important.”

The discussion will continue as the Winthrop Republican Town Committee will be holding a meeting about the MBTA Communities Act on Tuesday, April 9 at 7 p.m. at the Robert A. DeLeo Senior Center.

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