Priority Development Areas (PDAs)

Bioswale in a parking lot
Bioswale in a parking lot

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Resources in the 495 Toolkit:

Energy & Climate

Priority Development Areas are locations that are appropriate for commercial, office, retail and/or residential growth. They may involve new construction, redevelopment, or adaptive reuse of existing buildings. The 18 State Priority Development Areas in the 495 region can accommodate approximately 21,500 new jobs (over 40 percent of the total job growth projected for the region through 2035) and approximately 3,000 new housing units.

There are three main categories:

  • Town Centers;
  • Transit-Oriented Development Opportunities; and
  • Exceptional Opportunities for Job Creation and/or Workforce Housing

This section of the toolkit provides quick access to many resources available to assist in developing the PDAs sustainably and aligning local plans, zoning, and tax incentives to make the PDAs market-ready.

Tools for Community Economic Development Readiness 
Financial Resources for Economic Development
Brownfields Redevelopment
Smart Growth Permitting and Resources
Downtown/Commercial District Revitalization 
Making the Case for Compact Workforce Housing
Permitting and Resources for Workforce Housing
Quick Links to Resources for Economic Development and Housing

Tools for Communities to become “Economic Development-Ready”

Designated Growth Districts in the 495 Region

Worcester’s Innovation Square Growth District: A 82-acre district that includes the 12-acre Gateway Park and land extending south to Lincoln Square - an award-winning example of environmental stewardship and urban redevelopment.

Gateway Park © Worcester Polytechnic Institute
© Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Foxborough Growth District: 500 acres that includes Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place.

Devens: This mixed-use redevelopment project on a 4,000 acre former Army base is a model of regional cooperation and sustainability.

  • 43D and 43E expedited permitting. Commercial or industrial developments proposed for Priority Development sites can get state and local permitting in less than 180 days working through the state’s Permit Regulatory Office.
  • Growth Districts Initiative. The Permit Regulatory Office partners with municipalities in designated “growth districts” to make the district “development ready” (i.e., permitted, with any necessary site preparation and infrastructure).
  • MassDevelopment technical assistance. MassDevelopment is another source of assistance to communities going through the 43D/43E expedited permitting process.
  • Municipal Self-Assessment Checklist. The Massachusetts Association of Regional Planning Agencies (MARPA) has developed a checklist for municipalities to assess their own permitting practices.
  • Best Practices Model to Streamlined Local Permitting. MARPA also produced this toolkit for best practices, which includes several useful guides, flow charts, and checklists.
  • Massachusetts Permitting Collaborative. State agencies work together to advise on how new development projects can navigate the permitting and regulatory process.
  • District Local Technical Assistance (DLTA), funded by the Expedited Permitting Law Chapter 205 of the Acts of 2006, and distributed by the Department of Housing and Community Development. DLTA provides funding for regional planning agencies to assist communities with advancing zoning and permitting in areas identified through the Regional Planning process.

Financial Resources for Economic Development

Brownfields Redevelopment

Brownfields reuse is the cleanup, redevelopment and return of contaminated properties to productive uses. Redeveloping brownfields sites in the 495 region will revitalize blighted areas, support local economic growth, and advance environmental health.

Brownfields Redevelopment Example

Fisherville Mill and Mill Villages Parkin Grafton This 18-acre, formerly contaminated site is being restored through new techniques like butane injections, with funding from state and federal grants.

Smart Growth Permitting and Resources

Smart Growth Case Studies

Legacy Farms
A mixed use, smart growth development in Hopkinton that spans 730 acres and includes 940 homes and 450,000 square feet of commercial space. Also incorporates conservation and green infrastructure.

Legacy farms
© Legacy Farms
Natick High School 
The town was given additional funding by the state towards building a new high school for their effort to promote smart growth projects.

Case Studies in the 495 Region

Bay Circuit Trail
180 miles of multi-use, passive recreational trail spanning 34 towns in Eastern Massachusetts

Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
A proposed 25-mile trail following the route of the old New Haven Railroad Framingham & Lowell line.

 © Emily Teller, Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
© Emily Teller, Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail
  • Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit. The state’s toolkit provides model bylaws as well as presentations that can be used to educate the public about various smart growth tools and techniques.Chapter 40R/Chapter 40S. Chapter 40R of the Massachusetts General Laws encourages cities and towns to establish new zoning overlay districts to promote housing production using smart growth principles. Chapters 40R also provides direct financial incentives to communities that adopt these new zoning districts and produce housing. Chapter 40S serves to reimburse cities and towns for the additional costs of educating new school-age children in smart growth districts.
  • Mixed Use Zoning. Often implemented as an “overlay district,” this zoning strategy can thoughtfully mix housing, civic uses, and commercial uses, including retail, restaurants, and offices. Open space and green infrastructure may also be included.
  • The Commercial Area Transit Node Housing Program (CATNHP) and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) are two state programs that help finance developments near public transit. CATNHP supports rental housing production or rehabilitation near transit nodes. TOD aids compact, mixed-use, walkable development around transit stations and is available for residential, commercial, retail, and recreational space.
  • American Planning Association “Growing Smart” Guidebook. A comprehensive guide to zoning and planning tools to combat sprawl, promote affordable housing, and encourage redevelopment.
  • Greenways and Open Space in Development. It is often beneficial to include open space and trails in development sites and to link open spaces and trails across properties and municipalities.

Downtown/Commercial District Revitalization

Making the Case for Compact Workforce Housing

  • Density through Design. This report by the 495/MetroWest Partnership illustrates how innovative design solutions can meet the need for compact development and workforce housing in the 495 region through projects that are appropriate in suburban settings, attractive, and will be successful in the marketplace.
  • [email protected] CampaignThe 495/MetroWest Partnership and Citizens Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) developed an affordable housing public awareness campaign with a brochuremedia ad, and posters highlighting the need for and benefits of affordable housing in the region.
  • Creating Balancing Communities: Lessons in Affordability from 5 Affluent Boston Suburbs. This 2005 report by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI) highlights tools used to create attractive, moderately priced housing with real examples from Massachusetts.
  • Visualizing Density: A Bird's Eye View. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy interactive website shows how traditional views of density can be misleading.
  • Creating Great Neighborhoods—Density in Your Community. The Local Government Commission in cooperation with U.S. EPA produced this review of nine communities nationwide that used dense development to help create vibrant neighborhoods.

Permitting and Resources for Workforce Housing

Community Preservation Act and Housing

89 Oxbow
Funded in part by Wayland’s CPA program, this affordable housing development formerly an old Nike missile site owned by the federal government.

© Community Preservation Coalition
© Community Preservation Coalition
  • Commonwealth Housing Task Force is a diverse coalition of groups that was formed to address the serious housing crisis in Massachusetts that prevents people from finding housing they can afford and employers from recruiting and retaining skilled staff. The task force has produced detailed analyses and spearheaded major policy initiatives to address this issue.
  • Comprehensive Permit Statute. The 40B statute provides expedited review for proposed developments in many communities if at least 20-25% of the units have affordability restrictions. The Local Initiative Program (LIP) is for municipalities and developers who are working together under 40B.
  • Inclusionary zoning. Municipalities adopting inclusionary zoning can create more diverse housing choices by requiring that residential or mixed-use developments in excess of a designated size provide a percentage of more moderately priced units on-site, in another location in the same municipality, or make a payment to a Municipal Affordable Housing Trust or similar entity.
  • State and federal programs provide funding, financing and tax credit help for developments that include a significant percentage of affordable housing. The key ones are: HOMELIHTCMassachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP), and MassHousing.
  • Some state and local sources that can help with workforce housing units that are available to those above the usual income limits, but still unable to afford a market-rate home, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Community Preservation Act.
  • DHCD’s Priority Development Fund and the MHP Technical Assistance and Targeted Communities programs. Both agencies provide technical assistance and planning grants to help communities develop and implement strategies that will increase housing production.

Quick Links to Resources for Economic Development and Housing

State Agencies, Expedited Permitting, Funding, Business Development:


Planning and Smart Growth

495/MetroWest Development Compact

The Patrick-Murray Administration through Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development partnered with Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the MetroWest Regional Collaborative, the 495/MetroWest Partnership, and Mass Audubon to engage the region in the preparation of a comprehensive land use and development plan.