The Honorable Sal N. DiDomenico
The Honorable Ruth B. Balser
The Honorable James B. Eldridge
The Honorable James J. O’Day
The Honorable Bruce E. Tarr
The Honorable Susan Williams Gifford
Conference Committee on An Act Preserving Open Space in the Commonwealth
State House, Boston

(Delivered electronically)

Dear Chair DiDomenico, Chair Balser, and Distinguished Members of the Conference Committee,

On behalf of the 351 cities and towns of Massachusetts, we are writing regarding the latest development of An Act preserving open space in the Commonwealth, H. 851 and S. 2831. As you know, the MMA has opposed the legislation as an unnecessary measure given the current process as articulated by Article 97 of the Constitution, which was approved by the voters of the Commonwealth.

Current practice under Article 97 protects land by requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and a state review that prioritizes a “no net loss” policy when proposing a disposition or change of any protected open space, after an extensive local process that involves the public, the local municipal executive, and the local legislative body. The bills under consideration would require a feasibility study to purchase replacement land and/or pay mitigation fees for lost land, which would be costly for taxpayers, and could add significant delays to the new public benefits achieved through the change of use. As we’ve stated in previous testimony, a process based on the discretion of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) is the best framework to handle the diverse range of specific issues and factors that are involved in each request. Municipalities need to maintain the flexibility to use land in a way that most benefits their community, whether that is to protect the environment, facilitate recreation, create housing, invest in education or other public infrastructure, increase economic development, pursue solar projects, or to advance other public needs.

However, we very much appreciate the effort over this legislative session to make some improvements to the bill, resulting in the updated language in S. 2831. Though the language doesn’t address all of our underlying concerns with the bill, the changes are very welcome, as they would promote additional and important flexibility in land purpose changes and transfers for local governments and public entities, and reduce the likelihood of the inevitable unintended consequences that would come from a more rigid “one-size-fits-all” approach.

As the Legislature moves forward to codify an alternatives analysis, replacement land identification, and a dedication process for land purpose changes, we ask you to include the proposed opportunities to waive and modify requirements when comparable land is not easily available. Under provisions in S. 2831, the EEA secretary may permit funding for replacement land acquisition and waive or modify requirements in specific circumstances.

The language included in S. 2831 incorporates more options while maintaining the original interest of the legislation and Article 97’s no net loss policy. Each opportunity to change a parcel of land’s ownership or use can have an impact on the natural infrastructure and ecosystems of a community. The added flexibility and options provided to municipalities in S. 2831 would better protect the interests of residents and the historical protections provided by Article 97 of the Constitution.

The MMA appreciates the opportunity to weigh in as the conference committee strives to find a compromise bill before the end of the legislative session. We thank you for your dedication to this work and to the cities and towns of the Commonwealth. We respectfully request that as you develop a final bill you support the new language articulated in S. 2831.

We thank you again for your consideration and attention to this important issue for our public lands. If you have any questions regarding our comments or require additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Josie Ahlberg at 617-426-7272, ext. 161, or at any time.


Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO