Guest Op-Ed: The MBTA 3A Communities Law Is Good for the People of Winthrop

By Tom Deredrian

Since it was settled in 1630, seceded from Chelsea in 1846, and was incorporated as a town in 1852 , Winthrop—once a town of pastures, horses, and cows—has grown and prospered and under the 3A Communities Law will continue to do so.

Property owners in Winthrop will not be prevented from adding to a single family house to make it a multifamily house. They will have the liberty to make these changes without an appointed board to rule on an appeal for an exception. They will not be subject to others arguing against them in front of the unelected board. This new law gives citizens of Winthrop more liberty to control their property without interference.

This new liberty is not license to allow exceptions to building, fire, health, and safety codes. Freedom does not mean a property owner can build an unsound, dangerous, and unhygienic structure.

Height restrictions and property line set-backs will still apply, and if these sensible conditions are met, then a homeowner has the right to build additional stories or make a duplex. For more extensive changes the town planning board will have a say in appearances, layout, the blocking of adjacent buildings, and parking.

Many places in town can be built to allow more families if the owners see fit. They will see fit if there is a demand for more housing. It will be good for the town if those needs can be met by homeowner residents.

More people will mean that more tax revenue can be collected. This is money that can go to paying for expanded amenities and upkeep of the town as has been happening since the founding. Once, roads were not paved and the town provided no water, sewage disposal, or trash collection.

More people will mean more customers for local service business such as restaurants, food stores, personal services, (haircuts and nails), bakeries, repair shops, and medical and legal professions, giving our citizens less reason to leave town.

As Winthrop faces the expensive threat of sea-level rise having more people in town will increase the reasons for state and federal grants to protect the town and keep property insurance rates down. Otherwise, Winthrop will have to increase property and other taxes to pay for whatever measures will be needed to keep our heads above water.

Recognizing that our country is a capitalist, free-market economy, the new 3A Communities Law does not require that anything be built or that infrastructure be modified in anticipation of building. If there is a market need for additional housing in Winthrop, then homeowners can meet that need themselves and profit from it. If outside investors see a growing market for housing in Winthrop, they would have to compete to bid for existing property at market rates. Winthrop homeowners are too clever to sell at a discount.

Winthrop does not have open spaces like a defunct horse track large enough for big apartment buildings like we see in Revere or East Boston. The town is not about to sell the golf course to a developer; neither will a block of homeowners sell all their valuable adjacent houses to a developer at a price cheap enough to pay for teardown and rebuilding at a profit. Property values will increase as demand increases. As the economy provides high-paying jobs people will spend more on housing . Property values will increase. If there is a national economic depression, prices will drop. No one will build. The new law and zoning changes will make no difference if there is no demand. The market will work its invisible hand one way or another, regardless of zoning. Markets go up and markets go down. In a strengthening economy, the 3A Communities law will provide more housing and more wealth for Winthrop. Over time ,Winthrop will grow as it has since 1630 to provide more commerce and more housing for more people but no place for horses and cows.

Tom Deredrian is a long-time resident who is famous for having authored a book about the Boston Marathon. He’s been very active on the Winthrop running scene for about 40 years.

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