The Honorable Edward F. Coppinger, House Chair
The Honorable Diana DiZoglio, Senate Chair
Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business
State House, Boston

Dear Chair Coppinger, Chair DiZoglio, and Distinguished Members of the Committee,

On behalf of cities and towns across the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to offer our comments and concerns regarding several bills before your Committee for a public hearing today.

The MMA supports S. 90, An Act relative to a municipality’s right of first refusal of agricultural and recreational land. The bill would amend the timeline surrounding the municipal option to exercise or assign the right of first refusal on agricultural land that a property owner plans to sell or use for non-agricultural purposes. This proposal would extend, from 120 to 180 days, the time that a municipality has to complete due diligence on the property and hold a vote by the city or town council or Board of Selectmen to determine what action to undertake. The existing timeline is not conductive to a municipality’s ability to effectively conduct the due diligence and participate in a public process related to a potential land acquisition, especially for those municipalities that have a Town meeting form of government, which is over 80% of municipalities in Massachusetts.

In addition, this bill would extend, from 90 to 120 days, the time period for a municipality to close on a purchase and sale contract. This extended timeframe would better enable cities and towns to complete the bond process to finance a land purchase, or to identify and secure other funding sources.

Finally, this bill would establish a 30-day timeline for a property seller to accept and execute the purchase and sale agreement. Under current law, there is no timeline placed on the seller for acceptance. This lack of timeframe can create needless financial and legal uncertainty for communities. We respectfully request your support of this legislation to revise the process for municipalities to use their right of first refusal.

The MMA opposes H. 187, An Act improving housing opportunities and the Massachusetts economy; S. 82, An Act promoting open space residential development; and S. 96, An Act improving housing opportunities and the Massachusetts economy. We believe that any reform to state zoning laws must contain strong protection of local decision-making authority, and we strongly oppose bills that contain “by-right” language or mandates that would override zoning by-laws that have been established by citizens and their elected and appointed leaders.

While we strongly oppose H. 187, S. 82 and S. 96 because the bills would override local authority and interfere with citizen-based decision-making, it is important to recognize that there is a powerful proposal to facilitate the development of housing in Massachusetts: H. 3507, An Act to promote housing choices. That bill is currently before the Joint Committee on Housing. The measure rightly rejects a top down, one-size-fits-all approach, yet proposes a key reform to make it easier for communities to enact local zoning changes that encourage housing development, by allowing housing-related zoning amendments and special permits to be approved by a simple majority of the local body, rather than the two-thirds supermajority currently required by state law. By preserving the role of the people, the bill would maintain hometown democracy and ensure that citizens retain their voice.

Rather than mandates, local officials and community leaders need resources, tools, incentives and flexibility. Right now, cities and towns across Massachusetts are pioneering innovative and bold approaches to housing issues. Unlike the “by-right” mandate language found in H. 187, S. 82, and S. 96, the Housing Choices Act (H. 3507) is a necessary tool to help cities and towns to produce more housing. We need this measure now so that we can build on that success and continue to work on the housing challenges that Massachusetts is facing.

We respectfully ask you to consider the countless problems that would be created in neighborhoods across Massachusetts if state government moves forward with a flawed approach mandating a one-size-fits-all, state-dictated, top-down zoning law. By far the best solution is to empower cities and towns by creating an easier path to shape their zoning and facilitate housing production that works and is sustainable at the neighborhood and local level. That is why we support H. 3507, and ask you to oppose these other measures before your Committee today.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at 617-426-7272 at any time.

Thank you very much.


Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO