South Coast Rail Economic Development & Land Use Corridor Plan

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Location: Southeastern Massachusetts. Extension of commuter rail service from Massachusetts' economic hub to two diverse cities 50 miles to the south

Problem, Context and Goals

This project is a smart growth plan for transforming a region under threat. It will guide overall land use in the region, development of mixed use, walkable places around new rail stations, and state investments in both “growth infrastructure” and “green infrastructure.”

The Plan provides a growth and preservation framework for the state’s fastest growing region: a 750 square mile area that includes struggling older cities, mature suburban towns, and rural communities. Today, the regional economy, environmental assets, working landscapes, historic character, and quality of life are threatened by unmanaged growth. As the region’s population continues to increase, growth is certain. The question for the region and its communities is how they will grow.

The impetus for the Plan is the extension of commuter rail service from the state’s economic hub to two diverse cities 50 miles to the south – communities where economic opportunity has long been lacking. Traditionally, commuter rail investments have supported economic growth but are accompanied by sprawling low- density development, consumption of open space, and continued disinvestment in urban centers. The Plan has been developed to ensure that this transit investment advances the state’s Sustainable Development Principles through regional conservation and development actions. The Plan promotes compact higher- density development within the region and around new transit stations while fostering protection of environmentally sensitive lands for recreation, conservation and habitat.

The Plan marks the state’s first effort to truly coordinate a transportation investment with economic development and land use planning—and is the product of unprecedented collaboration between towns and cities, regional planning agencies, state agencies and advocacy groups. The Plan is the tool for translating public investment in transit into meaningful smart growth within the region. It is a model for regional planning—and action—to advance sustainability.

Process & Implementation

The Plan emerged from a partnership between seven state agencies, three regional planning agencies, 31 corridor communities, regional business and environmental advocacy groups, a broadly representative regional task force, and the wider public. The Plan was shaped by over 100 large and small civic engagement meetings. In August, 2009, the Plan was formally released by the governor, cabinet secretaries, congressional delegates and state and local elected officials at a public event. The State is using the Plan to guide investments in infrastructure and land protection, targeting technical assistance where it is most needed. More detailed station area planning and zoning reforms are now underway. As with the Plan’s creation, its implementation will continue to occur collaboratively, with local, state and regional actions all critical to realization of the overall regional vision.

Plan Elements

The Plan is comprised of three principal elements:

The Map: The regional map identifies priority preservation and development areas, and was developed through a tiered process that recognized local, regional and state priorities. Station Area Plans: Concept plans will guide development around future transit stations.

Smart Growth Regulations: Ongoing technical assistance from regional planning agencies is moving the Plan forward.


The Plan provides a broadly supported blueprint for the region’s future—one that maximizes the economic benefits of the commuter rail investment, that clusters new jobs and homes in downtowns and around transit, and that preserves the working landscapes and natural assets of one of the state’s fastest growing regions. This blueprint is supported by state policies and investments, as well as by technical assistance and local regulatory reform. The Plan is closely aligned with CNU’s Charter Principles for “The Region.”

The Plan provides a physical organization of the region [that is] supported by a framework of transportation alternatives. A broadly endorsed Map identifies over 30 Priority Development Areas throughout the region, ranging in size from 50 to 500 acres and including downtowns, major employment centers, and 15 station areas. Most involve redevelopment or expansion of places already served by infrastructure. Several are new growth centers that are supportable because of rail development. All will be targeted for compact, mixed-use development. Station Area Plans designate stations as walkable, mixed-use places that maximize access to the train by foot, bicycle, or transit. Land around stations is devoted first to higher-density transit-oriented development served by paths and public spaces; commuter parking is minimized as a presence. Today, approximately 40,000 households and 55,000 jobs are located within about a mile of the proposed station sites. By 2030, these areas are expected to have grown by an additional 9,000 households and 11,000 jobs. Station Area Plans identify development potential within a quarter mile of stations and lay the groundwork for continued local planning around issues such as zoning, market demand, and traffic flow.

In this growing region where both working landscapes and natural assets are intrinsic to the region’s character and under threat, the metropolis has a necessary and fragile relationship to its agrarian hinterland and natural landscapes. “Green infrastructure” is an integral part of the Plan. The Map identifies over 70 Priority Protection Areas, which lack permanent protection from development. These areas include cranberry bogs and estuaries, forests and wetlands, rich farmland and fisheries, riverways and aquifers, unique archaeological and historic sites, missing links within existing habitat corridors and recreational networks, and other areas of high ecological or habitat value – many of which span multiple municipal jurisdictions and are especially vulnerable to piecemeal development. Through state funding, regionally provided technical assistance, and help from environmental organizations, communities are moving forward with preservation of Priority Protection Areas.

At its core, the Plan is the nexus between governmental cooperation, public policy, physical planning, and economic strategies. The Plan coordinates a long-awaited rail investment with economic development and land use planning. It quantifies the economic benefits that rail service will bring to the region, and establishes a development framework that maximizes the number of homes and businesses that can be appropriately accommodated within mixed-use, compact development close to proposed train stations. It lays the foundation for station area infill and brownfields redevelopment that will support downtown revitalization efforts in two of the state’s most distressed cities as well as in smaller towns. Because viable regional planning in this strongly home-rule state must involve collaboration at each level of government and beyond right from the beginning, the Plan is by design both a bottom-up and top-down enterprise, engaging local residents and business owners, municipal officials, regional planning councils, task forces and advocacy groups, and multiple state agencies. Implementation is supported by policies at the state level – including priority access to funds and provision of technical assistance – and through regulatory changes at the local level.


As described above, the Plan provides a blueprint for physical organization of the region [that] promotes transit, pedestrian and bicycle systems to maximize access and mobility while reducing dependence on automobiles. New commuter rail service will create an important transit spine for the region, providing a sustainable alternative for travel within the region and to/from the state’s center for economic activity, healthcare, and education. Station locations and Station Area Plans are designed to maximize pedestrian, bike and bus connections to existing and future homes and businesses.

The Plan provides a framework for encouraging mixed-use, higher density development, particularly in places served by transit and already supported by water and sewer infrastructure. Under the Plan, over 30 Priority Development Areas – primarily downtowns, job centers, and station areas – will be targeted for new and infill development, encouraging development [that] is organized around transit lines and hubs.

[Conservation of] sensitive or virgin forests, native habitats and prime farmlands and [protection of] imperiled species and ecological communities as well as wetlands...natural watersheds and...habitats” is an integral component of the Plan. Over 70 Priority Protection Areas target preservation of the region’s most valuable natural assets and working landscapes.

Lessons learned: • Broad-based support from the top down and bottom up is critical to a regional land use plan’s success: Without broad-based support from communities, state agencies, regional planning agencies, advocacy groups and task forces, this regional plan could not have succeeded in this strongly home-rule state. With highly limited state and regional authority to mandate local land use policies, building strong support across all levels of government and spanning multiple communities is key. • TOD means different things in different locations (rural vs. urban): Transit-oriented development is a viable goal in growing semi-rural and rural locations, but the type and pattern of development to be planned for can vary significantly from suburban and urban environments. In rural and semi-rural communities, village-type developments of homes, businesses and public spaces close to stations can be a context sensitive smart-growth strategy. For suburban and urban stations, more intensive development is often appropriate. • Communities facing the most dramatic growth are often the least equipped to manage that growth: The communities that were growing most rapidly were the communities with the fewest tools with which to shape development. Particularly in this period of economic strain, most semi-rural communities lack the experience, staff and technical expertise to focus on implementation of policies that will encourage compact development and preserve natural and historic resources. Financial and technical support for these efforts is critical and is being provided on a continuing basis to local communities. • What happens to the places in between? Critical to the success of a conservation and development plan is ensuring that sustainability is a core strategy not just in priority preservation or development areas, but within the places between, which will also experience growth. Ongoing technical assistance from regional agencies is helping the Plan communities to develop and implement smart growth policies and regulations town- and city-wide.

Transect Zone(s): T1 natural, T2 rural, T3 sub-urban, T4 general, T5 center, T6 core.
Status: Plan Approved
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Features: Transit oriented development.
Land area (in acres): 480000
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Residential types: Townhouse/rowhouse/maisonette, Small lot detached.
Project team designers: Goody Clancy
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: 2012 -