The Department of Housing and Community Development issued an advisory to all municipalities on Oct. 5 urging them to “conduct remote hearings on all applications for permits or approvals related to housing production.”

The advisory, from Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox, cites “the critical need for housing production in the Commonwealth” and points out that Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, enacted in April, allows permit-granting authorities to conduct meetings and public hearings remotely, consistent with the governor’s March 12 order suspending certain provisions of the Open Meeting Law during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Chapter 53, enacted at a time when only essential businesses were allowed to be open, suspended requirements that municipal boards conduct public hearings on permit applications within a specific time and tolled any constructive approvals.

The advisory comes on the heels of Gov. Charlie Baker filing a fiscal 2020 supplemental budget bill (H. 5014) on Sept. 30 with sections (19-24) that would recommence hearing timelines and constructive approvals as of Dec. 1, 2020. Permit-granting authorities that are unable to conduct meetings and public hearings remotely, due to lack of broadband or other technical limitations, would be able to apply for a waiver from the secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

Municipal officials and planning departments report that they have been working diligently under difficult circumstances to create new processes and procedures in order to hold remote meetings and hearings. Many communities have been able to successfully conduct meetings and hearings and continue to process permit applications.

Any communities with a backlog of permit applications or hearings are advised to start working through pending applications before Dec. 1 if possible.

The MMA will keep members apprised of legislative action on H. 5014 and the language regarding hearing timelines and the tolling of constructive approvals.

Public Hearings During the COVID-19 State of Emergency – Oct. 5 Advisory (165K PDF)

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