His Excellency Charles D. Baker
Governor of the Commonwealth
State House, Boston

Delivered Electronically

Dear Governor Baker,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to express our very strong opposition to Section 18 of H. 5250, An Act Enabling Partnerships for Growth. We are grateful that the original bill you filed reflected a true willingness to partner with municipalities, and we support many of the provisions within the bill aimed at responding to the need to increase housing production, spur community development and business competitiveness, and accelerate economic recovery and growth in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of a partnership with municipalities, Section 18 would create a statewide mandate imposing a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme on 175 communities, overriding local decision making. We respectfully ask you to veto this section.

Local zoning codes have been established by citizens and their elected and appointed leaders, and should only be amended by cities and towns themselves. The role of citizens in this process is essential because Massachusetts knows that one size does not fit all. Sustainable development depends on a localized approach that allows for growth that fits and works. New laws won’t work if they strip average citizens of their role and voice. We oppose Section 18 because it would mandate the creation of zoning districts with as-of-right multifamily development in 175 communities within the MBTA region, imposing state-set requirements and regulations that override the local decision-making authority of Town Meetings, city and town councils, and local planning, zoning and appeals boards.

Under Massachusetts law and our long history of municipal governance, decisions on zoning are inherent in the duties of Town Meetings for the majority of our communities – and the vast majority of the 175 communities affected by Section 18 are governed by Open Town Meeting, which means that zoning decisions are made by the registered voters of the community. This means that Section 18 would strip hundreds of thousands of voters of their vote and voice on a major aspect of zoning. In the remaining communities, Section 18 would strip elected representatives and appointed officials of their voice and vote as well.

Rather than mandates, local officials and community leaders need resources, tools, incentives and flexibility. This is why the MMA, along with a diverse coalition of groups responsible for building housing, including the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, and NAIOP–The Commercial Real Estate Development Association, joined together to actively support and advocate for the Housing Choices language that you authored. We were pleased to see those provisions included in the bill now before you. That language will bring powerful and meaningful change that will facilitate zoning changes for the production of housing. By preserving the role of the people, those aspects of the bill maintain hometown democracy and ensure that citizens retain their voice.

However, Section 18 would not only override local decision-making, it would penalize those communities who fail to meet the provisions by making them ineligible for funds from the MassWorks Program, the Housing Choice Initiative, and the state’s Local Capital Projects Fund. Section 18 would go into effect 90 days after the signing of the bill. We believe no community would be able to go through the public planning and hearing process, develop draft zoning amendments, create warrant articles and hold Town Meetings in time to avoid this penalty. Not only is the mandate unacceptable, the timeline in the bill is nearly impossible to meet.

Now more than ever, communities are depending on a partnership with state government to help them accelerate the community development and housing production needed to recover from the COVID-19 recession and foster future growth. The penalties in this section are punitive and would harm our state’s economic growth and recovery.

In sum, Section 18 is unwise on many fronts. It would disenfranchise local authority and discretion in determining the zoning framework that best facilitates housing growth and opportunity in communities, impose a mandated one-size-fits-all as-of-right zoning scheme on nearly half of the cities and towns in Massachusetts, and penalize these communities using an unrealistic timeline during a time of unprecedented economic and public health challenges. For these reasons, the Massachusetts Municipal Association strongly opposes Section 18 of H. 5250, and we respectfully call on you to veto this section.

Thank you for your support for the cities and towns of Massachusetts, and for your interest in this very important local government issue. If you or officials in your Administration have any questions, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Brittney Franklin at bfranklin@mma.org at any time.


Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO

cc: The Honorable Karyn Polito, Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth
Secretary Michael Kennealy, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development