MMA offers extensive testimony on zoning reform bill

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On Nov. 18, the MMA submitted extensive and detailed testimony to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government on a comprehensive zoning and land use reform bill.

The bill, filed by Rep. Stephen Kulik and Sen. Dan Wolf, would make a number of changes to local land use policy. Among other provisions, the bill would:

• Allow a municipality to change its zoning vote threshold from a supermajority to a simple majority

• Change the vote threshold for the issuance of a special permit from a supermajority to a simple majority unless a local ordinance maintains the supermajority standard

• Change the standards for granting a variance

• Create the statutory authority for a site plan review process, inclusionary zoning, and the imposition of development impact fees

• Establish a new opt-in “Planning Ahead for Growth” chapter to incentivize smart growth development

• Reconfigure the requirements for local master plans

• Establish a consolidated permitting process for qualifying applicants

• Give municipalities greater ability to regulate the subdivision of land

The MMA recommended a number of language changes to strengthen and improve the bill by preserving local authority, grandfathering existing local practices, and, in the case of local options, employing an opt-in rather than an opt-out model.

“Any changes to existing zoning and land use law in Massachusetts will have profound and long-lasting effects on our communities and residents and their quality of life, for generations to come … any and all proposed changes demand very careful consideration,” wrote MMA Executive Director Geoffrey Beckwith.

“This bill is far-reaching and complex, and proposes enormous changes that would have dramatic and widespread impacts on municipalities and local residents and businesses for generations to come,” the letter continued. “We strongly urge you to adopt the language changes identified … in order to preserve the local control of land use that must remain in place, and ensure that this legislation is balanced enough to protect the character and quality of neighborhoods and communities throughout the state.”

The comments were based on recommendations formulated by the MMA’s Municipal and Regional Policy Committee, which undertook an extensive evaluation of the legislation.

MMA testimony to Committee on Municipalities on zoning reform legislation
MMA’s proposed language changes/amendments to H. 1859 (276K PDF)
MMA’s recommendations and comments, by topic, to H. 1859 (68K PDF)
Written by MMA Legislative Analyst J. Catherine Rollins